Even absent traditional intermodal container activity, rail links offer vital connections for proficiently moving cargo in and out of Midwest lake and river ports. And leadership of Port Milwaukee is hoping a sought-after intermodal facility will further rail’s role in the region.

While broadly defined intermodalism is crucial to operations at such Midwest ports as those of Cleveland and Indiana, it is in Milwaukee that officials are specifically eyeing deployment of an intermodal container facility to provide a cost-effective, time-efficient alternative to movement of boxes via coastal maritime hubs.

“The time is ripe for a reinvestment for smaller intermodal facilities, including a much-needed intermodal container facility here at Port Milwaukee, given congestion issues at East and West Coast ports and at Chicago area intermodal facilities,” Port Milwaukee’s port director, Adam Tindall-Schlicht, told AJOT.

Shortly after Port Milwaukee’s intermodal container service was discontinued a decade ago as part of Canadian Pacific Railway’s precision railroading initiative implementation, Milwaukee port executives began coordination with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, as well as CP and Union Pacific Railroad, on efforts to restore such service through a dedicated installation.

After depositing a load of cement at port tenant LafargeHolcim, a vessel departs Port Milwaukee, which is seeking development of an intermodal container facility.
After depositing a load of cement at port tenant LafargeHolcim, a vessel departs Port Milwaukee, which is seeking development of an intermodal container facility.

“Our relationships with both UP and CP remain critical to our work at Port Milwaukee,” said Tindall-Schlicht, who noted that CP serves Milwaukee’s Lake Michigan port five times a week and UP does so between three and five days per week. “Having multiple rail lines is part of our competitive advantage.”

Not surprisingly, Port Milwaukee has expressed to the Surface Transportation Board its support of the merger of CP with Kansas City Southern Railway.

For now, Port Milwaukee is relying on the vast intermodal rail infrastructure of the Chicago area to meet local demands for containerized goods, including for the building of the 25-story Ascent MKE residential tower, which is being ballyhooed as the world’s tallest mass timber structure. Containers with goods for that endeavor are trucked to Port Milwaukee from Chicagoland intermodal rail hubs, with delivery to the project site when needed.

Also, Tindall-Schlicht sees competitive rail services furnishing essential links for the $31 million agricultural export facility being built along Port Milwaukee’s inner harbor by The DeLong Co. Inc. The DeLong facility is anticipated to be operational by April 2023, offering what Tindall-Schlicht termed “a catalytic opportunity for Wisconsin farmers to connect with worldwide markets.”

Rail cars have long served as conduits for grains and other exports from Midwest ports, including the Ports of Indiana, where steel, potash and coal are also part of the mix.

“Rail activity is up for the Ports of Indiana,” Vanta E. Coda II, chief executive officer of the Ports of Indiana, told AJOT, projecting year-over-year increases in overall rail numbers encompassing the…

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