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No slowdown yet on the East Coast

Both Savannah and Charleston have reported strong throughput results for March.

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In Georgia, the Georgia Ports Authority saw container numbers bounce back in March, after recording an 8.5% drop in February 2019.


Over the last four months the main growth driver for US ports has been importers rushing to land Chinese-made goods in the US ahead of tariff increases, which President Trump may or may not impose. Like most US ports, Savannah saw imports surge in November 2018 (+15%), December 2018 (+15%) and January 2019 (+18.8%) before falling in February (-11.5%), due to the traditional Chinese new year slowdown.


Many expected the slowdown would continue into March. That is likely to be the case on the west coast, but on the eastern seaboard the GPA had another record month, with throughput of 410,00 TEU up 15.5% on March 2018. Further down the coast at Charleston, the South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA) saw its throughput hit 214,123 TEU, up 7% on the 199,659 TEU the port handled in March 2018.


Both ports stressed how strongly their rail operations have grown over the last 12 months. At the GPA rail traffic in March reached 82,135 TEU, a 26% increase on March 2018. “In addition, GPA achieved a record low dwell time for intermodal boxes in March, with containers averaging just 27 hours from vessel to outbound rail,” the GPA noted. In fact the port claims that in its fiscal year to date it has cut dwell time for rail containers by 50% while handling a 22% increase in TEU volume.


In South Carolina, the SCPA’s Inland Port Greer set a new monthly record, with 14,522 rail lifts in March. Greer also handled a record number of gate moves, processing 22,020 transactions while at the same time “the average truck turn time dropped by one minute to 12.3 minutes,”GPA stated.


For the GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch said: ”I would like to thank our employees at GPA, the stevedores and the International Longshoremen’s Association for helping to make this accomplishment possible. To have handled this level of intermodal volume, while reducing the time it takes for a container to move between rail and vessel operations, is a big win for our customers. We are just beginning to see this port’s capabilities.”


With intermodal traffic surging, the GPA will need its Mason Mega Rail project sooner rather than later. This project will double the Port of Savannah’s rail lift capacity to 1 million containers (not TEU) per year, and is 25% complete. The first phase will come online by October 2019, and the second phase will become operational by the end of 2020.


In South Carolina the SCPA was equally optimistic. “The record volumes achieved last month reflect a very positive end to our third quarter of the fiscal year,” said Jim Newsome, SCPA president and CEO. “SCPA also saw the highest month of export loads since the fiscal year began in July 2018, with 42,524 export loads handled. The Port is well-positioned as it heads into the fourth quarter.”

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