PALMETTO -- Last month's groundbreaking ceremony at Port Manatee caught the attention of more than just the governor and local officials. The gala also impressed Federal Maritime Deputy Administrator David Matsuda, who spoke right before Governor Scott. Wednesday, Matsuda called Port Director Carlos Buqueras to tell him Port Manatee had been awarded a $2.5 million grant, earmarked for two brand new rail locomotives. That's a lot of choo-choo.
Last month, when the dark clouds were skating across the bay and the wind started moving things not tied down, Matsuda was cutting his speech short so Governor Scott could get a word in before we all got wet. There was no hint to whether Matsuda was already thinking about Port Manatee then, or if he knew about the condition of the current locomotive the port often nurses, but the news was welcomed with open arms.
A couple of years ago, the port bought a locomotive for $250,000. It was used and as Buqueras says, "has a little bit of rubber band and chewing gum in it." Brand new locomotives generally cost $1.5 million, give or take a few hundred thousand, and Buqueras says new equipment should be able to take care of business for more than 15 years.
Rail has been very good to Port Manatee. It is located next to the best rail connections in the state of Florida. Having direct rail to the Midwest is perhaps Port Manatee's greatest asset. Being just a few miles from the open gulf with the rail at its back door, makes it the envy of Florida ports.
TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant money has built much of the port renovations over the past several years, and this last $2.5 million was unexpected, as it came from funds awarded to other ports that hadn't been able to utilize it. The port is now making plans to sell its current equipment, which should bring most of the rest of what's needed to pay for the new ones.
Having its own locomotive has been a major cost saver for Port Manatee, as unlike many other ports, it doesn't have to contract with a rail line. Buqueras says he will be looking for a couple of "Green" locomotives, to keep with some of the innovative measures the port has taken through its renovation.