Rail Exec Sees Florida Gaining From Panama Canal

Rail Exec Sees Florida Gaining From Panama Canal

The widening of the Panama Canal in 2014 could establish South Florida as a gateway for Asia cargo moving to the Southeast, said James Hertwig, president and CEO of Florida East Coast Railway.

Hertwig, former president of CSX Intermodal, told the Los Angeles Transportation Club Tuesday that for a relatively inexpensive $75 million, the Port of Miami could be deepened to handle the larger container ships that will be deployed in all-water services to the East Coast after the canal in enlarged.

That would make FEC Railway a winner because the two Class 1 railroads in the Southeast, CSX and Norfolk Southern, already interline their South Florida intermodal freight with the railroad.

The FEC Railway is a short line railroad with seven southbound departures daily from Jacksonville to South Florida and seven northbound trains daily from South Florida to Jacksonville. The one-way distance is 351 miles.

Hertwig believes the expansion of the Panama Canal will foster construction import distribution centers in Florida to transload cargo from marine containers to domestic 53-foot containers, releasing the empty marine containers for repositioning in Asia.

“The first stop on the East Coast should be South Florida,” Hertwig said.

FEC Railway has plenty of capacity on northbound trains from Miami to Jacksonville to handle an increase in freight. The route now is imbalanced, with four containers moving southbound for every one container heading north.

Containers from Asia discharged in South Florida could reach Southeast destinations two to three days later. “They would be delivered to some destinations before the ship gets to Savannah,” Hertwig said.