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  December 17th, 2015 | Written by

America’s Top Intermodal Facilities

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  • America's Top #Intermodal Facilities: Connecting Shippers With Inland Options For Ocean, Air, Rail and Ground Transporta

Centrality is key when operating a distribution center, which is precisely why Kubota Tractor Corp. selected Edgerton, Kansas—a.k.a. the “Heart of America”—as the site of its new, 765,000-square-foot warehouse. Earl Johnson, Kubota’s senior director for Parts and Product Resources, says another factor compelled the agricultural equipment manufacturer to relocate to Edgerton: the presence of BNSF Railway’s Logistics Park Kansas City (LPKC) Intermodal Facility.

Moving to the industrial park was highly strategic, Johnson says, since BNSF carries much of Kubota’s ocean imports from Asia and Europe, as well as the company’s Canadian, European and Australian parts exports. “By streamlining our operations [and locating along BNSF’s transcontinental corridor], we’re realizing efficiencies in receiving and processing shipments and improving our parts delivery support to make sure our customers have access to the equipment they need when they need it,” Johnson says.

Patrick Robinson, vice president of Development for LPKC operator NorthPoint Development, says Kubota’s move is indicative of a global trend, with more shippers establishing hubs at inland ports. After all, he says, the benefits of doing so are immense; such ports streamline companies’ supply chain operations by enabling them to ship cargo inland from coastal seaports more efficiently. “Instead of seaports storing freight at local storage facilities, they directly transfer freight to a train to send to inland ports,” Robinson says, “thus avoiding bottlenecks.”

LPKC, for instance, regularly sees transfer freight from Southern California, the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest—which Robinson says is a testament to the port’s “convenient and strategic location.” Plus, the intermodal facility, which opened in September 2013, distinguishes itself as the only full-service facility in the western two-thirds of the U.S. offering international and domestic intermodal services, as well as direct-rail and carload services. The capacity at LKPC is also unmatched, Robinson says: Currently, the port can accommodate 500,000 container lifts annually—and that volume is projected to swell to 1.5 million at full build-out.

For shippers, utilizing an intermodal port like LPKC just makes sense logistically, in Robinson’s opinion. “Inland ports give businesses the opportunity to ship freight more effectively,” he says. “And with rising fuel costs, over-the-road truck driver shortages and hours-of-service restrictions, moving freight by rail is a faster and cheaper alternative than moving freight by truck.”

In addition to LPKC, below are four other inland ports to watch.

North America’s largest master-planned inland port, CenterPoint Intermodal Center (CIC)-Joliet/Elwood is situated at the heart of the Midwestern transportation corridor, maintains CenterPoint Properties’ senior vice president Brian McKiernan. The Illinois-based complex encompasses more than 6,500 acres of rail- and highway-adjacent land and includes both BNSF and Union Pacific intermodal parks—a major boon to local logistics firms and retailers, McKiernan adds. “The Chicagoland area is a national transportation nexus,” he says, “providing shippers direct access to markets throughout the Midwest, as well as transportation networks to efficiently reach population centers from coast to coast.” More than $56 billion in exports and $43 billion in imports currently pass within a 10-mile radius of Joliet, putting CIC at the epicenter of domestic trade activity, he notes.

With 47 percent of the U.S. population and 33 percent of Canada accessible within one trucking day, Rickenbacker boasts an “unparalleled” geographic position, says Columbus Regional Airport Authority’s David Whitaker. Propelling trade at the Columbus, Ohio-based port is the cargo-dedicated Rickenbacker International Airport, Norfolk Southern’s Rickenbacker Intermodal Terminal and more than 60 million square feet of warehousing space. “Cargo literally comes to us from every point of the world,” Whitaker says, with goods running the gamut from electronics and fashion items to pharmaceuticals and automotive supplies. Rickenbacker also got a major boost in October when international carriers Cathay Pacific Cargo and Emirates SkyCargo ramped up services to the airport—proof, Whitaker says, of the region’s status as a global cargo hub.

Despite being the proverbial new kid on the block—port operations only commenced in July—Wylie Intermodal Terminal (WIT) has already made a big splash in the global logistics sector. Kansas City Southern Railway’s (KCS) $64 million intermodal facility, which sits in the Dallas suburb of Wylie, replaces the rail authority’s previous terminal and is poised to take advantage of strong border traffic between the U.S. and Mexico, reveals Doniele Carlson, KCS assistant vice president. “The new terminal significantly increases the capacity previously available at KCS’s Dallas-area terminal, creating opportunity for planned economic growth and development, and making Collin County, Texas, even more competitive for shippers looking to locate new operations,” Carlson says. WIT’s annual lift capacity stands at 342,000 units.

Often overshadowed by the logistics powerhouse that is Memphis International Airport—the FedEx Express hub currently ranks as the No. 2 cargo airport in the world—the International Port of Memphis is also a major force. The fifth-largest inland port in the nation, the Port of Memphis serves more than 150 industries and regularly sees volumes of grains, petroleum, tar, cement and steel, officials reveal. Propelling business is Memphis’ transportation infrastructure—the port can connect to sea, rail, road and air via the Mississippi River, five Class 1 railroads, a major interstate and FedEx, respectively.

“Cargo is really the driving force behind the local economy,” says Memphis airport CEO Scott Brockman, as it contributes roughly $23 billion a year to Memphis’ economy. And much of it is attributable to the city’s intermodal port, Brockman acknowledges.