Major Inland Terminal Clusters in North America

Major Inland Terminal Clusters in North America

The principle of co-location is fundamental to the operational efficiency of an inland port, particularly in North America. There is a distributional hierarchy that is a function of accessibility and connectivity, where locations in the Midwest rank high as distribution hubs. The location of rail terminals is particularly preponderant around distribution hubs, underlining their role as inland load centers.

Several inland port projects in North America are capitalizing from this advantage. The planning and setting of a new intermodal rail terminal are done concomitantly with a logistics zone project. This partnership fundamentally acts as a filter for the commercial potential of the project as both actors must decide to go ahead with their respective capital investment in terminal facilities and commercial real estate. Co-located logistics zone projects tend to be significantly larger than conventional logistics zones solely serviced by road. The convergence between the need for rail companies to develop large terminals to accommodate economies of scale and the capital intensiveness of these investments has incited partnerships with large commercial real estate developers who have the capital and expertise to develop large logistics zones.

CenterPoint Properties, which was acquired in 2006 by a branch of CalPERS (California public employees’ retirement fund), is a salient example of a commercial developer actively involved with several rail operators in developing and managing logistics zones. While in most cases, CenterPoint will bring forward a project after a terminal development project has been announced. The trend is shifting towards concomitant planning of the intermodal rail terminal and the logistics zone. In one case (Crete, Illinois), CenterPoint decided to develop a logistics zone beforehand, and the rail operator CSX latched on afterward with its National Gateway Program.