The Port of Virginia® is on schedule to complete the expansion of its rail operation at Norfolk International Terminals (NIT) in 2024 and in doing so boost the port’s capacity to handle rail cargo by more than 35 percent.
“Modernizing and expanding the capability at NIT’s Central Rail Yard will give us additional rail capacity ahead of the start of construction at NIT’s North Berth, so when the first phase of that project comes online [in 2025], we’re ready,” said Stephen A. Edwards, CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority. “Our rail volume is increasing and as the ships get bigger and we get more efficient, there will be a growing demand for our rail services.”
The $83 million Central Rail Yard project is part of the port’s $1.4 billion Gateway Investment Program, a capital construction program that also includes the North Berth expansion and deepening the port’s channels to at least 55 feet.
Work on the Central Rail Yard started in 2022 and the project is at its half-way mark. The project includes two new rail track bundles with three new cantilever rail-mounted gantry cranes. The work will result in an additional 455,000 TEUs of annual on-dock rail capacity.
In 2022, the port processed more than 1.2 million rail TEUs, which is an increase of nearly 66,000 TEUs, (6 percent) when compared with 2021. In 2021, the port rail volume was up nearly 30 percent over 2020, with much of that growth attributable to increased cargo volumes as a result of the pandemic, cargo owners capitalizing on the port’s ongoing efficiency and cargo diverting away from the US West Coast.
“The goal is to improve upon what we are already doing and keep that cargo here,” Edwards said. “So much of what we are doing today, in terms of construction, is focused on timing and having projects come online ready to support other initiatives. We will have this additional rail capacity ready in coordination with two critical infrastructure projects, the [NIT] North Berth first phase and the completion of the 55-foot channel project.
“In less than two years we will open the deepest and widest commercial shipping channel on the US East Coast. The Port of Virginia will be the only East Coast port capable of handling two-way traffic of the biggest ships at sea. The cargo is coming to Virginia and our rail product will be ready.”
On a port-wide basis the expansion will give the port the capacity to process 1.8 million rail units annually.
Annual Rail Capacity by Terminal:
• Central Rail Yard / Expansion = 455,000
• Central Rail Yard / Present = 630,000 TEUs
• Virginia International Gateway / Present = 700,000 TEUs
• Total Projected Rail Capacity: 1.78 million TEUs
The port offers on-dock, double-stack rail service to many of the Midwest’s most important manufacturing and population centers; it recently announced a new daily service to Memphis that begins in April. Both of the East’s Class I rail carriers, Norfolk Southern and CSX, offer regular, on-dock, double-stack service to and from the port.