Officials on Tuesday showed off a rail terminal that will boost the Port of Tampa's capability to handle ethanol and container cargo shipments and hinted that the port could attract an additional container cargo shipping service.
Port officials remain mum about discussions said to be ongoing with a new container cargo service, but a high-ranking CSX Corp. executive said additional container traffic could be in the works for Tampa's port.
"There are a couple other projects — additional unit trains and additional container service — for the port" being discussed, said Clarence Gooden, CSX chief commercial officer and executive vice president.
Gooden said confidentiality of contract negotiations precluded revealing further details.
The port handled about 29,000 20-foot-long containers from October through June, down 2 percent for the same period a year ago. Container cargo business is projected to increase "slightly" in fiscal 2013.
The rail terminal, scheduled to go into operation by early November, will handle incoming ethanol trains up to 96 cars in length, using a pipeline system to supply the port's Kinder Morgan energy terminal. Ships are not involved in that operation.
Separately, the new dockside rail terminal will be capable of transferring cargo containers directly between ships and trains, an efficiency that will increase the port's competitiveness to serve markets in and beyond Florida.
The Florida Department of Transportation pitched in $7.5 million, the Port of Tampa $5 million, and CSX $2.5 million for the rail terminal. Kinder Morgan invested $15 million and CSX $1.5 million for additional improvements.
"These are very fundamental economic investments for this community," said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat. And unlike others, this port is poised for growth, she said.
With the improved port facilities, Castor said, small businesses will be in a better position to compete for commerce.