Betting big in Miami


Florida East Coast Railway provides on-dock rail service at PortMiami, which wrapped up a harbor deepening project in summer 2015.
Photo: Florida East Coast Railway LLC

PortMiami  is expecting a surge in containerized traffic following the widening of the Panama Canal. In July 2015, the port wrapped up a $220 million project to deepen its own shipping channel from 42 feet to 52 feet.

Before the dredging project was completed, the Florida port also purchased four additional super post-Panamax cranes, which are able to handle cargo ships with a capacity of over 10,000 TEUs. In total, PortMiami has completed more than $1 billion in infrastructure upgrades to accommodate bigger ships, says spokeswoman Andria Muniz-Amador.

The port also has worked closely with Florida East Coast Railway LLC (FECR) to reintroduce on-port rail service. In partnership with FECR, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the state of Florida, PortMiami invested nearly $50 million to connect the port with the railroad’s Hialeah intermodal yard and the national rail system.

The port wrapped up that project in fall 2014. Now, shippers can reach more than half of the U.S. population within one to four days through PortMiami, port officials say.

“A lot of people are going to be moving traffic through the Panama Canal, and we’re certainly collectively preparing for it,” says FECR President and Chief Executive Officer James Hertwig. “We’re real bullish on it.”

Currently, FECR handles about 10 percent of PortMiami’s container traffic, but Hertwig expects that share to rise 20 percent to 25 percent following the canal expansion.

“These containers are going to end up being where the population is,” he says, noting that Florida is now the third-most populous state, following California and Texas. “Most carriers will tell you that the economics of the big ships is very important to them.”

PortMiami leaders say they’re already seeing results of their efforts. The port handled 1,007,800 TEUs during its 2015 fiscal year, marking a 15 percent increase compared with the total from the previous fiscal year. What’s more, the figure represents the port’s strongest containerized cargo traffic in a decade.

Whether the port will continue its positive trajectory following the canal’s expansion remains to be seen, but PortMiami leaders remain optimistic.

“Thanks to these projects, a lot of the services that have come through PortMiami have stayed, and we’re anticipating that they continue to stay,” says Muniz-Amador.

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