April 17, 2019

Port of New York/New Jersey tackling port congestion

New rail assets introduced, barge project inaugurated, labor productivity measures enacted

Congestion is a challenge that is not new to the Port of New York and New Jersey, but it has taken on an added dimension of late. The introduction of a new generation of megaships create cargo spikes when they call on the port, while, at the macro level, the port saw a six-percent increase in cargo volumes in 2018, and volumes continue to grow this year. So, it is encouraging to see that the port has taken steps to combat congestion in recent months.

In January, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey inaugurated a major expansion of its ExpressRail system, the final rail facility in a network aimed at handling over 900,000 rail lifts a year. The Port Jersey facility marks the culmination of a $600-million Port Authority capital investment program dating back to the 1990s that established on-dock and near-dock rail access at all of its major marine terminals.

Three months earlier, the Port Authority, along with the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), announced the creation of the North Atlantic Marine Highway Alliance to develop barge services to supplement rail cargo and offset the use of trucks to and from the port. The project is backed by a grant from the Federal Maritime Administration.

Meanwhile, a recent report indicates, that the Port NY/NJ terminals are successfully moving out a backlog of containers that accumulated earlier this year and are improving turn times. Truckers say that NYNJ terminals are getting as many as 80% of container movements done in two hours or less, according to the report. That compares to earlier reports of drivers waiting around for between four and eight hours in extreme cases. Port stakeholders are also taking steps to increase the number and efficiency of dock workers. (See sidebar on page 9)

The new ExpressRail facilities were designed to reduce the port’s heavy reliance on trucks to transport cargo to and from the port. Trucks still account for 85% of container movement on and off port, but the opening of the final rail facility will allow the port to eliminate 1.5 million truck trips annually, reduce congestion and enhance air quality.

“An efficient rail cargo system can deliver cargo to an inland destination before the vessel reaches the next U.S. port,” said Port Authority Chairman Kevin O’Toole, noting that three-quarters of vessels arrive in NYNJ as their first call.

North Atlantic Marine Highway Alliance

The initial phase of ExpressRail Port Jersey which opened in January consists of four loading and unloading tracks from the GCT Bayonne terminal that connect to a lead track to and from the main freight rail network. It also consists of two high-efficiency, all-electric, rail-mounted gantry cranes with LED lighting to load and unload containers in the intermodal yard. Within a few months, the facility will be built out to 9,600 linear feet of an eight-track working pad and two lead tracks.

The intermodal facility, which will have an annual capacity of 250,000 container lifts, will connect the GCT Bayonne terminal to CSX and Norfolk Southern’s rail networks, allowing shippers to reach inland markets in the Midwest, New England, and elsewhere by rail. The Port Authority estimates that the facility will help reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 18,300 tons annually.

The cost of the GCT Bayonne ExpressRail Port Jersey facility is $149 million, including $56 million for GCT USA to build the work pads. Port Authority capital funds were initially used to build the facility, but the $149 million will be recoverable over time, according to the Port Authority, through the Cargo Facility Charge, a fee assessed on cargo shipped through NYNJ to cover the costs of infrastructure projects.

The North Atlantic Marine Highway Alliance will serve in an advisory capacity on research and analysis to support the realization of a financially viable regional barge network. The alliance will be composed of public agencies, port authorities, marine terminal operators, and service providers, and will provide a forum for stakeholders to work to develop and expand regional barge services among two or more North Atlantic ports, ranging from Maryland to Maine.

The Maritime Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation, is supporting these efforts through its marine highway grant program, having awarded NYCEDC a $300,000 grant last August. The grant, which will be matched by the City of New York, will be used to research potential markets and operational elements of the barge system.

“Reducing the amount of cargo coming in and out of the New York City metro area by truck is key to improving air quality and decreasing congestion,” said NYCEDC President and CEO James Patchett.

“The Maine Port Authority enthusiastically supports the creation of the North Atlantic Marine Highway Alliance,” added Jon Nass, the port authority’s CEO. “This alliance will combine the resources and energy of the various public and private stakeholders to identify markets, means and methods to realize a multi-region marine highway system.”

The program has also received support from the Seafarers International Union of North America and International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1814.

Strong Volumes

According to the report on port congestion, the Port of NY/NJ continues to see strong volumes this year, even though the late-2018 spike may have been caused by shippers seeking to beat Trump administration tariffs. Some terminals opened their gates periodically on Saturdays since the beginning of the year, and some port stakeholders, such as the Association of Bi-State Motor Carriers, are pushing for permanent Saturday gate hours as part of a solution to promote port fluidity.

But even with successful efforts to reduce congestion, the report noted that drayage capacity remains tight, and that some terminals have had to divert ships to less-congested facilities as a result. The report also noted that terminals are trying to get ahead of next year’s peak shipping season with upgrades, such as additional yard equipment and a truck appointment system at APM Terminal New York. Those upgrades are expected to improve truck turn times at the terminal, and that, presumably, will attract the required drayage capacity to handle the expected increases in container volumes.