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3 Measures of Throughput and Capacity

The measures provided in this report show capacity measures for 2015 as well as the throughput achieved in 2014 and 2015, to give an indication of the extent of trade growth and the increasing challenges facing ports. BTS used the following data criteria to select throughput and capacity indicators for this report:

  • Availability. The chosen measures must be readily available for at least the top
    25 ports to which they apply (e.g., tonnage for all ports, TEU for container ports, vessel calls and sizes for all ports).
  • National consistency. The measures must be based on a nationally consistent definition and collection method, and be available for all applicable ports. Ideally, the measures should be available from a single source. If not, multiple sources should be documented and reconciled to ensure reasonable consistency.
  • Timeliness. The measures should be final and available for the preceding year
    (e.g., for 2015 data to be included in a 2016 report).
  • Relevance and clarity. The measures should be closely connected to the physical activity of ports, terminals, and port infrastructure; and the measures should be understandable to readers who may not be familiar with port or shipping terminology.
  • Accuracy and transparency. The measures should be accurate with acceptable data quality standards and should come from trusted sources.
     

3.1 Port Throughput

Port throughput measures reflect the amount of cargo or number of vessels the port handles over time. These measures are affected by many variables beyond physical capacity. For example, international and domestic demand for cargo handled by the port, competition with other ports, contractual arrangements with carriers, and changes in distant facilities such as expansion of the Panama Canal are among the factors that affect cargo volumes and the number and size of vessels that call. In this first Annual Report, BTS focused on basic measures of tonnage, TEU, and vessel calls to characterize the throughput of each port.

The throughput statistics included in this report are (1) cargo tonnage, (2) container TEU, and (3) vessel calls categorized by commodities carried. It is important to note that the throughput statistics presented in this report are annual totals, which can mask seasonal variations in cargo flows that place recurring stress on available port capacity. The Working Group recommended that BTS focus on annual totals and not on quarterly or monthly totals. BTS will explore methods for capturing the effects of seasonal variations on port throughput and capacity in future editions of this report.

3.1.1 Cargo Tonnage

Cargo tonnage is the most fundamental measure of port and terminal throughput. Cargo tonnage includes the weight of dry bulk and liquid bulk cargo, break-bulk cargo, roll-on/roll-off (Ro/Ro) vehicles and industrial equipment, and the contents of shipping containers. Cargo tonnage does not include the weight of shipping containers themselves, even though movement of empty containers may be a significant portion of a port’s activity.

Figure 1 displays tonnage totals for the top 25 tonnage ports, which includes the weight of cargo transported in containers and dry bulk cargo; while Figure 2 depicts the dry bulk tonnage, which is a subset of the tonnage totals for the top 25 dry bulk ports. Dry bulk tonnage is calculated by the ICST-based method described in Section 2.2. The highest tonnage figures are for ports that handle large quantities of both liquid bulk cargo (e.g., petroleum or chemicals) and dry bulk cargo (e.g., grain or coal), such as the Ports of South Louisiana and Houston.

Figure 1: Annual Total Tons of the Top 25 Ports by Tonnage, 2015

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Figure 1: Annual Total Tons of the Top 25 Ports by Tonnage, 2015

SOURCE: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Waterborne Commerce Statistics Center, 2015 data, special tabulation, as of November 2016.

Figure 2: Annual Dry Bulk Tons of the Top 25 Ports by Dry Bulk Tonnage, 2015

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Figure 2: Annual Dry Bulk Tons of the Top 25 Ports by Dry Bulk Tonnage, 2015

SOURCE: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Waterborne Commerce Statistics Center, 2015 data, special tabulation, as of November 2016.

3.1.2 Container TEU

TEU is a standard measure used throughout the world to measure container movements and the capacity of container ships. While the top 25 ports by TEU are identified by loaded TEU for simplicity since adding empty TEU would not change the list, port throughput statistics presented in the individual port profiles in this report include empty as well as loaded containers to reflect the full volume of activity. USACE does not include foreign empty TEU in its published statistics, so the more complete tabulation of TEU provided by AAPA is used in the port profiles. USACE tabulations are from manifest data collected by the Federal government and compiled through the Port Import Export Reporting Service (PIERS). AAPA publishes container statistics from data released by the ports, which BTS checked through comparisons with data available on websites maintained by port authorities.

