A A new chapter

Growth: PhilaPort is looking to double container and vehicle throughput and increase breakbulk volumes by 21% Growth: PhilaPort is looking to double container and vehicle throughput and increase breakbulk volumes by 21%

Philadelphia rebranding highlights the port’s future focus, finds Martin Rushmere

The Port of Philadelphia is reinventing itself, branding itself as “PhilaPort” and over the next three years, $350m will be spent to double container and vehicle throughput and increase the breakbulk volume by 21%. A further $250m will go on deepening the main shipping channel on the Delaware River from 40 to 45 feet.

The Packer Avenue terminal will get $200m, vehicle shipping and storage $90m and the Tioga terminal will receive $10m-12m. The Packer investment will go towards four new electric post-panamax container cranes, switching diesel cranes to electric and installation of cold ironing.

Dominic O’Brien, senior marketing representative of the port, believes that it already has two distinct advantages over its rival northeast ports; the investments will serve to strengthen those. Less congestion is one advantage, while the other is "an enormous number of distribution centres", he says. One the first, Mr O’Brien claims PhilaPort is faster on the waterside (averaging over 35 container crane moves per hour), with good gate times (averaging less than 50 minutes in and out for a container dray), and better flexibility.

On the second, he explains that the Lehigh Valley is fast becoming the most important distribution centre (DC) hub in the US. “Large retailers and manufacturers are establishing there because they can access so much of the US and Canadian populations from that area. PhilaPort is a superior gateway to the Lehigh Valley. We are closer to many of the DCs in the Lehigh Valley, especially towards the southern end of that region, compared with other ports."

Mr O’Brien adds that being the first port of call is important to PhilaPorts’ strategy. “Our strength in perishables is an asset here. Because of our cold supply chain experience and infrastructure, fruit and other perishable products want to come to Philadelphia. This makes us a natural choice as a first port of call.

“For example,” he continues, “CMA-CGM recently introduced their new PAD 1 service from South America into our Packer Avenue Marine Terminal, dropping a US Southeastern port to make PhilaPort the first port of call. They did this because the perishables customers wanted to get to Philadelphia.

“Also, our position in the heart of the US Northeast (the biggest market in North America), is an incentive for lines to use us as a first port of call rather than more congested ports. We have quick access to the US Mid-West and Canada as well.

Making improvements

The message from PhilaPort is that it wants to improve an already efficient port operation with improved infrastructure. It’s rebranding effort is, in part, to showcase its infrastructure upgrade and its new leadership. “Our strategy has not changed: it is still to find the best utilisation we can for all our marine and transportation infrastructure,” says Mr O’Brien.

Part of the reinvention is a change in use of the Southport terminal. Initially a completely new terminal was to be built but now an expanded vehicle handling facility will be set up. “Hyundai/Glovis, our main customer at the Southport Auto Center, is happy with the new auto berth. They recently handled their 1 millionth vehicle through PhilaPort," says Mr O’Brien.

Further, the port’s Delaware River Main Channel Deepening Project will allow it to handle 14,000 teu ships and it expects to see more ships of that size coming through the expanded Panama Canal, up a deeper Delaware River, to new marine facilities in Philadelphia.

The attractiveness of public-private partnerships in port funding was spelt out earlier this year at the annual meeting of the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA). Investment specialist Tony Renzi, of the law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, noted that financial risk is lessened, project efficiency strengthened, revenues enhanced, competition is stimulated, and debt is reduced, which leads to transparency in regulation of revenue.

Latest estimates from AAPA are that from 2016 to 2020 US ports plan to spend $154bn on infrastructure improvements.

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