Port of Stockton sees best year for shipping

February 9, 2015


port of stocktonSTOCKTON – In many ways, 2014 was the Port of Stockton’s best year ever. Between the improving economy and new projects, 2015 looks as if it will be even better, port officials say.

“The port handled commodities worth an estimated $1.5 billion in 2014,” port Director Rick Aschieris told business leaders in January. “Ninety percent of the fertilizer used in San Joaquin County comes through the port, and the number of ship arrivals reached an all-time high of 230 in addition to the 52 barges docking at the port, the highest number since 1978 when the tracking of arrivals began.”

Port officials can tick off its growing list of assets: its strategic location, the port’s ability to build facilities on its 4,000 acres, the availability of seven million square feet of covered storage, as well as the deepwater channel which provides easy access for the big ships and the goods they carry to the port.

“We have several miles of railroad track, and many different projects and increased ship numbers have come to the port over the last four to five years,” Aschieris said.

Mark Tollini, senior deputy port director for trade and operations, said the movement of steel through the port in 2014 was twice as large as 2013. He’s confident 2015 will be even better.

“We’re seeing big cargo mixes with a marked increase in steel products which indicates that construction projects are underway in the San Joaquin Valley,” Tollini said. “Imported cements are coming back in. We expect the tonnage to continue increasing into 2016.”

One port facility that will be unique when construction is completed in early March is Union Pacific Railroad’s $18 million ribbon rail welding facility. Thirty workers are building the facility near the West Complex, which has its own electrical supply, perfect for welding and its high peak power demand.

The facility features 17,000 feet of track, a rail storage yard, a welding and inspection building, extra milling capacity and a gantry crane for off-loading 480-foot-long bundles of steel rail from Japan. When in full operation, a team of a dozen or so permanently employed welders earning about $50,000 each annually will connect the lengths into quarter-mile long sections of continuous-welded rail.

“The finished product will be 1,920 feet long, connected by only three welds,” said Tollini, “With the semi-automated welding process on line when the facility’s completed in early March, the results of the port having all the components required for such a facility along with a deep-water channel, will be obvious.”

Tollini said the thrice welded, 1,920 lengths of rail will be able to carry Gov. Brown’s bullet train and all regular rail traffic as well. “It’s the largest single piece of rail assembly in the world.”

The first official delivery of the rails for welding will take place sometime around the first week in March, followed by another rail arrival in the second week of March.

In December a test shipment of 10,000 tons of the 480-foot rails arrived at the port aboard the Pacific Spike, a ship designed specifically to carry the long rails from Japan to Stockton. The ship is equipped with three built-in 50-ton cranes that carefully lift the rails in bundles of five from the hold directly onto specially built railcars on the dock beside the ship. For welding, the rails are pushed into tiers of racks which hold them in place during the welding process.

“Our on-dock rail allows the ships to discharge directly onto the shuttle cars,” Tollini said. “Stockton’s the only port in the U.S. receiving this cargo and delivering it from ship to rail in this way. This is the first time this sort of cargo has been discharged from a ship using these types of cranes.”

The rail will be used to replace Union Pacific track and for other UP projects and expansions along the west coast.

Tollini confirmed that the annual financial benefit to the port from the ribbon-rail welding facility will be about $2 million,

“[It’s] additional revenue that we wouldn’t otherwise have had,” he said.

It is expected the additional revenue will come from maritime service fees, land lease rents and port electric utility charges.

The current lease is for 10 years with eight options to extend the contract for five years each.

“We expect this welding operation to be here for quite some time, for the foreseeable future, certainly,” said Tollini.

He added, “We can take on more business, more rail space is available, and we’re looking forward to what the future holds for the port of Stockton.”

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