The highest container volumes pass through ports that serve large coastal and inland markets, such as the Ports of Long Beach, Los Angeles, and New York and New Jersey. The container flows are characterized as “inbound” (including imports and domestic cargo received from other U.S. ports) and “outbound” (including exports to foreign counties and domestic cargo shipped to other U.S. ports). Figure 3 displays the 2015 TEU volumes for the top 25 U.S. container ports.

Figure 3: Annual TEU of the Top 25 Ports by TEU, 2015

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Figure 3: Annual TEU of the Top 25 Ports by TEU, 2015

NOTES: 1=Data based on fiscal year not calendar year.

SOURCES: American Association of Port Authorities, Port Industry Statistics, NAFTA Region Container Traffic available at http://www.aapa-ports.org/, as of October 2015. Port of Mobile data obtained at http://www.joc.com/. Port of Seattle data obtained from Seattle Annual Financial Report 2015, Schedule 19 Port of Seattle Container Volumes, available at https://www.portseattle.org/.

While TEU is the standard measure of container movement, it does not fully represent the work accomplished by container terminals, and by the motor carriers and railroads connecting them to the marketplace. The total work accomplished is a function of the number of containers handled rather than the total TEU volume. The mix of container sizes at most U.S. ports yields an average TEU per container ratio of 1.5–1.8, because 40’ containers (equal to 2.0
TEU) predominate. There are also domestic containers of 48’ and 53’ lengths used in North
America that are sometimes moved in domestic barge service through coastal ports. These larger containers are reflected in USACE domestic trade data, but rarely move in foreign, oceanborne trade.

3.1.3 Vessel Calls

Vessel calls are another useful measure of port throughput. The individual port profiles in this Annual Report include the total number of freight-related vessel calls that each port handled in 2015 and the change from 2014. Vessel calls are divided into four categories of vessels based on ICST codes, and exclude ferries, cruise, and other passenger vessels (see Appendix B):

  • Container: Vessels identified as carrying containers. A “container vessel” is usually a dedicated container ship that is loaded and unloaded using shoreside cranes. Some ports also handle containers on Ro/Ro vessels and barges, which are not included in the container vessel counts (which explains the Port of Juneau’s zero container vessel count).
  • Dry bulk: Vessel classes identified using the special method developed to quantify dry bulk port cargo volumes in the selection of ports (see Section 2 for description of this method).
  • Other freight: All other vessels that predominantly handle freight and not assigned to the two previous categories (including crude oil tankers, LNG tankers, chemical tankers and barges, general cargo vessels, and vehicle carriers).
  • Other support: Vessels that either do not or rarely carry freight, but play a role in the movement of freight cargo into, out of, and within ports, including tugs and push boats.

Figure 4 shows 2015 vessel calls by category of vessel for the top 25 ports by tonnage. Figure 5 and Figure 6 show 2015 dry bulk and container vessel calls for the top 25 ports by dry bulk tonnage and top 25 container ports by TEU, respectively.

Figure 4: Freight-Related Vessel Calls for Top 25 Ports by Tonnage, 2015

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Figure 4: Freight-Related Vessel Calls for Top 25 Ports by Tonnage, 2015

SOURCE: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Waterborne Commerce Statistics Center, 2015 data, special tabulation, as of November 2016.

Figure 5: Dry Bulk Vessel Calls for Top 25 Ports by Dry Bulk Tonnage, 2015

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Figure 5: Dry Bulk Vessel Calls for Top 25 Ports by Dry Bulk Tonnage, 2015

SOURCE: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Waterborne Commerce Statistics Center, 2015 data, special tabulation, as of November 2016.

Figure 6: Container Vessel Calls for Top 25 Container Ports by TEU, 2015

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Figure 6: Container Vessel Calls for Top 25 Container Ports by TEU, 2015

NOTE: 1=The Port of Juneau handles containers on Ro/Ro vessels and barges, which are not included in the container vessel counts.

SOURCE: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Waterborne Commerce Statistics Center, 2015 data, special tabulation, as of November 2016.

