• Alex Burkart

Rail Spurs, Harbors, Grain Bins and More: How America's Central Port Invests In Global Connectivity

Updated: May 24

Beyond the 900+ jobs, over 75 businesses, and $1B+ in freight transported by river, rail, and road, the Port also plays a major role in global connectivity, connecting manufacturers and freight intensive operators to the rest of the world, all from Granite City and Madison, Illinois.


You'll see it repeated in our marketing collateral that we have access to four U.S. interstates, six of the seven Class-I railroads, and between our two intermodal harbors we are the Northernmost ice and lock free river port on the Mississippi River.


But what does that actually mean?


Consider all the businesses responsible for feeding, clothing, fueling, and sheltering the world's population. These industries all rely on raw materials to produce everything from the beer you drink, to the pet food you buy for your dog, to the steel in the frame of your Chevy Traverse. The supply chain responsible for manufacturing just about everything starts with river, rail, and road access.


For the most part, just about every major location in the United States has some form of access to the U.S. Interstate system. However, river and rail access is a little more exclusive.


When you manage a freight intensive business, such as a manufacturing operation where you are sourcing raw materials in bulk supply or shipping large quantities of finished product to a single customer, river and rail access is an incredible global supply chain advantage due to the economies of scale achieved with each mode of transportation.



An Introduction to Rail Connectivity


Maybe you make pipes, beams, engineered materials, or some other form of manipulated steel that other manufacturers and builders rely on to produce everything from cars and machinery to homes and skyscrapers.


If your facility only had access to the interstate, your option would be to truck everything to and from your land-locked location, using one truck for a single steel coil.


With rail, up to four steel coils can be placed in one gondola railcar.


Steel coils are just one example. Consider lumber, or liquid and dry bulk materials for food grade products or industrial applications. The average calculation for shipping in bulk is for every one railcar you would need an equivalent of three full truckloads. When you ship in bulk and have access to rail, the cost savings you gain are significant to say the least.


Customers at America's Central Port have access to six of the seven Class-I railroads (the railroads that own 70% of the U.S. rail infrastructure), which means they not only gain a cost-effective transportation option, but they also gain access to every major U.S. international port as well as Canada and Mexico.


The Granite City Harbor at America's Central Port has a direct connection to Norfolk Southern, whereas the Madison Harbor and Port industrial park have connections to Terminal Railroad Association, providing additional access to the BNSF, CN, CSX, UP, KCS, & NS railroads.

Everyone likes options. For bulk shippers, having multiple options to ship freight by rail is an incredible supply chain advantage.


Recognizing this opportunity, America's Central Port has invested millions of dollars into the construction of multiple rail spurs and new rail infrastructure projects. These investments ensure as many of our industrial properties as possible are equipped with rail access, giving manufacturers and freight intensive operators the transportation edge they need.



Moving On To River Connectivity


Beyond rail, let's say you manufacture animal feed and want to expand into the Brazilian cattle feed market. America's Central Port provides a gateway to the Gulf of Mexico, allowing manufacturers to ship in bulk by barge straight to South American markets.


Water transportation is the most energy-efficient and cost-effective method for moving freight. One common 15-barge tow has the same cargo capacity as 216 rail cars, or 1,050 large semi tractor-trailers.

In terms of logistics advantages unique to America's Central Port over other terminals, the Granite City Harbor is the northernmost ice-free port on the Mississippi River, whereas the Madison Harbor is the northernmost lock-free port on the Mississippi River.


Why does that matter?


Anything north of St. Louis tends to freeze during the winter months, blocking navigation, whereas the terminals at America's Central Port are open year round.


As the northernmost lock-free port, America's Central Port delivers the highest per mile efficiency for shipping bulk commodities to the Gulf of Mexico. From the Madison Harbor, shippers gain access to free-flowing water all the way to the Gulf Coast. Whereas if you start in Minneapolis, you have to cross through 29 locks heading South, where each takes an average of 30 minutes to pass through, and that's assuming you aren't waiting in line or delayed by scheduled maintenance.


If we come back to steal fabrication, America's Central Port brings in an average of 350 steel coils each month from Southeast Asian markets like Japan and South Korea. Other common imports include dry and liquid fertilizer from Russia and Morocco.


On the outbound side, about 60% of exports leaving America's Central Port consist of agricultural commodities, such as corn, soybean, and other grains. There's even a dedicated terminal for non-GMO exports. Other outbound shipments include a newly activated container-on-barge service, as well as other bulk and general cargo shipments.



The combination of six of the seven Class-I railroads, as well as two multi-modal harbors, both undergoing constant infrastructure advancements, continue to advance the region's ability to help the United States feed, shelter, and fuel the world.


As part of the recent U.S. Department of Transportation BUILD grant awarded in 2020 to America's Central Port and SCF Lewis & Clark, $15.8 million will be used to make some considerable improvements at both the Granite City and Madison Harbor.

The improvements to the rail infrastructure at the Granite City Harbor, as noted above, will increase total agricultural commodity throughput from the current 5,000 rail car capacity to 10,000 rail cars annually.
The current system at the Madison Harbor only allows for rail or trucks to load at one time. Once the new grain bins are installed, unit trains from six of the seven Class-I railroads, as well as trucks from regional farms, will be able to load multiple types of product simultaneously, significantly increasing the throughput capacity for the Madison Harbor.

When we talk about what makes America's Central Port so great, our rail and river access definitely take the cake, but what brings it all together is we also have incredibly close access to four U.S. interstates and are the grantee of Foreign Trade Zone 31, making the Port an excellent location for warehousing and distribution as well.


We Can't Forget U.S. Interstate Connectivity



Similar to our investments in rail and river infrastructure, the Port regularly pursues opportunities to improve last-mile efficiencies through resurfacing projects and upgrades for development-ready sites.


It might not look like much when you drive by on Illinois Route 3, but behind the gates at America's Central Port lies a massive infrastructure investment helping lead the Greater St. Louis region in global connectivity.


If you're interested in learning more, check out the following panel discussion featuring America's Central Port, Terminal Railroad Association, and Arcosa Marine Products.



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