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Port of Virginia Approves New Rail Expansion

Virginia port rail
Image courtesy VPA

Published Nov 19, 2021 1:08 PM by The Maritime Executive

Just one week after the Georgia Ports Authority completed a major intermodal rail expansion project at the Port of Savannah, the Port of Virginia has confirmed plans to expand its own on-dock rail operation for containers at Norfolk International Terminal. Both ports serve the major container service strings for the U.S. East Coast market, and the rail investments expand their ability to serve inland customers, including markets in the U.S. Midwest. 

On Tuesday, the Virginia Port Authority (VPA) Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a $61.5 million construction bid for a project to double the Norfolk International Terminal's rail capacity. The work will be carried out by Allan Myers Virginia Inc., the same firm that handled recent optimization projects at NIT and Virginia International Gateway (VIG). The construction includes demolition, pavement work, utilities infrastructure and installation of new railroad track. The work begins in February 2022 and will be complete in late 2023. The VPA board also approved an $18 million contract for up to three new gantry cranes for the terminal. 

When complete, NIT’s expanded Central Rail Yard will be able to accommodate 610,000 annual container lifts; the current lift capacity is 350,000. Nearby VIG can handle another 480,000 lifts per year. 

The rail expansion is timed to coincide with the dredging of the port's entrance channel. When completed, the channel will be deeper (55 feet) and wider than any other on the East Coast, accommodating safe two-way transit for the very largest container ships. 

"Pairing that channel depth with modern terminals and significant rail capacity is going to attract big ships and more cargo volume. We are going to need the rail capacity to support the additional cargo we’ll be getting from this shift of big vessels to Virginia," said Stephen A. Edwards, the CEO and executive director of VPA. "We have a clear roadmap for investment to stay ahead of the curve."

The competing Port of Baltimore is also investing in rail expansion. At present, a low rail tunnel limits its intermodal rail traffic to single-stack rail cars, crimping capacity, but in October it secured a long-awaited environmental approval to rebuild the tunnel for more throughput.