Container vessel calls can be further characterized by the average capacity of the vessels (as measured by container vessel TEU), and the average number of TEU unloaded and loaded for each vessel call. Figure 7 shows the average capacity of containerships that called at the top 25 container ports in 2015. Averages were calculated by dividing the total capacity (as measured in TEU) for all annual container vessel calls by the number of annual calls. As the data indicate, vessel capacities vary widely from the smaller vessels commonly used in the Caribbean trades, to the much larger vessels typical of the transpacific and transatlantic trades. Figure 7 also shows that the average TEU capacity of container vessels calling at many the largest U.S. ports is fairly similar. This similarity is due to vessel routing; the same transpacific vessels tend to call at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and the Port of Oakland on the West Coast, and the same vessels in other trades tend to call at multiple East or Gulf Coast ports.

Figure 7: Average Capacities of Containerships Calling at Top 25 Container Ports by TEU, 2015

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Figure 7: Average Capacities of Containerships Calling at Top 25 Container Ports by TEU, 2015

NOTES: Excludes Jones Act qualified containerships.
1=The Port of Camden-Gloucester handles containers at its break-bulk terminal.
2=The Port of Juneau handles containers on Ro/Ro vessels and barges, which are not included in the container vessel counts.

SOURCE: Maritime Administration, Vessel Calls in U.S. Ports, Selected Terminals, and Lightering Areas, 2015.

Figure 8 displays the average TEU throughput handled at top 25 container ports during each international container vessel call, calculated by dividing the annual TEU totals handled by the number of annual container vessel calls. Data for the Ports of Anchorage, Honolulu, Juneau, and San Juan were not included because the vessel call data for those ports do not consistently reflect their exceptionally complex mix of foreign and domestic vessels and types, and tend to underestimate container vessel calls. These ports are served by a mix of container vessels and barges (barges only for Juneau) that can carry both containers and non-container Ro/Ro or break-bulk cargo. Since the total TEU handled includes both inbound containers unloaded and outbound containers loaded, the total could theoretically be as high as twice the vessel capacity (200 percent). At present, only Long Beach and Los Angeles handle average TEU totals over 100 percent of average vessel capacity. The high totals for Long Beach and Los Angeles reflect the dual roles of those parts as regional gateways to the large Southern California market and intermodal gateways to the rest of the Nation. Similarly, the data for other ports reflects the markets they serve.

Figure 8: Average TEU Handled per Vessel Call at the Top 25 Container Ports by TEU, 2015

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Figure 8: Average TEU Handled per Vessel Call at the Top 25 Container Ports by TEU, 2015

NOTES: 1=Data for the Ports of Anchorage, Honolulu, Juneau, and San Juan were not included because the vessel call data for these ports does not consistently reflect their exceptionally complex mix of foreign and domestic vessels and types.

SOURCES: Container volumes: American Association of Port Authorities, Port Industry Statistics, NAFTA Region Container Traffic available at http://www.aapa-ports.org/, as of October 2015. Port of Mobile data obtained at http://www.joc.com/. Port of Seattle data obtained from Seattle Annual Financial Report 2015, Schedule 19 Port of Seattle Container Volumes, available at  https://www.portseattle.org/. Vessel calls: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Waterborne Commerce Statistics Center, 2015 data, special tabulation, as of November 2016.

3.2 Port Capacity

In theory, port capacity is a measure of the maximum throughput in tons, TEU, or other units that a port and its terminals can handle over a given period. This maximum can be set by physical constraints or by economic conditions where the marginal cost of additional throughput is prohibitive. Capacity depends on the type of cargo being handled and can be affected by short-term adjustments (e.g., extended hours at terminal gates) or long-term changes (e.g., terminal expansion). Precise estimates of port capacity generally require extensive terminal-by-terminal engineering studies, and are neither nationally available nor nationally consistent. This report focuses on indicators of port capacity that are both available and reasonably consistent. It should be noted, however, that these indicators suggest relative capacities rather than absolutes, and do not provide the complete picture that comes from detailed capacity studies. A container port with longer berths and more cranes, for example, can be expected to have higher annual container throughput capacity than a port with shorter berths and fewer cranes, but these metrics do not support calculation of absolute capacities of the two ports.

