As the United States prepares for a dramatic growth in freight volume, the freight industry continues to explore creative, new approaches for transporting cargo. The sheer volume of containerized cargo and truck freight that will ultimately need to move throughout the country creates unique opportunities. The St. Louis region can benefit if we can demonstrate that shippers can move their products to and through our region more efficiently and cost-effectively than via other routes.
Working with transportation industry leaders, container on barge (COB) and container on vessel (COV) services along the Mississippi River and its tributaries have been identified as transportation alternatives that could deliver those benefits, while maximizing the inland waterway’s existing but underutilized capacity. The completion of the $5.25 billion expansion of the Panama Canal in 2016 has opened the door for a new all-water route into the Midwest. It allows reduced shipping time and lower ocean transportation costs while transporting cargo between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans along with the ability for larger vessels to pass through the widened canal and continue on up the Mississippi River.
While construction was still underway on the Panama Canal, the St. Louis Regional Freightway teamed with various stakeholders to begin exploring the feasibility of potential COB service—evaluating regional infrastructure and equipment to load and unload containers stacked on a barge versus traditional bulk cargo. It quickly became evident that the St. Louis region possessed key assets for a COB service: three public ports, a handful of privately operated river terminals, and a world-class freight network comprised of six Class I railroads, the third largest inland port, two international cargo airports and four interstate highways. Tires, scrap metal, and agriculture products like soybeans were identified as commodities that could withstand the additional transit times and could be moved to and from the region via COB.