Tampa Port works to begin operation of 96-car ethanol unit train

By Holly Jessen | October 10, 2012

There are two ethanol-related firsts at the new Tampa Gateway Rail terminal in Florida. The Port of Tampa now has the nation’s first ethanol unit train-to-refined productions pipeline and Florida’s first on-dock unit train intermodal container capability, according to the Tampa Port Authority.  

The new facility was inaugurated in late September and is expected to commence operations in early November, said Gary Sease, spokesman for CSX Corp., a Florida-based rail, intermodal and rail-to-truck transload services company. The rail terminal has the capability of handling ethanol unit trains of up to 96 cars in length.  “We have some commitments from producers that we see a steady business operating from the Midwest to the port of Tampa,” he said. “And, of course, Tampa is in that whole central Florida area that is so populous, so there will certainly be a ready market.”

The new rail terminal was made possible in a public/private partnership, according to a Tampa Port Authority press release. Florida Department of Transportation paid $7.5 Million, the Port of Tampa $5 million and CSX $2.5 million. Additional improvements were paid for with another $15 million from Kinder Morgan and $1.5 million from CSX.

The pipeline system will be used to supply Kinder Morgan’s energy terminal. Ethanol will be unloaded directly from tank cars to the pipeline, which will transport the fuel a short distance to holding tanks for blending, Sease explained. Incoming ethanol can also be transported to ships at the new dockside rail terminal, a separate operation from the pipeline distribution system, according to the press release.

Utilizing unit trains, which allow transportation of one commodity from one origin to one destination, helps simplify a very complicated process, Sease said. These dedicated tank cars handle a steady supply of product very efficiently. “We are very big supporters of converting any freight shipments that we can that are appropriate to unit trains because they are just so efficient to operate,” he said of CSX.