The key elements of ports that influence their capacity include:

  • Channels and waterways. Waterside access to ports involves waterways, channels, and anchorages. Few port terminals are accessible by modern oceangoing vessels without dredged navigation channels, and the shallowest point can be a limiting factor on the size of ships that can access the port. The largest container and bulk vessels require channels of up to 60 feet deep, while the inland river system is typically maintained with a depth of nine feet. The heights of bridges (or air draft) over channels can also constrain ship access to ports.

  • Terminals. A terminal is a port facility where inbound or outbound cargo is handled. Physical barriers, types of facilities, and leasing and other administrative arrangements can define terminals. Ports with very similar physical characteristics may have differing numbers of terminals. While terminal operations are a key element of capacity and the acreage dedicated to terminals can be a useable indicator for capacity, the number of terminals into which that acreage is divided is not an indicator of capacity because terminals are so varied, and because a nationally consistent, standard definition of a “terminal” as a statistical unit does not exist.

  • Berths and berth length. A berth is a place to stop and secure a vessel at a port, therefore facilitating transfer of goods between ships, barges, trucks, and/or trains. The berth must have adequate depth for the vessels expected, landside infrastructure compatible with the vessel and cargo type, and shoreside provisions for securement and handling. The number of berths and their total length is an indicator of port capacity, but is more relevant to container terminals than to bulk facilities.

  • Loading and unloading equipment. Port terminals use a wide variety of equipment to load and unload vessels, trucks, trains, and barges. Bulk and break- bulk terminals use a combination of fixed and mobile equipment, including conveyors, wheeled loaders, and mobile cranes. There are no nationally consistent data available on such equipment. In contrast, cranes used to load and unload container ships vary in height and reach, but are relatively standardized. Most port and terminal websites provide information about the number and types of container cranes, making that information a usable indicator of terminal capacity.

  • Storage space for cargo, containers, and chassis. Ports require space to store cargo before it is transferred to or from vessels. Storage space can include: parking areas for empty and loaded containers, truck chassis to haul containers, and vehicles being transported in Ro/Ro ships; trackage to store rail cars; space
    to pile dry bulk cargo; tank farms for liquid bulk cargo; and warehouses for
    indoor cargo storage. Although port acreage is a useful indicator of capacity it tells only a part of the story, as containers can be stacked higher and dry bulk cargo piled higher when needed. Also, storage within a port’s boundaries may be a fraction of the storage capacity accessible nearby. Acreage is most relevant for container terminals, which are less variable in their configuration than bulk terminals.

  • Modal connections. Ports depend on multimodal connections to facilitate the flow of cargo between vessels and surface transportation modes. Ports typically have substantial highway connections for trucks moving to and from the terminals. Most major ports are also served by one or more railroads. Liquid bulk terminals are often connected by pipeline to nearby manufacturing and processing facilities, tank farms, or other storage and distribution facilities.

  • Port operating factors. While physical constraints place an upper bound limit on port capacity, operation of port terminals establishes the actual capacity within that upper limit. A number of factors impact operational constraints, including: hours of operation; customs inspection procedures and staff availability; and terminal operating methods. Individual ports monitor their operations, yet specific measures and measurement methods vary from port to port and from terminal operator to terminal operator within ports. This individuality of port operations suggests that detailed performance measurement may be more meaningful at the terminal level.

  • External factors such as weather, ice, schedule reliability, and institutional disruptions. In addition to internal operations, port capacity is routinely affected by external events. Ice closes Great Lakes ports every winter. Floods and droughts have shut down inland waterways or placed limits on the maximum vessel size that may traverse the route. Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy, and the Loma Prieta earthquake have all disrupted port operations. Other disruptions can include institutional events, such as the 2016 Hanjin Container Lines bankruptcy that delayed shipments and impacted container port operations. A more common external factor is the variability of ship arrivals on the waterside and of rail and truck capacity on the landside.

