Impacts of Containership Size on Port and Hinterland Traffic

Impacts on Containership Size on Port and Hinterland Traffic

Terminal operations and hinterland access are influenced by containership size since each port call is associated with larger volumes. While the duration of a port call does not change significantly with ship size (less than 24 hours), the volumes that are handled radically change, increasing the terminal and hinterland footprint. Assuming a 35% turnover per port call, a Panamax containership will generate about 1,700 TEU of port traffic per call, combining inbound and outbound flows. Imbalanced traffic creates directional sequences involving larger numbers of repositioned containers, as is the case for most ports.

A typical Panamax containership call requires about 1.7 hectares of yard space, assuming the use of standard rubber-tired gantry cranes, enabling a stacking density of 1,000 TEU per hectare. Larger ports tend to have higher stacking density with equipment such as rail-mounted gantry cranes (1,500-2000 TEU per hectare), requiring less yard space. Smaller ports have less equipment and lower stacking density levels (500 TEU per hectare or less).

Assuming a 70/30 modal distribution between road and rail, 595 trucks and 1.27 trains (double-stacked 2,000 meters in length; North American standard) would be required to accommodate this volume. Single-stacked trains of 750 meters, common in Europe, can carry about 80 TEU, implying that 6.4 trains are required. Modal distribution varies significantly between ports, as North American ports tend to have a higher share of rail services than the global average. Some ports, such as in Northern Europe (Rhine/Scheldt Delta) and China, are also serviced with container barges, which results in variations in the modal composition and the related footprint.

More TEU per port call may be involved for ports assuming a transshipment function but with fewer containers bound to the hinterland. Pure transshipment hubs have almost no hinterland traffic. The impacts of economies of scale are apparent as even if a port were to handle a similar traffic level, the time compression of the volumes requires larger terminal yard space and more hinterland transport assets to be available.