An important element of container terminal design and configuration concerns the ratio between the water and the yard capacity. The desired outcome is related to the function of the terminal within shipping networks and its hinterland. Therefore, there is no optimal ratio as the ideal design is context-specific.
- Water capacity lower than yard capacity. This mainly concerns ports that act as gateways to major commercial hinterlands, implying that the containers may spend more time in the yard (longer dwell time). It could also involve ports that have a constrained nautical profile, leaving limitations in piers. Increasing the water capacity can involve both the port’s hardware and software, and also its orgware. From a hardware perspective, quay walls can be expanded, and more cranes can be added. From a software perspective, a series of optimizations can be attempted, mainly involving better management of berth windows and an increase in crane productivity. The term orgware refers to organizational and process-related adaptations.
- Water capacity higher than yard capacity. This mainly concerns ports that act as transshipment hubs and where several ships must be handled at any time. It could also involve ports constrained from the landside, such as those with limited land for expansion and proximity to urban activities. From a hardware perspective, increasing port hardware implies expanding the yard surface (plus more ground slots) and adding yard equipment. From a software perspective, yard operations can be optimized, resulting in lower dwell times and more throughput for the same yard surface.
Still, container terminals can rarely have an optimal configuration due to the commercial environment in terms of foreland and hinterland activity and port site limitations regarding nautical profile and available land footprint.