Moving cargo through a port involves a number of steps that also affect the port’s capacity. Figure 9 illustrates these steps for an example of a dedicated container terminal designed for large ocean-going vessels. Containers are unloaded from a vessel into the yard (red arrows), while trucks enter the yard and pick up a chassis (white arrows) before being loaded with a container (light blue arrows), and undergoing safety and security scans (dark blue arrows). The specific steps are as follows:

  1. Arriving vessels are unloaded and inbound containers are moved to the Container Yard (CY) to await pickup and delivery to customers.
  2. Trucks arrive “bobtail” (without chassis or container) through the terminal gates to pick up inbound containers. Other trucks arrive through the gates with bare container chassis, empty containers, or loaded outbound containers. Driver identity and container pickup/delivery information is verified at the gate or at a separate security check.
  3. Drivers needing container chassis for over-the-road movement obtain them from an on-terminal pool. Other drivers may use trucker-owned chassis or obtain a chassis from an off-terminal site.
  4. Inbound containers are transferred to trucks using mechanical lift equipment. Outbound and empty containers are transferred from trucks in the reverse move.
  5. Import containers are moved through a Radiation Portal Monitor (RPM) operated by CBP personnel before leaving the terminal.
  6. Trucks and containers on chassis also pass through a “roadability” check to verify safe equipment condition.
  7. Drivers exit once all outbound checks have been performed and documentation has been verified.

Dedicated container terminals such as the one illustrated in Figure 9 handle most container traffic at U.S. ports. Some ports, particularly in the Alaskan and Caribbean trades (e.g., the Ports of Juneau and San Juan), are also served by Ro/Ro barges that carry containers on chassis and do not require dedicated terminals. Barge terminals usually have ramps that connect vessels to the terminal rather than berths with cranes. Other ports handle containers at “general cargo” terminals that may also handle break-bulk, Ro/Ro, or dry bulk cargoes. These general cargo terminals may have container cranes or may handle containers using mobile, multi- purpose cranes.

Figure 10 illustrates the steps for an example of a dry bulk terminal serving barges on an inland river port.

  1. Outbound bulk cargo arrives by rail (or by truck or pipeline) and is transferred to terminal storage or directly to the vessel.
  2. Covered storage is provided for weather-sensitive commodities, such as grain.
  3. Outbound barges are loaded using methods suitable to the commodity and volume. Terminals may use mobile equipment, conveyors, cranes, etc. as needed. Larger, ocean-going vessels may be handled the same way, or may have onboard loading systems.
  4. Empty barges wait to be filled and full barges wait to be combined and transported.
  5. Inbound bulk cargo may be unloaded from barges or ocean-going vessels using similar methods.
  6. Commodities that do not need protection, such as coal, may be stockpiled in the open.

There are many variations in bulk terminal infrastructure and operations since terminals are designed and operated to suit their locations, the commodities they handle, and the vessels they serve.

One notable difference between Figure 9 and Figure 10 is that a container ship stays in place at the berth while being loaded and unloaded by cranes that move, while vessels carrying dry bulk cargo may be moved underneath a stationary loading device. As a result, berth length may be a more significant constraint on capacity for containerized cargo than for dry bulk cargo.

Figure  9: Example of Container Terminal Flow

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Figure I0: Example of Dry Bulk Terminal Flow

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As noted above, estimating port capacity is complex; the number of available, nationally consistent capacity measures is very limited. While BTS intends to explore promising approaches to improving the measurement of port capacity in future editions of this Annual Report, the port profiles in this first edition are limited to the capacity indicators described below.

3.2.1 Channel Depth

Channel depth limits the sailing draft (the vertical distance between the waterline and a vessel’s keel) of vessels that can call at the port. The water levels in a channel are dynamic and can be affected by many factors, including the tide and prevailing winds, while sailing draft varies with vessel design and cargo weight. One responsibility of USACE is to facilitate the safe and reliable movement of vessels by constructing and maintaining navigation channels and harbors. Vessels also typically require underkeel clearance buffers to safely transit approach channels, with requirements typically set locally by port pilot policy to reflect channel conditions (i.e., soft vs. rocky bottom) and types of cargo (e.g., hazardous materials) being transported.

