Pittsburgh-N.O container barge service to begin

In a nod to the promising future of container-on-barge shipping in western Pennsylvania, a Pittsburgh-area intermodal company will launch a new container-on-barge service on the 1,800-mile route between Pittsburgh and New Orleans.

CSG Co. LLC is targeting both small- and large-volume shippers — those who require moving either one container or up to 70 — for the twice monthly, roundtrip service that begins May 2. Goods sealed in containers will be loaded on a barge in Leetsdale, Pa., 14 miles south of Pittsburgh on the Ohio River, for the 23-day trip down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans.

CSG hopes to eventually cut the sailing time in half — to 10-12 days — by using a dedicated tow from Pittsburgh to New Orleans, and switch to once a week service as volume builds, according to Buddy Johns, CSG’s president. 

Containers will most likely carry industrial chemicals, forest products, minerals and other manufactured goods from western Pennsylvania southbound to New Orleans for export. In New Orleans, the Pittsburgh-bound barge will transport wood products, minerals and consumer goods that arrive from overseas ships, Johns said. Most of this cargo currently moves by truck.

Ingram Barge Co., Nashville, Tenn., has been contracted to provide the hopper barges, while CSG has stevedoring and warehousing facilities and links to rail and trucking at its Leetsdale terminal.

“We see a lot of potential for western Pennsylvania becoming a true inland container point because of its position in North America, just five to six hours by truck to most Northeast cities, and the excellent rail facilities here,” Johns said. “For us, container-on-barge is just one piece to a larger puzzle. We have the Port of Leetsdale, we recently made a trucking acquisition, and we have an industrial real estate development company, so container-on-barge provides a significant enhancement to our overall package.”

Johns said that he hopes his start-up will spur other container-on-barge services in the Upper Ohio River Valley. “I think within the next five to 10 years, there will be several other companies in the market,” he said. “So far, we’re the only ones offering river, rail and trucking services.”

“There is momentum growing on this, and the market will grow and there will be niches,” said James McCarville, executive director of the Port of Pittsburgh Commission.

The new service is being primarily funded through private investment. The state of Pennsylvania and Allegheny County are providing low interest loans, and the Port of Pittsburgh is offering marketing assistance.    — Pamela Glass 

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