Add another player to the inland container-on-barge (COB) market. In mid-July, MidCoast Terminal Co., which operates at the Tri-City Regional Port District, loaded 72 22-foot containers aboard a 200’ barge for American Commercial Barge Line.
For Tri-City, a public port located in Granite City, Ill., just north of St. Louis, the move marks its first COB shipment. The port specializes in dry-bulk products such as steel, coal and grain.
“It’s the first step in a much larger program,” said George Andres, the port’s special projects director. “We’ve been pursuing [COB] for a number of years.”
“It’s in its infancy, but we want to be in the container business,” said Tom Butts, general manager for MidCoast Terminal. “The challenge we’re going to have is to get more containerships to call at New Orleans or Houston, instead of the East Coast. We’re going to have to show that we can take cost out of it.”
To do that, the new service will have to prove that shipping containers up the Mississippi River by barge is cheaper than hauling them by rail from the East Coast. “Our competition is the railroads,” said Butts. “For it to work, we have to be able to offer full service.”
That means that a barge scheduled to leave port on a certain day has to do so even if the barge is not fully loaded. “We have to have a schedule we can stick to,” said Butts.
Butts added that customers could also use the service to reposition empty containers to where they are needed.
Though railroads are the real competition, the COB service can work in harmony with rail in an intermodal capacity. “The inland river system hits so many cities that cargo can go anywhere from here,” said Butts.
— Ken Hocke