Container Ports: Land Grab

Container ports add acreage and terminal space to accommodate growing box volumes.

port long beach

Published Nov 18, 2022 1:04 PM by Tom Peters

(Article originally published in Sept/Oct 2022 edition.)

The busy container port of Long Beach, which handles over eight million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) annually, is reaping the rewards of its forward-thinking.

About a decade ago, the port invested $4 billion in infrastructure, preparing for big ships and future challenges. Investments went into terminals, dredging, roads and more, says Mario Cordero, the port’s Executive Director.

The $1.5 billion Long Beach International Gateway Bridge replaced the old Gerald Desmond Bridge, dramatically improving traffic flow around the port. The third phase of the Long Beach Container Terminal (LBCT) was completed in June 2021, immediately adding a million TEUs to annual capacity. LBCT is now able to move 3.5 million TEUs annually. 

And there’s more to come.

Long Beach plans to spend about $1.5 billion for on-dock rail projects. In late 2021, the port was awarded a $52.3 million federal grant for the Pier B On-Dock Rail Support Facility. Construction is expected to begin next year. 

“The just completed $35 million Pier G-J Double Track Access project adds a second rail line between Piers G and J,” Cordero explains. “The $25 million fourth track at Ocean Boulevard has begun, and the $40 million Terminal Island Wye Realignment project will reduce switching conflicts by adding a new lead track on Pier T and two new storage tracks on Pier S.”

Zero Congestion

The continued strong growth in Florida’s population, approaching 22 million, is fueling container growth at Port Tampa Bay.

“Port Tampa Bay's container tonnage is up by 18 percent year-to-date,” says Wade Elliott, Vice President of Business Development. Elliott says the Tampa Bay/Orlando I-4 Corridor region is the fastest growing in the state and home to Florida’s largest concentration of distribution centers, approaching 400 million square feet. “Unlike other ports, we haven’t experienced any congestion either by ships waiting for a berth or truckers waiting at the gate,” he adds. “We’ve been able to stay ahead of the growth curve thanks to an aggressive capital expansion program together with our terminal operator partner, Ports America.”

The port recently completed a major expansion of the container terminal, increasing paved storage by 25 to 67 acres. Work is about to begin that will add an additional 30 acres and a third deep water berth. Later this year it will take delivery of three addition gantry cranes.

Over on Florida’s east coast, Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale) added new service from Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC). “We had a spike in May, June and August because of the new MSC services from South Asia and the Mediterranean,” notes Port Director Jonathan Daniels. “We are on track to shatter our annual record from 2018.”

On the infrastructure side, work continues on the $471 million Southport Turning Notch Extension, to be completed in late 2023. It will add new cargo berths, Super Post-Panamax container gantry cranes and crane rail to the port’s main containerized cargo area. Everglades has three Super Post-Panamax cranes on order with anticipated arrival in late 2023. 

Expanded Yard Space

Fiscal 2022 was another record-breaker for the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) with container volumes at the Port of Savannah growing eight percent to 5.76 million TEUs. In addition to organic growth, Savannah's trade has been boosted by the uncertainty of West Coast labor talks and delayed access to rail at West Coast ports, prompting ship diversions to the East Coast.

“Despite the record volumes, the Port of Savannah remains fluid,” says Executive Director Griff Lynch. GPA recently added 1.2 million TEUs of annual capacity by expanding container yard space at the sprawling Garden City Terminal. Last November, it commissioned the final nine of 18 working tracks on its Mason Mega Rail Terminal expansion, increasing rail capacity by 30 percent. 

The first phase of the Garden City Terminal West expansion, completed in July, added 25 acres for container storage and support, and work has begun on the second phase, 90 acres of storage space to be supported by 15 electric rubber-tired gantry cranes, adding a million TEUs of annual capacity.

The Port of Baltimore, with new services from ZIM Container Line and MSC, has also bolstered container volumes. ZIM ZXB (eCommerce Baltimore eXpress) is a service from China and Southeast Asia to the U.S. East Coast. Plans are to have the biweekly service become weekly.

