A half-dozen pop-up container yards at intermodal rail facilities spanning three states are playing an integral role in keeping record levels of commerce efficiently flowing through the Georgia Ports Authority’s Port of Savannah.
With all-time-high container volumes already moving across GPA docks and plans advancing for a 60 percent capacity boost at the Port of Savannah (see separate story), the innovative pop-up yard concept is providing immediate relief – and also augurs to offer a longer-term solution for the nation’s third-busiest containerized cargo gateway and its users.
“Because we anticipate sustained growth in cargo volumes, Georgia Ports will continue to use the pop-up yards for the foreseeable future,” GPA’s chief operating officer, Ed McCarthy, told AJOT.
“When American port terminals were inundated with import containers, GPA worked with Norfolk Southern and CSX to establish temporary, pop-up container yards,” McCarthy said. “Those yards were intended to act as a pressure relief valve for Garden City Terminal, bringing cargo closer to customers and reducing the length of container storage time at the Port of Savannah.”
That these yards, which began to pop up in late 2021, are now being looked at as more than temporary should come as no surprise. Indeed, they fit well with GPA’s increasing reliance upon the rail, including via rail-served inland port facilities and the newly implemented $220 million, 85-acre Mason Mega Rail Terminal near Garden City Terminal berths.
The pop-up yard with the greatest annual capacity – 140,750 twenty-foot-equivalent container units a year – is at the Appalachian Regional Port, along U.S. 411 about 20 miles from Interstate 75 in Northwest Georgia’s Murray County. The 42-acre ARP, opened in 2018 via a joint effort of the State of Georgia, Murray County, GPA, and CSX Transportation is 388 rail miles from Garden City docks.
The other five pop-up yards, which combine with the ARP to deliver a total of 500,000 TEUs of annual off-port capacity, are at:
• The CSX Hulsey Yard in Atlanta (112,000 TEUs annual capacity);
• Norfolk Southern’s terminal at Huntsville International Intermodal Center in Huntsville, Alabama (90,000 TEUs annual capacity);
• A truck-served, GPA-leased facility at Statesboro Bulloch County Airport in Statesboro, Georgia, 60 miles inland from Garden City berths (84,250 TEUs annual capacity);
• Carolina Connector Intermodal Rail Terminal, a CSX facility in Rocky Mount, North Carolina (40,000 TEUs annual capacity); and
• Norfolk Southern’s Dillard Yard in Savannah (33,000 TEUs annual capacity).
“The effort has been successful,” McCarthy said. “GPA’s six pop-up container storage yards have had a significant, positive impact on cargo flow, relieving on-terminal congestion. The use of these sites has not only eased the movement of cargo across terminals but also expedited vessel service by opening up space for offloaded containers.
“It should be noted that the dwell time for intermodal import containers at the Port of Savannah is significantly lower than imports moving via truck,” McCarthy said, pointing out that typical dwell time for rail cargo at the Port of Savannah is less than two days. “Rail transit, therefore, constitutes another option GPA can provide to customers to help smooth out the effects of supply chain disruptions, without causing backups at their facilities or at the port.”
Also contributing to the smooth flow of containers have been GPA’s addition of more on-terminal container storage, longer Saturday gate hours, and efforts with customers to clear long-dwelling containers from Garden City Terminal.
Meanwhile, at its Mason Mega Rail Terminal, GPA has recently commissioned the final set of nine working tracks, bringing the total to 18 tracks and increasing rail capacity by 30 percent. The Port of Savannah can now build and receive six 10,000-foot-long trains simultaneously. All told, since the first trains rolled through the mega-terminal in late 2020, the project has doubled the Port of Savannah’s rail lift capacity to 2 million TEUs per year, with containers heading to such vital population centers as Memphis and Chicago.
“Expanded rail infrastructure improves cargo flow and allows for cargo expansion, as well as direct rail service to major Southeast and Midwestern markets,” McCarthy said.
At the same time, GPA is actively extending its reliance upon rail-served inland port facilities, with construction to begin this spring on the 104-acre Northeast Georgia Inland Port, along the I-85/I-985 corridor in Hall County, to furnish a direct link to the Port of Savannah via Norfolk Southern.
“Our regional ports provide multiple benefits,” McCarthy said. “They allow us to move high volumes of cargo quickly, and they help our customers to be more efficient because they can stage cargo at the rail yards and then have a shorter truck trip to the end destination.”