There are at least three different channel depth measures that are important when considering port performance questions: (1) authorized depth; (2) maintained depth; and (3) controlling (or limiting) depth. The authorized depth is the depth specified in the authorizing Congressional legislation directing USACE to construct and maintain the Federal navigation project. The authorized depth applies to specific port channels or approaches and not necessarily to the entire port or harbor area. Owing to the larger tidal range and to account for wave conditions, typically the deepest authorized depth(s) will be in the outer entrance channels. It should be noted that not all authorized navigation channels are constructed to their exact authorized dimensions. For many reasons, such as a lack of subsequent (to the authorizing legislation) appropriated funds needed to conduct the initial channel deepening or a lack of local sponsor cost-sharing funds, there are numerous examples of navigation channels with authorized depths greater than that to which they have ever been dredged.

After the initial channel deepening and widening, sediment will inevitably accumulate in the channel, transported via tidal currents, watershed runoff, and storm events. USACE conducts regular maintenance dredging to remove this accumulated sediment and restore the channel to a maintained depth that is (whenever possible) suitable for the associated port traffic and cost- effective given inherent budget limitations. Channel conditions relative to this depth are monitored via channel surveys conducted on a regular, sub-annual basis by USACE. Maintained depths may be less than authorized or constructed depths due to a number of factors. In some cases, limited annual budget allocations may have precluded maintaining the entire navigation project to full authorized dimensions; this is particularly true when the initial deepening results in significantly higher-than-expected sediment loads accumulating in the channel. In other cases, the difference is only temporary, pending completion of ongoing channel deepening activities, which can require several years depending on the scope of the required dredging. Both authorized and maintained depths are nine feet on the inland river system. Deep-draft coastal navigation projects typically range anywhere from 35-50 feet, with most high-use ports coming in between 40-45 feet. The Great Lakes system is a class unto itself, with maintained depths between 26-28 feet for most projects.

The controlling depth governs the maximum sailing draft of a vessel that can enter a channel, and represents the least depth that might be encountered due to other factors such as tide or localized shoaling from sediment accumulation. Maintenance dredging to address channel shoaling is conducted on a regular basis by USACE. For high-use projects the frequency of this dredging is typically limited by the Federal budget cycle to once annually. Sediment accumulation is highly localized and dynamic, and so it is not uncommon for several weeks or months to elapse before channel shoaling can be addressed and prevailing controlling depths can be restored to the maintained depths. A recent example of this occurred on the Lower Mississippi River at Southwest Pass during the winter of 2016. An earlier-than-usual high water event in January resulted in severe shoaling and a controlling depth of 41 feet, even though the project is maintained to 47 feet. Controlling depth might be a better overall metric for reporting on channel depths as it provides insight into the maximum vessel sizes that can call at a port, and will be researched for subsequent editions of this report. Another important consideration is that dredging (for berths and/or channels) may also be needed to provide space for vessels to maneuver and stop.

Efforts are currently underway at USACE to compile and digitize data on controlling depths, including an effort to standardize how depth surveys are processed and aggregated across USACE districts. USACE has mandated use of software at the district level for managing collection and processing of periodic navigation channel surveys. Given that a single USACE navigation project can consist of many dozens of channel reaches and that there are hundreds of maintained navigation projects spread across 39 Civil Works Districts nationally, comprehensive collation of the data in support of this initial Annual Report was not feasible. BTS will explore methods to represent channel depths in future editions of the Annual Report.

For this edition of the Annual Report, the maximum operational depths of approach channels developed by USACE are used as a proxy for controlling depths. In most cases, the depth matches the effective controlling depth for ports past the open water bar channels that tend to be deeper due to tidal range and wave conditions.

The profiles included in this initial report contain two measures of channel depth, measured in feet:

  • Authorized Channel Depth, the maximum authorized depth for each port, as based on port-provided data (or USACE data when port-provided data were unavailable).
  • Maximum Operational Depth of Approach Channel, the current maximum operational depth for each port’s approach channels, as based on USACE projects within which each port is located.

The starting point for both depths was a dataset compiled by USACE. Port authorities were subsequently contacted to confirm authorized channel depths, while a representative of USACE developed the maximum operational depth of approach channel figures.

