Ports Authority opens new inland rail hub in North Georgia mountains

The Georgia Ports Authority on Wednesday opened its second inland port, a depot in the northwest Georgia mountains to accept goods shipped into the state and a new loading point for domestic products to be shipped overseas.

The $26 million Appalachian Regional Port, about 100 miles northwest of downtown Atlanta, will help some 50,000 heavy containers bypass Atlanta highways each year. The authority estimates that equates annually to 15 million truck miles.

The new inland hub, joining a sister facility in South Georgia’s Cordele, features a 388-mile direct link via CSX railroad to the bustling Port of Savannah.

A study released in March by the University of Georgia found that maritime trade accounts for $44 billion of the state’s gross domestic product and the ports directly or indirectly touch more than 439,000 jobs.

Griff Lynch, the authority’s executive director, said the facility will “extend our gates,” and serve distributors, textile and automotive manufacturers and other customers in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky.

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Dignitaries, including Gov. Nathan Deal, right, watch the hoisting of the ceremonial first container from a train onto a truck at the Appalachian Regional Port in Crandall, Ga., on Wednesday August 22, 2018. The Georgia Ports Authority’s new inland port is expected to handle 50,000 containers a year and potentially double that capacity in the next 10 years. J. SCOTT TRUBEY/STRUBEY@AJC.COM (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The inland port is about 10 miles south of the Tennessee line and about 20 miles northeast of Dalton, known as the “Carpet Capital of the World. Textile giants such as Shaw Industries and Mohawk, as well as Volkswagen and its suppliers are expected to be some of the major customers.

Gov. Nathan Deal said Georgia trades with 225 countries and territories worldwide, creating a nearly $130 billion economic impact.

“If you don’t think that’s significant, this is going to give you a chance to not only add to that number, but to get a bigger share of the pie,” he said.

Asked if he was concerned intensifying trade disputes between the U.S. and its global trading partners, Deal said he had concerns, but he said President Donald Trump is attempting to level the international playing field and ensure “fair trade.”

The ports authority reported its second highest monthly container volume in July, posting 12.7 percent growth compared to the same month a year ago.

To respond to growth, the ports have been on a building binge, starting a new $126.7 million rail hub near the Savannah terminal in March. The Army Corps of Engineers is working on a nearly $1 billion deepening of the Savannah River to help ensure larger vessels can navigate the channel with greater flexibility.

Roberto Eggeling, vice president of logistics, production control and program planning for Volkswagen Group of America, said he expects VW and its suppliers will use the inland port, which will give the plants greater flexibility in their respective supply chains.

U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, said the ports authority’s infrastructure investment is warranted because of the region’s booming economy.

“Manufacturing is robust, investment is here and this region is alive and it’s thriving,” he said.

The Murray County Industrial Development Authority, which acquired a nearly 400-acre tract earlier this year, has two projects related to the port could be announced in the coming months.

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