Container-on-barge launches across NY-NJ port harbor

Container-on-barge launches across NY-NJ port harbor

The US government continues to support container-on-barge schemes despite the failure of one in California between Oakland and Stockton.

The first barge to sail in a new cross-harbor service designed to increase productivity in the Port of New York and New Jersey will embark Thursday, linking Brooklyn with the Port Newark Container Terminal.

The new service is part of the effort by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey — in line with that at other ports around the United States — to reduce truck traffic and pollution in and around terminals. Although the Red Hook Container Terminal in Brooklyn, the starting point for the barge trip, already runs a barge crossing for its own customers that takes goods to a small terminal in Newark, the new route is the first to offer a commercial service open to all shippers, linking one of the port’s four main terminals.

The service is intended to provide an alternative to the truck traffic that has sporadically choked the port with serious congestion, slowing the movement of goods and raising questions about the port’s ability to handle the growing volume of containers. About 15,000 truck trips per day go in and out of the port, and that is expected to increase as container volume rises, especially when a project to raise the Bayonne Bridge and enable larger ships into the entire port is completed late next year.

The barge service is designed to bring goods to and from Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island, rather than take them by road through New Jersey and New York.

At 8 a.m., the first of about 120 containers of waste paper will be loaded onto the 300-foot long tug-pulled barge at Red Hook Container Terminal, which is expected to make the 90-minute trip some time in the afternoon, said Mike Stamatis, president and CEO of the terminal. The cargo will be loaded on Sunday onto Mediterranean Shipping Co.’s 8,000-twenty-foot-equivalent-unit MSC Anzu, and shipped to China, he said.

Bethann Rooney, assistant director of the port authority's port department, said the service will have to prove itself by attracting customers, but she hopes that Thursday's sailing is just the start. She said that the US Maritime Administration has approved the project as part of the marine highway system, opening the way to get federal funds for upgrades to the infrastructure, but not operating funds.

“The whole fundamental purpose of the short-sea shipping is to be a faster, cheaper service,” she said. “We would hope that in the future there would be more barge routes to other destinations.”

James J. Pelliccio, president and CEO of Port Newark Container Terminal, said the port is “well positioned to lead the way into a more efficient use of container-on-barge service in the region."

“It’s time to reconsider the benefits and role of container-on-barge/short-sea shipping to the supply chain in a major gateway like the Port of New York and New Jersey," he said in an email. “The environmental, highway congestion, and infrastructure utilization benefits for the region are significant. At PNCT we continue to search for alternatives and creative solutions for cargo movement in the region.”

Other barge projects around the nation have had mixed success. The Department of Transportation in mid-April publicly backed three new marine highway project proposals, including shuttles for Baton Rouge-New Orleans, Illinois Intrastate, and Lake Erie. Project backers, seeking federal funding, said the projects were more evolved than the marine highways of the past.

A service that started in 2013 between the California ports of Stockton and Oakland lasted only a year before it shut down. Industry insiders said the start-up period was longer than anticipated. Many of the roughly 50 shippers that used the service — ranging from agriculture producers to finished goods makers — were unwilling to shift more of the freight to barge without a guarantee of how long the service would last.

Stamatis said the project took about two years to put together, and alongside the marine highway designation the project had to get operating agreements with the Customs Service and Homeland Security.

For the moment, the barge will be based on demand, and will set sail when needed, he said.

“We have a lot of interest, and everyone is asking the same question — when is it going to start?” he said. “Obviously, it has numerous benefits to the environment, numerous benefits to reducing the highway maintenance and repairs to roadways and bridges. And as more volume of cargo moves into the port, moving cargo in and out of terminal facilities by water will be a beneficial and efficient means of moving freight across the harbor.”

Contact Hugh R. Morley at  Hugh.Morley@ihs.com and follow him on Twitter: @HughRMorley_JOC.