With total container volume expected to more than double in the next decade, Georgia Ports Authority also is expanding its capacity to handle intermodal traffic. In addition to expanding its James D. Mason Intermodal Container Transfer Facility, GPA is adding a new rail facility--the Chatham Yard ICTF--to its Garden City Terminal.
"Rail is an area where we're growing by leaps and bounds," GPA Executive Director Doug Marchand said. "In just two years, we've gone from servicing 11 trains a week between here and Atlanta to the current 17 trains per week." Each train is approximately 8,000 feet long and most are double-stacked.
Currently, rail accounts for nearly 20 percent of container throughput at Garden City Terminal, where two major railroads, Norfolk-Southern and CSX, have on-terminal facilities. Garden City Terminal is a strategic gateway to rail and road distribution networks that offer access to markets across the U.S., Southeast and Midwest including those with the fastest-growing populations and capital investments, said GPA spokesman Robert Morris.
When the GPA dedicated its new Mason ICTF in July 2001, the port of Savannah ranked seventh in the nation in terms of containers handled. Six years later, it ranks fourth (second on the East Coast) and is generally considered the fastest-growing container port in the nation.
One big reason is the ICTF, which allows for seamless container movement from vessel to dedicated unit trains for expedited delivery to markets throughout the Southeast, Gulf Coast and Midwest. With the ICTF, time is saved in two ways.
First, containers destined for rail service are brought to a specific area. Before the change, containers being unloaded from ships weren't systematically grouped and had to be plucked out individually for transfer to railcars.
Second, when trains are formed at the ICTF, containers are grouped on cars according to their final destinations. For example, one section might have cars going to Chicago, while another is headed to Charlotte. This allows for rapid transfer when the train reaches the massive Norfolk Southern switching yard in Austell, outside Atlanta.
CSX Transportation, which will have its own facility once the Chatham Yard is up and running, moves its trains primarily into Florida, Morris said.
Utilizing on-terminal transfer allows the two major rail lines to offer two- to three-day transit times to major hubs throughout the Midwest, Gulf Coast and Southeast, including overnight service to Atlanta, the fastest of any North American port, he said.
Last month, GPA put a fifth 2,500-foot track into service at the Mason facility, a 20 percent increase in capacity.
The $20 million Chatham Yard project is under way, with the first phase expected to be operational by the end of this year. "Together, these improvements will help ease congestion, not only on our roads, but the roads around Atlanta as well," he said.
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