For many container ports, increasing throughput and terminal productivity have become a challenge, particularly in light of larger containerships placing pressures on port operations around a specific time slot. Thus, the capacity problem may not be in absolute terms, but in terms of throughput. The conventional strategy to address capacity issues mainly involved expanding terminal facilities and purchasing more efficient intermodal equipment, including automation. In many cases, lateral expansion is no longer an option. The amount of truck traffic servicing the terminal is such that significant delays are experienced at the gate and on local access roads. A better maritime / land interface is an important step in improving the throughput, speed, and efficiency of port terminals.
The goal is to link directly through a dedicated rail corridor on-dock rail facilities to a nearby satellite rail terminal where containers can be sorted by destination. On one side, the maritime terminal increases its throughput without additional land. On the other side, a satellite terminal facing fewer land constraints is used to sort containerized shipments to their respective inland destinations. A share of the cargo storage and sorting aspect of terminal operations is consequently moved inland. This involves two major modes of operation for the on-dock rail terminal:
- Block Swap. Full-length trains are assembled at the on-dock facility, consisting of blocks of container cars, each sorted for specific inland destinations. These blocks are then sorted with blocks from other trains at the inland facility to create destination-specific unit trains. The drawback of the approach is that it would require a large rail yard (both at the port and inland terminals) and a lot of shunting and block cars spending more time at the on-dock facility while they are assembled.
- ‘No Sort’ Shuttle Trains. Unsorted full-length trains are assembled at the on-dock rail terminal. All sorting of containers into destination-specific unit trains is performed at the inland facility. It requires the container to be offloaded from the inland facility to other destination-specific trains and also requires additional yard space. The ‘No Sort’ approach could be the most effective dock-wise in terms of throughput and would require transmodal operations at the inland rail facility.
In such a setting, the satellite terminal becomes an important component of the system as its role becomes increasingly focused on transmodal (rail to rail) operations. Transloading is also significant, particularly in the North American setting. A maritime container can be picked up at the port terminal and trucked to a distribution center. At the distribution center, the contents of three maritime containers (40 footers) can be transloaded into two domestic containers (53 footers) and then brought to the satellite terminal to be loaded on a freight train. This has the advantage of reducing domestic transportation costs since rail companies charge about the same rate for 40 and 53 footers. This also prevents long-distance movements of maritime empty containers. The “synergy” between the port and the satellite terminal creates a new type of maritime / land interface, which results in a regionalized port.