Growth of inland port could spawn others like it

A crane lifts a shipping container from a train and lowers it onto a truck chassis at the State Ports Authority’s inland port in Greer.

The growth of the inland port in Greer has Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the State Ports Authority, looking at other potential new landlocked sites.

The Upstate hub, which the SPA opened in October 2013, had more than 50,000 rail lifts — the number of times a cargo container is moved onto a train — in its first fiscal year. It also hit an all-time high for monthly activity in January. The inland port is on pace to top last year’s numbers with 30,495 rail lifts through the first seven months of this fiscal year, which started in July.

BMW’s Upstate automotive plant is helping to drive the activity. More than 260,000 Greer-made BMWs were exported through the Port of Charleston last year, and many of the luxury vehicles arrived at the docks via rail from the inland port.

Although new facilities could be years down the road, Newsome said he thinks the SPA eventually will open an inland port in Charlotte.

“Charleston is the natural gateway port for Charlotte, and I think everyone recognizes that,” Newsome said. “What is missing today is a daily, overnight intermodal train service and volume. We think the latter will come when the former is in place. It is a question of ‘the chicken or the egg.’ ”

Newsome added the SPA could “build off the train line between Greer and Charleston (with) potentially one or two shuttle locations.”

Norfolk Southern’s route originates in Atlanta and heads through Greer before making a southeast turn toward the Charleston coast, passing through Columbia and Orangeburg before ending its run at the Columbus Street Terminal on the peninsula.

Newsome didn’t identify the sites he thinks would make good shuttle locations for freight travel, saying only that any new facilities are “futuristic thinking and will take some years to develop.”

The SPA is going to have to find innovative ways to move freight to keep up with growth at the port and limited resources, he added.

“We’re going to move freight in a lot of different ways in the future than we ever thought was possible,” Newsome said.

The state Commerce Department’s Coordinating Council for Economic Development will spend up to $20 million on a new site operations center for BMW at the automaker’s Spartanburg County campus. The center will be on property owned by the State Ports Authority, which will manage the construction process.

The project will consist of a large parking area and a 60,471-square-foot building. The funding from the council will pay for engineering, demolition of existing structures on the site, construction, equipment and furnishings.

The project is scheduled for completion in about a year.