Baltimore has also been added to an existing international container service with MSC that includes calls between Asia and the Panama Canal and between the U.S. and the Suez Canal. The MSC Santana service will now include calls in Baltimore, Boston and Da Chan Bay Port in China. 

As volumes grow, Baltimore has begun the operation of four additional supersized, Neo-Panamax cranes, part of a $166 million investment by Ports America Chesapeake (PAC) at the Seagirt Marine Terminal, to serve a second deepwater berth. The new berth and cranes complement CSX’s Howard Street Tunnel expansion project that will accommodate double-stacked container rail cars and is scheduled for completion in 2025.

In Canada, the Port of Montreal – the country's second largest container port – has three bidders for the next phase of its Contrecœur Terminal expansion. Bidders were required to show experience in the design, construction and operation of new port infrastructure and in generating new shipping volumes. The project will add 1.15 million TEUs of new capacity when complete by the end of 2026 at an estimated cost of $580 million to $734 million. 

The Montreal Port Authority and CN Railway have also reached an agreement to integrate rail transport at the new Contrecœur facility. 

Spanish Eyes

Internationally, the Port of Valencia (“Valenciaport”), on the east coast of Spain, is a key hub in Europe’s trade with Asia and Mediterranean countries and the fifth busiest port in Europe. Between January and June, it handled 41,641,585 metric tons of cargo, slightly less than the same period in 2021, due mainly to a decrease in transshipment containers. 

Nonetheless, as the busiest port on the Mediterranean, Valenciaport is planning a new container terminal for the inland waters of the northern extension with a capacity of more than five million TEUs. Another important step has been the development of the port’s Logistics Activities Zone, which consists of 307,977 square meters exclusively for logistics to improve cargo flow.

There is also work underway to improve the inland railway network and the connections of both the ports of Valencia and Sagunto. Recently, MSC started a rail service dedicated exclusively to refrigerated cargo between Valencia and Zaragoza. CMA CGM has a new rail service between Valencia and Zaragoza and recently, COSCO Shipping Ports Spain started a new rail connection between its facility in the port of Valencia and the Portuguese areas of Lisbon and Leixões.

Automated Terminal

In July, the Port of Nansha, one of the world’s largest container ports, located in Guangzhou, China, unveiled the region’s first fully-automated container terminal. The terminal has a throughput capacity of 4.9 million TEUs, bringing annual throughput at Nansha to over 24 million TEUs. The new terminal is part of the fourth phase of the port’s modernization project, combining multimodal services related to sea, river and railway transportation.

“We feel Nansha Phase 4 is a very good test for terminal automation that will help us keep up with demand and meet today’s sustainability trends,” says John Painter. President & CEO of Guangzhou Port America. “However, automated terminals are very capital-intensive, so moving forward we might revert back to traditional terminals. Based on our initial technology investment and experience, we can readily transition to an automated terminal if need be.” 

Nansha is also becoming a rail hub, and earlier this year the first freight train loaded with Chinese exports left Nansha for Europe. According to a release, the train will “further promote the development of foreign trade and logistics industries and help construct an international ocean-rail inter-modal transportation hub in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.”

Tracking App

As container ships get larger and ports get busier, the need for real-time data becomes even more vital.

International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI), a global company based in Manila that is involved in port development, management and operations, has launched the ICTSI App, a tool that gives port users access to the company’s newest digital services.

ICTSI says its “latest innovation grants port users real-time access to critical logistics data across ICTSI’s global operations. Using the app, port stakeholders can monitor trucks, containers and vessels, as well as view payment estimates from corresponding ICTSI terminals in advance. These services enable port users to optimize their cargo through ICTSI and reduce costs.”

Brian Hibbert, Global Chief Information Officer, explains the process: “As the largest independent port operator across six continents, ICTSI is leveraging digital platforms to bring new levels of interactivity and supply chain visibility to our stakeholders. From shipper to vessel and vessel to consignee, ICTSI looks to provide the most transparent and visible logistics process while maintaining our shipping line neutrality.” – MarEx  

Ports columnist Tom Peters is based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.