Deep thinking [from the October 2012 MM&D print edition]

by Array

Bob LaMura, manager of maritime relations for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey says the authority’s goal is to “make the world a smaller place” but in order to do that, it’s making its harbour deeper and its bridge taller.

The port, third largest in the US and the largest on the east coast, sees 5.5 million TEUs a year, and it is expecting a four percent rate of growth annually over the next five to eight years.

But LaMura told a Toronto audience attending a presentation hosted by the port that it wants to grow bigger and handle more, hence the renovations.

A harbour deepening project is currently under way so larger ships designed to take advantage of the Panama Canal expansion can call on the port. Even the ships calling on the port today could benefit from deeper water.

“Both [ocean carriers] MSC and CMA have brought into the port fully laden container vessels in excess of 9,000 TEUs, so the Port Authority’s strategy is not to play hockey where the puck is but play hockey where the puck’s going to be,” says LaMura.

Currently harbour maintenance and harbour and channel deepening efforts are under way.

“By the end of this year the channel will be 50 feet deep or more in certain areas, and will be able to take the biggest vessels coming to the east coast,” says LaMura.

Work is also being done on the Bayonne Bridge. Ships leaving the ocean and heading to the port’s terminals need to cross under the bridge, but “the problem is it’s too low”, says LaMura, adding that some ships are coming in so low in the water “they are scraping mud”. Once unloaded they sit too high on the water and have a difficult time passing back under the bridge unless they wait for low tide.

“So the issue is the height of the bridge. We’re going to spend US$1 billion dollars to correct that.

“We can’t wait for those bigger ships to be coming through the canal. We can’t wait for those bigger ships to be begging to call on the port. We’ve got to be ready when they’re ready.”

The project is to take six years including four years for studies and approvals and two years to build. It was fast-tracked for approval by the federal government and is now six months ahead of schedule. The scheduled completion date is sometime in Q4 2015.

Despite the construction, there will be no disruption to vessel traffic underneath the bridge as it is dismantled and rebuilt. The bridge’s archway, which is protected for its historical value, will be raised and reinstalled.

Construction is also occurring on rail lines and sidings at the port. The express rail system at the Port Newark Container Terminal (PNCT) is undergoing expansion to double its capacity. That work should be completed by 2014.  A flyover has also been built between the marine terminal and the rail siding. Currently, containers off-loaded from ships are placed on trucks and transported over busy public roads to the rail siding.

New siding is also being installed by the Port Authority between the Global Marine Terminal (GMT) and Bayonne. Once all the work is complete, each of the terminals in the port will have its own dedicated rail siding.

Vance Bennett, the director of port development at CSX Transportation also spoke at the event. The rail company is investing in the GMT siding project by building supporting infrastructure, which will likely be completed by the end of 2014, about six months behind schedule.

A large portion of Bennett’s presentation was devoted to CSX’s northwest Ohio terminal, which began full operations in 2011. Between New York and Chicago, it has five state-of-the-art cranes. This terminal will be used as a model for future CSX facilities.

“The cranes actually span eight rail tracks, two truck lanes and three container stacking lanes. Traditionally, rail would come in with a long train. It would be blocked out by city destination, you’d break those blocks and connect them to the appropriate trains,” explains Bennett.

“Now we can pull the trains right alongside those cranes, you can lift the containers off the [incoming trains] and put them on trains staged for departure.”
Bennett says the cranes are mainly computer operated and controlled by the terminal’s operation system. The operator only has manual control for the last 2.4m (eight feet) during the pick-up or drop-off.

“When the train comes in, we have a camera that takes a picture of the train ID for the rail car and the containers on the rail car and feeds it to the operating system, which feeds it to the cranes. The cranes are guided by the computer system so they know where to pick up a container and what train to put it on.”

RFID at the port

The port is working with Sustainable Terminal Services Inc, a consortium of terminal operators in the port to implement an RFID-based truck tracking system. It will enable the port authority and the terminal operators to know the content of containers coming to and from the port and the identities and backgrounds of the people transporting and handling the cargo.

Each truck entering the port will have its vehicle identification number (VIN) tied to its RFID tag. The system should be in place in the first half of 2013.