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updated: 11/6/2019 3:38 PM

The Port of Savannah is closer than you think

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  • Ed McCarthy

    Ed McCarthy

 

Illinois' world-class freight infrastructure includes nearly two dozen intermodal terminals, moving more than 100 million tons of cargo annually. Farms, factories and pharmaceuticals all benefit from Chicago's efficient container handling, as evidenced by the city's impressive cargo volumes.

As a vital transportation hub, an impressive 25% of all U.S. freight passes through Chicago rail yards -- more than 10 million, 20-foot equivalent container units every year.

Most imports destined for Chicago move over West Coast ports. While these traditional routes have served the Windy City well in the past, increased volumes and delays caused by congestion can make it difficult for logistics planners to know when their cargo will arrive. However, moving cargo through the Port of Savannah to Chicago presents an alternative that diversifies the supply chain and mitigates risk.

Shipping lines initiated these West Coast routes because they offered the shortest ocean voyage from Asia to the U.S. Now, however, the speed with which the Port of Savannah moves cargo from ship to departing rail -- combined with overland rail routes that are half the distance -- negate the advantage of the shorter sea route. Our customers have found containers handled by the Port of Savannah reach Midwestern destinations at the same speed as West Coast containers, but with greater predictability.

At Savannah's Garden City Terminal, containers move from vessel to rail in less than 24 hours. On seven-day-a-week departures via Class I railroads CSX and Norfolk Southern, rail cargo reaches Chicago in less than three days.

At present, Savannah is the best kept secret in the Chicago logistics community, making Garden City Terminal an underused resource. As the most westerly major port on the U.S. East Coast, Savannah is the same distance from Chicago as the ports of Norfolk or New York-New Jersey. With 37 weekly vessel calls, Savannah is recognized as the nation's most connected port for global trade.

Further, the Georgia Ports Authority will soon be home to the largest on-dock intermodal rail facility in North America.

The Port of Savannah's $220 million Mason Mega Rail project will double the container port's rail lift capacity to 2 million TEUs per year. A grand opening for Phase I of the project is slated for March 2020. When Phase II opens later next year, the rail yard will feature a total of 180,000 feet of rail, 18 working tracks and expanded capability of building and receiving 10,000-foot unit trains on terminal.

The project is a game changer, cutting rail time to the American Midwest by 24 hours, and presenting a viable new supply chain option.

As the nation's third busiest gateway for containerized trade, the Port of Savannah handled 4.5 million TEUs in the fiscal year that ended in June. At 1,200 acres, Garden City is the largest single-operator container terminal in the nation, and offers ample space to take on significant cargo from Chicago customers.

In fact, a series of infrastructure expansions will double the Port of Savannah's annual throughput capability. Improvements on the existing footprint will bring capacity to 8.5 million TEUs. Additionally, the Georgia Ports Authority plans to establish a new container terminal across the Savannah River channel.

Upcoming terminal enhancements include:

• In 2020, Garden City Terminal will receive six additional ship-to-shore cranes, bringing its fleet to 36, more than any other terminal in North America. GPA plans continual upgrades to its crane fleet, which will include 12 new cranes with a lift height of 170 feet by 2027.

• Within three years, the GPA plans a berth realignment to allow docking for more 14,000-TEU vessels on the downriver end of Garden City Terminal. By 2027, the additional cranes, revamped dock space and a new Hutchinson Island terminal will significantly increase Savannah's big ship capacity.

• Ed McCarthy, Chief Operating Officer at Georgia Ports Authority, oversees the daily operation of the container port in Savannah and the state's autoport in Brunswick, Ga.