Rail investments, increased trade with India are two key developments.

The Georgia Ports Authority handled 451,670 TEU in February, an increase of over 14% compared to the year before. Import containers gained 19% and exports increasing by 10%. Those results marked two consecutive months of growth after a challenging start to the fiscal year, which began in July.

Over the first six months of 2024, GPA expects 3% growth in containers compared to 2023, according to Cliff Pyron, chief commercial officer at the Georgia Ports Authority. “But over the longer term,” he added, “prospects are brighter, thanks to an increase in manufacturing and logistics operations in Georgia.”

Major brands establishing a presence or expanding in Georgia include Hyundai, Rivian, Kubota, Burlington, and Bradshaw Home. “They’re coming here in part because the Southeast has the nation’s fastest-growing population,” said Pyron, “and because of our superior transportation network.”

The GPA is enhancing container capacity at the Port of Savannah, with current projects totaling $1.9 billion slated to enable the port to handle 10 million TEU by 2030. The renovation of the Ocean Terminal will enable the facility to accommodate larger ships. GPA is also progressing on expanded terminal capacity at the Garden City Terminal.

Berth 1 Garden City Terminal Renovation

“The Port of Savannah is one of the nation’s largest and fastest growing ports,” said Pyron, “serving as a gateway to 45% of the U.S. population, with goods travelling to important inland destinations such as Atlanta, Dallas, and Memphis. To accommodate anticipated growth, we’re investing $4.5 billion over the next 10 years to improve the port and surrounding areas.”

The recently completed renovation of Berth 1 at the Port of Savannah’s main Garden City Terminal, a 1,500-acre facility, increased its berth capacity by 25% or 1.5 million TEU per year. Other elements of GPA’s master plan include Garden City Terminal West, a $204 million project adding 100 acres and one million TEU of annual capacity and the $1.4 billion renovation of Ocean Terminal.

The master plan also emphasizes the growth of GPA’s inland terminal network, which brings port services to inland rail locations across the state and beyond to lower transportation costs and ease road congestion. The port currently moves around 20% of cargo via rail to inland destinations.

The centerpiece of the inland terminal effort is the $220 million Mason Mega Rail facility, which set a February record for intermodal rail cargo last month. Rail volumes at Mason Mega totaled 46,890 containers, an increase of 39% compared to February 2023. Mason Mega uses a “1,2,3” cargo strategy—one day off the vessel in Savannah, two days transportation, and third-day availability to a network of inland destinations, including Atlanta, Dallas, Memphis, and Chicago.

“The biggest chapter of innovation will be new inland terminals opening up to make cargo flow more smoothly, be more sustainable, and reduce traffic on state highways,” said Pyron.

GPA operates the Appalachian Regional Port in Northwest Georgia, which also set a February record, thanks in part to an increase in the import of manufacturing components. The ARP handled 3,285 containers last month, up 610 containers or 23%.

The Georgia Ports Authority links importers and exporters to global markets via 37 weekly container ship calls.

Blue Ridge Connector

The network is also expanding to Gainesville, Georgia, a key distribution center, with a $127 million investment to build the Blue Ridge Connector, linking Northeast Georgia with the Port of Savannah, scheduled to open in 2026. The facility will serve a region important for the production of heavy equipment, food, and forest products and will link to the Mason Mega Rail via the CSX and Norfolk Southern railways.

GPA also has a new agreement with CSX and its Carolina Connector rail service to add Rocky Mount, N.C., to the port’s network. “We’re also planning to open a third GPA-operated inland terminal in West Central Georgia,” said Pyron.

Two short-line railroads serving the port, Georgia Central Railway and Heart of Georgia Railroad, both subsidiaries of Genesee & Wyoming Inc., are seeking to pilot a new zero-emission rail-freight technology from Parallel Systems at the port. The rail lines filed a petition with the Federal Railroad Administration last August seeking approval for the pilot project.

"The hopeful adoption of the technology," said Michael Miller, CEO for G&W North America, "has the potential to capture new container business moving to and from the Port of Savannah, as well as reinvigorate traffic on rural rail lines."

The increase in container traffic has brought more direct maritime services to the port. Last August, Savannah gained a direct service to the West Coast of South America with the ZIM Colibri Express. The service, which is important for perishable produce imports, calls Chile, Peru, and Ecuador, and makes Savannah its first U.S. port of call. Seaboard Marine’s Columbia service transitioned from the Ocean Terminal to the Garden City Terminal and from biweekly to weekly calls at Savannah. OCEAN Alliance’s Chesapeake Bay Express/CBX added a Yokohama call in early 2023.

“Although the service had already been calling Savannah,” noted Pyron, “the Yokohama call expanded Savannah’s direct connections to Japan.”

India Calls

Trade with India is assuming increasing importance for the Port of Savannah. GPA has weekly container services with India’s largest port of Nhava Sheva as well as with Mundra and Pipavav.

In May 2024, Ocean Network Express will launch a new containership service between Savannah and West India. The new offering will give the Georgia Ports Authority 10 services via the Suez Canal, with nine calling on the Indian subcontinent.

“India’s growth potential is the new frontier for business investment as the world’s most populated country,” said Pyron. “GPA’s strategic location related to the Panama Canal and access to Suez Canal routings gives customers multiple options in multiple markets to compete and win business.”

Import-export volumes between Savannah and India totaled 279,149 TEUs last fiscal year, for an increase of 18%. GPA exports to India grew by 50% in fiscal year 2023 vs. 2022 and by nearly 80% in the past five years. Overall GPA trade with India grew by 18% in the past fiscal year and 61% over the past five years.

Other than the Port of New York/New Jersey, noted Pyron, “Savannah handles more India trade than any other U.S. port.”