March 13, 2017

Charleston breaks ground on state's second inland port facility

Facility in Dillon to join existing port in Greer.

By DC Velocity Staff

Officials in Charleston, S.C., broke ground Friday on an inland port facility in Dillon, S.C., which—when it opens early next year—will become the state's second inland port operation.

Located 130 miles north of Charleston, the Dillon facility is designed to support growing intermodal volumes between the Port of Charleston and markets throughout the Carolinas, Northeast, and Midwest, the South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA), which will operate the facility, said in a statement. The state's first inland port, located in Greer, S.C., 216 miles northwest of Charleston, opened in late 2013.

The two inland ports are designed to compliment each other, according to SCPA. Dillon will serve the agricultural products market and support import distribution along the Interstate 95 corridor. Greer, located about halfway between Charlotte, N.C., and Atlanta on Interstate 85, is surrounded by manufacturers such as BMW North America and the North American operations of French tire company Michelin. In the past three years, operations at Greer have expanded to serve the Atlanta and Charlotte consumer markets, according to Erin Dhand, an SCPA spokeswoman. The Dillon facility will also support distribution in the consumer-products segment, Dhand said.

"Inland Port Dillon will diversify SCPA's footprint and enable port users to gain logistics efficiencies through rail transportation of their cargo," said Jim Newsome, SCPA president and CEO, in a statement.

International intermodal rail "lifts"—defined as a trailer or container lifted onto or off of a railcar, have increased 170 percent at Charleston since 2011, with 23 percent of the port's total containerized volume moving by rail, according to SCPA data

The inland port expansion in South Carolina mirrors that of neighboring Georgia. In 2013, the Georgia Ports of Authority (GPA), which operates the ports of Savannah and Brunswick, opened an inland port in Cordele, about 130 miles north of the Florida state line, to mostly handle the distribution of agricultural commodities. In 2018, GPA will open its second such facility, in the northwest Georgia town of Chatsworth, to link Savannah by rail to industrial markets in north Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and parts of Kentucky.

Inland ports have grown in popularity in recent years as a cost-effective, environmentally friendly rail-intermodal alternative to trucks in shipping goods between U.S. seaports and interior markets. For example, an import shipment from Charleston to an inland destination would move a good part of the way by rail, then be offloaded for a much-shorter truck move. Dillon is expected to handle 45,000 containers annually in its initial phase of operation, with rail service to and from Charleston being provided over an existing CSX Transportation mainline, SCPA said.

The inland port model is also designed to alleviate road congestion caused by an abundance of trucks. The Chatsworth, Ga. facility is expected to reduce the need for exporters using Savannah to route shipments by truck through traffic-clogged metro Atlanta. The rail service to and from Chatsworth is expected to cut Atlanta truck traffic by 40,000 moves annually, GPA said in 2015 when the project was announced.

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