3.2.2 Length of Container Berths

Along with depth, the length of berths determines the number and size of vessels a port can handle. The number of berths, their length, and the total berth length are interrelated. A small terminal may have a single berth with a fixed length. Large container terminals can have 2,000-6,000 feet of continuous berth, and vessels of different lengths can often be handled with flexible berth arrangements. For example, ports and terminals can decide whether a 6,000-foot face is counted as four 1,500-foot berths or five 1,200-foot berths. In multi-berth container terminals, cranes can usually be moved up and down the wharf face, further complicating the definition of “berth.”

As explained at the beginning of Section 3.2, the length of berths is most relevant to container terminals. Since most container vessels in service are less than 1,000 feet long and 1,000-foot berths are common, berth length has seldom been a limiting factor in handling vessels. However, berth length will start to impact vessel calls as larger “megaships” up to 1,300 feet long call more often at U.S. container ports. Since a given length of berth space can be divided into different numbers of berths without affecting total capacity, only length is included in this Annual Report.

As Figure 11 depicts, the largest and busiest (i.e., highest annual TEU) container ports (Figure 3) also have greater total berth length. Container port berth length is usually reported by the ports or terminals and may be measurable from aerial photography.

Figure 11: Container Berth Length in Feet versus Annual TEU at Top 25 Container Ports by TEU, 2015

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Figure 11: Container Berth Length in Feet versus Annual TEU at Top 25 Container Ports by TEU, 2015

SOURCES: American Association of Port Authorities, port websites including linked terminal-specific websites (see port profiles in Section 5 for more details), and Google Earth.

3.2.3 Container Terminal Size

Measuring the physical size of a port and its terminals can be problematic, as terminal components and configurations differ widely. Container terminals consist of three major elements:

  • The berth, wharf, and container cranes, which together provide the capability to receive vessels and transfer containers between the vessel and the terminal.
  • The container yard, where loaded and empty containers are stored for transfer between vessels and truck or rail modes.
  • The gates, through which inbound and outbound trucks and containers are processed.

Many container terminals also have rail transfer facilities (“on-dock rail”) that can transfer containers to and from trains without over-the-road trucking moves. At terminals without on- dock rail, containers are trucked to and from external (off-dock or near-dock) rail terminals.

Container terminals may also have chassis storage areas, container or chassis maintenance and repair facilities, or container freight stations. Some marine container terminals are combination facilities that also handle break-bulk, project, or Ro/Ro cargo. In other cases, terminals may have established satellite operations to store or stage containers or chassis. The wide variety of configurations and functions makes terminal acreage less relevant for dry bulk and other terminal types.

Figure 12 below shows reported total container terminal acres (or estimated acres where not reported) for the top 25 container ports by TEU. In general, container ports with the highest annual TEU have the largest total container terminal acreage.

Figure 12: Container Terminal Acres of Top 25 Container Ports by TEU, 2015

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Figure 12: Container Terminal Acres of Top 25 Container Ports by TEU, 2015

NOTES: 1=The Port of Juneau uses Ro/Ro operations instead of cranes to move containers and has no dedicated acreage for container terminal operations.

SOURCE: Port websites including linked terminal-specific websites (see port profiles in Section 5 for more details).

The container terminal sizes in Figure 12 reflect gross container terminal acres, including:

  • On-dock rail transfer facilities, raising the acreage totals.
  • Non-container operations at mixed-use terminals.

Some terminals may only be partly used, leading to an overestimate of acres used for container operations.

3.2.4 Container Cranes

The number and size of cranes affects the number and size of ships a terminal can service simultaneously. Most port and terminal websites provide information about the number and types of shore-side container cranes used to load and unload ships (Figure 13), making that information a plausible indicator for terminal capacity. The busiest container ports by TEU also have the most container cranes, as Figure 14 highlights. This is expected, because cranes can provide relatively adjustable increments of capacity at lower cost (in the tens of millions of dollars) as compared to new terminals or major dredging projects (which are typically in the hundreds of millions of dollars).

Figure 13: Number of Container Cranes at the Top 25 Container Ports by TEU, 2015

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Figure 13: Number of Container Cranes at the Top 25 Container Ports by TEU, 2015

NOTE: 1=The Port of Juneau uses Ro/Ro operations instead of cranes to move some of the containers included in the totals.

SOURCE: Port websites including linked terminal-specific websites (see port profiles in Section 5 for more details).

