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Ports prepare rail networks for giant ships

In order to better handle the more than 250 ships bigger than 10,000 TEU which will be deployed over the next couple of years, a large number of ports in both Europe and the United States are building or expanding rail networks, SeaIntel states.

Photo: Hanjin

Within a few years, the global container fleet of ships larger than 10,000 TEU will surpass 250 ships. This marks a considerable challenge for the ports of the world which will have to be ready to handle far bigger volumes of cargo per ship than previously. To choose a solution leading to the least possible overloading of the road networks and CO2 emissions, ports target rail networks. That is why American and European ports are expanding rail networks considerably in order to be able to transport containers to and from the ports. So states SeaIntel in an analysis based on figures from its partner Containerisation International.

“The new giant container vessels coming into the market in the next couple of years will increase the pressure on the ports to handle more containers in order to avoid congestion. To handle this future challenge, and meet environmental requirements, ports are already expanding and improving their rail facilities. Some ports clearly have a significant portion of cargo moved by rail, and in order to remain competitive, we expect other main ports to follow the trend in the years to come”, SeaIntel concludes.

Today, an average of 20 percent of all containers to and from European ports is transported by train. However, the span between the ports is significant; in Hamburg and Bremerhaven, 35-45 percent of the containers are transported by train whereas the figure is ten percent when looking at the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp.

North American expansions

In North America, the picture is a bit different as a number of ports do not even have an access point to the rail networks. This is the case in e.g. Oakland and Houston but in these places investments are being made in order to couple up port facilities with railways. Just as is the case in Europe, the span between the percentages of cargo transported by train is big. In Los Angeles, Long Beach, Virginia and Vancouver the figures are 25 %, 31 %, 30 % and 50 percent of the overall container throughput respectively. In ports such as New York/New Jersey, Savannah, Seattle and Manzanillo as little as ten percent or less of the cargo are transported by train.

“In an apparent race to prepare for the coming of very large container vessels, it seems most of the ports have significant plans to expand and improve their facilities”, SeaIntel states.

This is the case in e.g. Los Angeles and Long Beach which are working on a project including an improvement of the railway infrastructure. Furthermore, port authorities in New York and New Jersey have allocated more than USD 3 billion to prepare for the arrival of larger volumes. Among other things, the objectives are to improve rail infrastructure and on-dock rail liftings.

Will containers travel by train in the future? 

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