Port of Pittsburgh Commission completes container-on-barge study

by Canadian Shipper

A pre-feasibility study completed recently by the Port of Pittsburgh Commission (PPC) found that sufficient infrastructure already exists in many steel-handling and other river terminal facilities within the Port of Pittsburgh District to begin container-on-barge (COB) transport on the Ohio River.

The study was conducted by the PPC and funded through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) and comes at a time as MARAD begins to examine new ways to encourage waterway transportation.

“Containers have been regularly used on European and Chinese inland vessels, but are only now finding their way into U.S. inland waterways,” said PPC Executive Director James McCarville.

“Efforts to promote container-on-barge in the past in the U.S. have met with a ‘chicken and egg syndrome. Barge lines are reluctant to commit to a service without the guarantee of cargo and container shippers are reluctant to commit cargo for a service that’s not regularly offered,” he added.

While the study found that some specialized river terminal yard equipment would be required, the bigger problems were the lack of port marketing data and public-private “intermodal” partnerships to book waterway-cargo for multiple shippers and destinations.

The report describes the characteristics of successful COB services around the world, the problems typically encountered when trying to start a COB service, and strategies for COB services any port on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers would likely have to overcome, including:

Port needs for equipment and market strategies
Shipper needs for easy access to cost data
Operator needs to eliminate the cost of double-handling through single bills of lading
System needs to eliminate unreliability of locks

The study also highlights the potential for combining containers with existing domestic cargoes, such as steel to establish port-to-port pairs for eventual intermodal distribution.

Finally, the research also calls for building on relationships between ports, such as the Inland Waterway Intermodal Cooperative Program and the inland Short Sea Shipping Initiative to better develop cooperative efforts to promote and implement container-on-barge throughout the inland waterway transportation system as a whole.

On another front, McCarville said the Commission has retained Martin Associates and Reebie Associates to undertake what may be the first effort to identify waterway-contestable container markets that could be served by water.

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