Figure 14: Container Cranes versus Annual TEU at Top 25 Container Ports by TEU, 2015

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Figure 14: Container Cranes versus Annual TEU at Top 25 Container Ports by TEU, 2015

SOURCE: Port websites including linked terminal-specific websites (see port profiles in Section 5 for more details).

The inclusion of Ro/Ro barge operations or container operations using ship’s gear can distort the crane-related metrics. The Ports of Juneau and San Juan, for example, handle many of the containers included in port totals at Ro/Ro barge terminals, but the total handled container volume is included to reflect the total level of activity at the port.

3.2.5 Rail Connectivity

Most high-volume ports are either directly connected to the rail system or have nearby rail facilities. Bulk terminals have a variety of rail service connections suited to the type and volume of commodities they handle. Container terminals have either on-dock connections within the terminal boundaries or off-dock connections nearby. Table 5 indicates the number of container terminals with on-dock rail at the top 25 container ports by TEU that have at least one terminal with on-dock connectivity.

Table 5: Number of Terminals with On-Dock Rail Facilities for Containers, 2015

Port Number of Container Terminals
With Rail Access Total
Baltimore 1 1
Charleston 2 3
Long Beach 6 7
Los Angeles 8 8
Miami 1 3
Mobile 1 1
New Orleans 1 1
New York and New Jersey 4 6
Portland 3 3
Savannah 1 1
Seattle 1 1
Tacoma 2 4
Virginia 4 7
Wilmington (NC) 1 1

SOURCE: Port websites including linked terminal-specific websites (see port profiles in Section 5 for more details).

3.2.6 Summary of the Selected Measures

The port profiles in Section 5 contain throughput and capacity metrics for each port included in the lists of top 25 ports by total tonnage, TEU, and dry bulk tonnage. Table 6 summarizes the content of each profile.

Table 6: Summary of Elements/Metrics in Port Profiles and Data Sources

Element/ Metric Type Element/ Metric Details/Notes Source (more details in Notes/Sources in profiles)
Port Description Port type
  • Designation using 2015 data as top 25 tonnage, container, or dry bulk port (as specified by FAST Act Section 6018)
USACE WCSC, special tabulation, as of October 2016
Port Overview
  • High-level description of the port
Port websites
Capacity1 Channel depth
  • Measured in feet
  • Authorized Channel Depth
  • Maximum Operational Depth of Approach Channel
Port websites, USACE Deep Draft and Shallow Draft Navigation Project listing, special tabulation, as of December 2016
Berth length for container ships
  • Measured in feet
  • Presented for top 25 container ports
Port and terminal websites
Number and type of container cranes
  • Numbers of cranes capable of serving (1) Panamax, (2) Post-Panamax, and (3) Super- Post-Panamax vessels.
  • Presented for top 25 container ports
Port and terminal websites
Number of on-dock rail transfer facilities
  • Presented for top 25 container ports2
Port and terminal websites
Throughput Annual vessel calls by vessel type
  • 2015 and percentage change from 2014
USACE WCSC, special tabulation, as of November 2016
Annual container throughput
  • Inbound, outbound, loaded, empty, and total TEU
  • 2015 and percentage change from 2014
AAPA, Port Industry Statistics, NAFTA Region Container Traffic, October 2016
Annual total tonnage
  • Domestic, foreign, import, export, and total short tons
  • 2015 and percentage change from 2014
USACE WCSC, special tabulation, as of October 2016
Annual dry bulk tonnage
  • Domestic, foreign, import, export, and total short tons
  • 2015 and percentage change from 2014
USACE WCSC, special tabulation, as of October 2016
Major commodities and tonnage
  • Measured in short tons (includes dry bulk and container cargo and excludes container weight)
  • USACE Commodity Classification List 1-digit level
USACE WCSC, special tabulation, as of November 2016

1 Ports were provided opportunities to verify capacity data through AAPA or direct requests for non-AAPA member ports. The notes/sources boxes in individual port profiles provide additional detail on respondent ports.
2 Quantifying the number of on-dock rail transfer facilities at the top 25 dry bulk ports was not possible for this first Annual Report due to the high number of dry bulk terminals and the greater variability in infrastructure within them.

Updated: Saturday, May 20, 2017