Reality, Check Again

In light of the Port of Virginia’s growth and strategic advantages, and contrary to Ted Prince’s conclusions reached in his recent column (“Reality Check,” Feb. 1, page 15), it is necessary to point out some facts and critical omissions made by the author.

According to American Association of Port Authorities statistics, from 2000 to 2008, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach grew an impressive 50 percent in combined TEUs. In that same period, the Port of Virginia grew 55 percent. In a more recent trend, 2004-2008, LA and Long Beach container volume increased 8 percent while Virginia’s increased 15 percent. Not bad for a “local player.”

Mr. Prince has extensive intermodal experience gained at railroads, ship lines and the Intermodal Association of North America. Considering this, it is rather odd that his assessment of Virginia’s intermodal rail market wasn’t more thorough.

In calendar year 2008, the Port of Virginia ranked sixth in the nation with 2.1 million TEUs handled.

Approximately 30 percent of Virginia’s 2008 volume — more than 600,000 TEUs — arrived or departed by rail.

As a percentage of all-water cargoes, no East Coast port — New York-New Jersey included — boasts a higher intermodal rail market share.

Without our existing intermodal volume, Virginia would have fallen from sixth to 10th in 2008 U.S. TEU totals, trailing Charleston, San Juan, Seattle and Tacoma.

Virginia’s rail volume is approximately equivalent to total port volumes at both Baltimore and Jacksonville and larger than the combined volume of Portland and Philadelphia.

Virginia’s success in the intermodal rail arena is defined by our daily, ongoing competition for discretionary cargoes with the Port of New York and New Jersey. While NY-NJ has two Class 1 railroads — Norfolk Southern and CSX — competing on a fairly level playing field, Virginia has bucked the author’s theory by recording consistent rail growth almost exclusively with our good partner, NS.

The opening of the Heartland Corridor double-stack rail route this summer will create some very real opportunities for the port, NS and our mutual customers in Columbus, Ohio, Chicago and other markets. Similarly, should CSX be successful in its pursuit of the National Gateway, establishing double-stack access from the Port of Virginia to Midwest and Ohio Valley markets, the notion that Virginia could be defined as a “secondary port” leaves me questioning the author’s logic.

Moreover, perhaps the author should have posed his middle-of-the-pack theory to the leadership at A.P. Moller-Maersk, which has invested nearly $500 million in building its U.S. East Coast hub here. That seems like an incredible amount to invest in a “secondary port.”

Finally, to quote the author: “The question is not whether a port has railroad access; it is whether it has comparative advantage.” On this point, I couldn’t agree more and here is why:

-- Deep-water and unobstructed channels.

-- No air-draft restrictions.

-- Two on-dock railroads with growing network capacity.

-- Real expansion opportunities (full build-out of APMT Portsmouth and the future Craney Island).

-- A strong and growing network of in-state distribution centers.

-- A nearly exclusive ability among East Coast ports to accommodate post-Panamax vessels.

Perhaps the Port of Virginia is taking a page from American political philosophy; the middle is exactly where we want to be.

Jerry Bridges
Executive director
Virginia Port Authority


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