The first of three major construction projects at Port Everglades, the number one container port in Florida, is well underway.
With the widening of the Panama Canal now in the works, bigger ships will be bringing in much more cargo and the port has to find efficient and cheaper ways to move it.
The intermodal container transfer facility is the biggest project Florida East Coast (FEC) railroad has undertaken since Henry Flagler laid tracks to Key West.
"Today, they have to go out of the port. They have to get on city streets. They have to go about two miles to a very congested rail yard that is not equipped to do this," said Andy Westhoff, senior vice president of FEC.
Currently, 80,000 tractor-trailer rigs come into and out of the port each year to take containers to the Andrews Yard, but once the tracks and bridge are finished, most of those trips will no longer be necessary.
"It takes cargo off the roads, which means reduced emissions, reduces the carbon footprint as it is often referred to, and is a real plus for the community," said Glenn Wiltshire, deputy director of Port Everglades.
Containers will be offloaded from ships onto trucks and transferred to the intermodal facility. They will then be loaded onto rail cars headed north to customers around the country.
The 42.5-acre rail yard will be inside the port. At a cost of $73 million, it will allow the port to reach 70 percent of U.S. consumers in less than four days.
When the tracks are finished, they will be able to accommodate two 9,000-foot-long trains without impacting traffic. They will also be able to turn around cargo shipments four times faster.
Two other future projects will consist of building five additional cargo births and bringing in larger cranes, and dredging a deeper channel for bigger, heavier, super freighters will change the ports capacity drastically.
"Double the amount of cargo and 7,000 additional jobs in the local community," added Wiltshire.
When finished, the intermodal container transfer facility will boost Port Everglades' container capacity from 80,000 containers a year to 400,000 containers a year. It opens July 2014.