Inland Port Summit highlights new terminal

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Rail terminal to ship cargo to/from Upstate

By Stan Welch

A who’s who of political, business, education and economic development leaders gathered in Anderson Wednesday at the South Carolina Inland Port (SCIP) summit, where they learned about the impact that the soon to open facility will have on the Upstate. The Anderson County Legislative Delegation, the County Council, the towns of Belton, West Pelzer, Honea Path, Williamston, and other cities were also represented.

The summit was intended to gather an eclectic mix of the area’s leadership in various related fields. Brian White, state Representative and Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, chaired the summit, which included presentations by various state officials and industry representatives.

Jack Ellenberg, senior vice president for the South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA) made the port of Charleston’s importance to the state and the nation very clear. He informed the crowd of more than 200 that Charleston is the United States’ eighth largest port; one which handled more than 150 million containers last year, to the tune of $63 billion dollars worth of cargo.

In all, the port of Charleston had an economic impact of approximately $45 billion on the state’s economy and provided employment for 261,000 South Carolinians , either directly and indirectly. That’s one of eleven South Carolinians working. The port handles cargo and goods which travel to or from 26 different states, and 120 countries.

Ellenberg also explained the tremendous need to deepen and maintain the harbor, due to the exponential growth in the size of ships. Panamax ships, or those capable of squeezing through the Panama Canal, average 920 feet in length, 120 feet in width and draw forty feet of water.

Post Panamax ships, which the largest carriers are converting to, average 1200 feet long, 160 feet wide, and draft fifty feet. They also carry 12000 containers at a time. Charleston can currently accept those ships when the tide is right. They have two feet of water between the keel and the harbor bottom at high tide. The harbor is in line for deepening as funds become available.

The Inland Port is designed to achieve several goals. First of all, it will greatly reduce the numbers of tractor trailer rigs traveling the state’s highways. The 212 mile rail line from the SCIP terminal in Greer will allow Norfolk Southern to ship thousands of containers to that terminal, where trucks will pick them up for transport inland.

This will reduce the number of trips, especially those with empty containers, by providing an inland storage facility for empties; instead of hauling them to Charleston for storage, then back to the upstate when they are needed, and then back to Charleston for shipping overseas.

The 100 acre facility at Greer represents an investment of $50 million, but is only a small part of a $2 billion investment in infrastructure by the SCPA and Norfolk Southern Railways. NSR is committed to moving the needed containers overnight in order to keep freight flowing through the Atlanta and Charlotte areas, which both have substantial rail resources.

Brian Gwin, of Norfolk Southern , explained that much of that investment is to refurbish existing facilities to handle the longer, higher trains that will become the norm in the future, as well as to construct new facilities where they are needed. “To be able to stack containers two high is the key to profitable rail operations,” said Gwin.

The Greer terminal will be served by three rubber tire gantries that will offload and load the containers. At seventy five feet high, they are Greer’s tallest structures. The terminal is expected to handle forty thousand containers the first year, and is designed to handle a hundred thousand in the future.

South Carolina Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt enthusiastically reinforced the notion that such a facility will be a major attraction to industry and commerce considering locating in the Upstate area. “This innovative and aggressive approach is very attractive to business. It also is a major step in protecting the environment. Thousands upon thousands of truck trips will be taken off our highways and interstates. At the same time, goods will be moved cheaper and faster and that makes everyone happy” said Hitt.

The facility is due to receive its first containers on November 1. There is also an additional three thousand acres owned by GSP Airport which is likely to attract air freight carriers who can also access the SCIP for quicker transport of cargoes.