A photograph of containers at a rail yard.

The Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) plans to add 22% more container storage capacity at its inland distribution terminal in the northwest Georgia town of Chatsworth as it gears up for an expected increase in export traffic from Chatsworth to the docks at Savannah, GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch said Friday.

In an interview with FreightWaves on Friday, Lynch said the proposed $450,000 initiative, which will be voted on by the GPA board at its November meeting, will add 13 stacks of twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) containers to the Appalachian Regional Port’s (ARP) 60 stacks of boxes currently in inventory. The objective is to ensure that companies using the ARP to ship goods by rail from Chatsworth to Savannah have the box capacity to do so, he said.

Opened in August 2018, the inland port is designed to expedite the flow of goods between the state’s northwest quadrant and Savannah without the need to truck freight through, among other places, metro Atlanta. The facility was designed to expand export markets for companies in Georgia and neighboring states, as well as to facilitate the flow of sea freight imports that clear Savannah and are bound for inland U.S. markets.

Demand has grown rapidly since the inland port opened. According to GPA data, 9,277 TEUs moved to and from the facility during the first three months of fiscal 2021, which ended Sept. 30. That compared to 5,255 TEUs in the first three months of fiscal 2020. For GPA’s 2020 fiscal year, which ended June 30, TEU traffic moving to and from the ARP jumped 260% over fiscal 2019 levels. By contrast, growth of traffic moving across the docks stayed flat year-over-year.

Most of the ARP’s growth so far has been on the import side. Lynch said GPA is pushing for better balance on the lane, which is operated by Eastern rail giant CSX Corp. (NYSE:CSX). Savannah is one of the nation’s leading container ports for export traffic. 

Within the past week, Georgia Exports Co., a log exporter based in the coastal city of Springfield, Georgia, has begun shipping the first of 28,000 TEUs of logs to Savannah for export to foreign markets, Lynch said. 

Chatsworth is GPA’s first inland port model, but it won’t be the last. The port authority will apply for a federal grant sometime this spring to construct a similar facility in northeast Georgia, Lynch said. Another inland port facility planned for the west-central Georgia city of LaGrange is currently on the drawing board, Lynch said. That facility, if built, will be financed and operated by private-sector interests though GPA expects to be involved in the operation, he said.