Florida East Coast Railway investing millions to capitalize on sea cargo growth
By Zachary S. Fagenson
As Greater Miami crosses its fingers hoping to become an even bigger cargo hub thanks to the Panama Canal expansion, Florida East Coast Industries is looking to invest millions in its Hialeah rail yard cargo center to accommodate the growth.
Reconfiguration of rail lines and other work will take place "over the next couple years. We've got to get some design" work done, said Joe Haka, executive vice president and chief operating officer.
He put a three- to four-year timeline on the project and noted it will be finished to coincide with cargo volume growth at the port
About 260,000 cargo containers pass through the rail yard and onto FEC's 351-mile-long line, then out into the rest of the country.
With the expansion, "we'll be able to handle another 50%," Mr. Haka added.
The company, which was sold to New York City-based Fortress Investment Group LLC in mid-2007, currently owns about 190 acres northeast of Miami International Airport.
Adjacent is 300 acres owned by Flagler. The company has said it plans to develop the area into the Flagler Logistics Hub, starting with a 60-acre park, but wouldn't provide more details.
Overall cost of the rail yard work isn't yet set in stone, but improvements include reconfiguring tracks in the yard for about $15 million, wide-span cranes that can move more containers more efficiently for about $8 million, new gates to monitor truck traffic in and out, and a new communication system to coordinate container placements with crane operators.
Mr. Haka also tamped down some expectations of the revamped Panama Canal.
Though it's slated to open in 2014 and be capable of handling cargo ships double the size it does now, massive freighters won't immediately start pulling into the Port of Miami.
"Maybe in 2015 we start to see an increase in ships," Mr. Haka said. "2016 is when it really starts to get heavy."
That all depends, however, on how fast the Port of Miami's south channel can be dredged to 50 feet deep.
The first step for all of the improvements is to reactivate the rail line that runs from the seaport out to FEC's rail yard.
The port and the rail company have a $22.7 million federal grant, joined by $10.9 million from both the Florida Department of Transportation and FEC, as well as $4.8 million from Miami-Dade County to refurbish the line.
Mr. Haka said the hope is to have the link to the seaport running by the first quarter of 2012, clearing the way for the rail yard improvements.
Completing that line, he said, will eliminate the 60,000 annual truck trips FEC uses to move cargo between the rail yard and the port.
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