Oakland barge service gains traffic
By Chris Dupin and Eric Kulisch
Officials held a ceremony Friday to publicize the California Green Trade Corridor, a container-on-barge service that operates between the ports of Stockton and Oakland.
The service initially started with trips between Stockton and the Ports America terminal in Oakland, but now two barges are making weekly calls — one to Ports America, the other to the Oakland International Container Terminal operated by SSA Marine. Mark Tollini, Stockton's deputy port director, said that
2,009 containers have moved so far on the service, which has made 20
round-trip voyages between the two ports since June.
Tollini said the California Green Trade Corridor is close to offering twice-weekly service to the terminals; eventually, three or four calls per week are planned. He said more than 25 international container lines can use the service. Commodities moved by barge have included exports of tomato paste, wine and hay. Imported containers have held goods such as wine and supersacks of urea fertilizer.
Tollini said the service appeals to shipper who wants to load containers that are more full, with up to 25 tons to 26 tons of cargo. Trucking regulations generally prevent shippers from moving more than 20 tons to 21 tons of cargo in a container unless special chassis are used.
The Stockton area, for example, produces a lot of rice for export that is packed in 1,000-pound bags.
Ocean boxes of rice will weigh out before they cube out, Paul Jaenichen, the acting administrator of the U.S. Maritime Administration, said Sept. 19 in Washington during a forum on maritime commerce organized by the Eno Center for Transportation. Many shippers took a wait-and-see approach, but demand is increasing, he said. And those companies that took the risk up front to commit cargo were rewarded.
The Port of Stockton, which is managing the program, offered free return carriage of empty containers to shippers that booked revenue-cargo to Oakland, Jaenichen said.
"So a lot of folks jumped on board because the cost to dray an empty container from Oakland back to Stockton is about $200," he said. "The companies that came first and got that deal still have it. The companies that came later and said, 'We want that too,' they [the operators] said, 'No, you're going to have to pay for that.'"
But Jaenichen added the service is still worthwhile because the backhaul rate by barge is less than by truck.
Tollini said about 60 percent to 65 percent of the containers moving on the service are 40-foot containers. The next barge was due to depart Stockton late Sunday and arrive in Oakland Monday about 8.5 hours after departure. Brusco Tug and Barge operates the tugboat that pushes the barges between the two ports. They are moved one at a time.
The barge service offers an alternative to over-the-road movements on I-580. Jaenichen said several hundred more trucks have probably been taken off the highway beyond the absolute container volume when the extra weight each box can carry is counted. Running two barges per week between Oakland and Stockton will eliminate approximately 200 trucks per day from the highway, according to MarAd.
Tollini said most of the containers are stuffed or stripped at warehouses at the Port of Stockton.
Since 2009, the Department of Transportation and MarAd have designated 21 Marine Highway routes and invested $130 million to support new services. Jaenichen said his agency has several applications on hand from local governmental organizations seeking designation for new water routes. The designation is important for receiving preferential treatment for future federal assistance, such as TIGER grants, from the DOT or MarAd.
The California Green Trade Corridor received a $30 million grant from the Department of Transportation, as well as $5 million from local sources.
Jaenichen and state and local leaders were on hand Friday for the dedication ceremony.