Savannah Port Extends Volume Growth

$92 Million Approved for Rail Project
Port of Savannah
A rubber tire gantry moves a 40-foot shipping container in the container yard at the Port of Savannah. (Stephen B. Morton/AP) 

If there is one word that describes Georgia ports in 2018 it is “growth,” with another record-breaking month in the books.

Containers moved in August in Savannah grew 8% over the same month in 2017.

Georgia Ports Authority said that 375,833 TEUs were handled this August. Last August, Savannah handled 348,297 TEUs. A TEU is a 20-foot equivalent container unit of measure.

The August numbers follow record numbers for growth those same months last year, including July (up 12.7%); June (up 9.8%); May (up 3.1%) and April (up 7.1%). Several months throughout the year also have been the best ever on record, GPA officials noted.

GPA has moved more than 300,000 TEUs in each of the past 22 months.

For fiscal 2018, which ended June 30, the ports handled 4.2 million TEUs and 8.4% over fiscal year 2017.

“A strengthening economy and a greater reliance on GPA in major inland markets is driving growth at the Port of Savannah,” GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch said. “We expect this trend to continue as more customers take advantage of Garden City Terminal’s central location and efficient terminal operations.”

Record numbers also are being achieved in intermodal, with cargo in August to and from Atlanta increasing 34% and 72% for Nashville. Cargo moved by intermodal includes transportation by rail.

“The growth is phenomenal,” GPA Board Chairman Jimmy Allgood said.


Georgia Port Authority Executive Director Griff Lynch speaks on the site of the Mason Mega Rail terminal during a groundbreaking March 27. (Stephen Morton/Georgia Port Authority via AP)

Intermodal numbers are expected to continue to increase with GPA’s Mason-Mega Rail on track to be complete in late 2020.

The $127 million megarail project is about 20% complete, Lynch said.

GPA board members approved $92 million for the project at the board of directors meeting Sept. 17 in Atlanta. The project will double Savannah’s annual rail capacity to 1 million containers and be the largest on-terminal rail facility in North America by 2020, port officials said.

“It is no accident the GPA is constructing rail capacity as the demand for rail is growing,” Allgood said. “As part of our strategic planning two years ago, our team identified the growing role intermodal cargo would play in GPA’s long-term success and put into place this plan for expansion.”

The money approved Sept. 17 will fund 124,000 feet of new rail track, 88 automated switches and rail control devices along with infrastructure needed to support operation of the eight rail-mounted gantry cranes that will be used. The cranes each will span nine tracks for improved efficiency moving containers from trains to on-terminal jockey trucks.

The added rail capacity will better accommodate 10,000-foot-long unit trains on Garden City Terminal. These long trains also will allow for fewer traffic-blocking rail crossings, and provide faster and more frequent services over greater distances. The project will allow the port to avoid the use of nearly two dozen rail crossings — including those on Georgia highways 21 and 25 — for improved traffic flow.

As part of that project, GPA will build an overpass on Georgia 25 in Garden City. Georgia Department of Transportation will construct the overpass at a cost of $8.8 million.

The Mega Rail expansion is funded in part by a $44 million U.S. Department of Transportation FASTLANE grant administered by the Maritime Administration. The GPA board approved $42.2 million for the project last year. Almost $100 million has been allocated for the project.

GPA estimates the new terminal will take more than 200,000 trucks off the road annually. The rail project will extend the port’s reach along an arc of cities, ranging from Memphis, Tenn., to St. Louis, Chicago and Cincinnati.

One possible hitch in the port’s short-term future could come from current and proposed tariffs.

The latest round of Chinese tariffs President Donald Trump is considering would include most imported Chinese goods.

Lynch said Sept. 17 the prospect of more tariffs is something to watch.

“We are watching it closely right now,” Lynch said. “We think there will be an impact, we just don’t know what.”

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