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Port manages slight November dip

With ongoing construction at its two main container terminals, the Port of Virginia is carefully handling the movement of empty containers to optimize its existing container capacity and move cargo as efficiently as possible, which led to a slight decline in November.

According to a Monday press release, the port’s volume of twenty-foot equivalent units for November was 239,890, which was 680 units shy of last November’s total. Port of Virginia Chief Executive Officer and Virginia Port Authority Executive Director John Reinhart attributed this to the close management of empty containers, an intentional effort to reduce overutilization of current capacity and to improve truck service times during peak cargo season.

“We are focusing on moving cargo in and out of our terminals more effectively as construction continues in parallel,” Reinhart stated in the press release. “We are limiting the movement of empty containers to help create space within our operation.

“In November, we evacuated almost 48,000 empty containers and limited the number of empty imports to 2,000. This effort is creating the room we need during construction to concentrate on moving loaded boxes.”

The port also put a temporary hold on containers of grain for export. According to the press release, many of these containers arrived on long, single-stack trains due to their weight. That required more work and thus slowed the processing of rail cargo, Reinhart said.

“These are interim moves necessary for us to maintain our efficiency. We knew there would be some unforeseen challenges during construction. Our projects are on schedule and on budget, our team is responding well and we are employing strategies to ensure cargo flow. Still, we know we can do better,” he stated.

Total TEU volume is 0.4-percent ahead of last year on a calendar-year basis. Volume at Virginia Inland Port in Front Royal is up 10 percent ahead of last year, and cargo moving on the Richmond Express barge service is up by more than 34 percent. Breakbulk tonnage is also up by three percent.

Reinhart was grateful for the recently-announced 90-day working period for the U.S. and China to reach a compromise in the ongoing trade tariffs dispute, but until there is a more permanent resolution, the situation is going to create uncertainty for the port’s 2019 volumes.

“We are focusing on those things that we can control,” he said, including new ship-to-shore cranes that are set to arrive at Virginia International Gateway in January, which is when the last of that terminal’s new stacks will be brought online.

The cranes are on schedule to be operational by March, phase two of the rail yard is set for completion by June and all construction at VIG should be finished by mid-June.