PORT MANATEE -- Port Manatee is linked to the CSX Transportation mainline by short-line railroad tracks, and what sits on those tracks now are two new, mean and green diesel-electric locomotives. The port made the purchases with financial help from a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) grant, and they are ready to go to work -- provided the port can make adequate use of them.
The 1958 dinosaur that the two new locomotives replaced was sold, and the $2.5 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant from the U.S. Dept of Transportation covered all but $528,000 of the cost for the new locomotives. That balance was paid by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and Port Manatee.
Port Manatee's Executive Director Carlos Buqueras said, "These are the most environmental locomotives out there." Buqueras added, "These new green locomotives represent a win-win-win for the environment, the port and the port's present and future stakeholders."
Both are powered by a pair of 700-horsepower motors that are computer controlled for efficiency. Buqueras says so far they have seen a 50 percent savings in fuel costs, just from the first one delivered (locomotive 1001).
"The timing of the purchase is perfect," Buqueras says, referring to the opening of the new expanded Panama Canal being just 12 to 15 months away, as Port Manatee is the closest deep-water U.S. seaport.
However, after the port committed to the engines, it lost the bulk of its rail business, which came from phosphate giant Mosaic, who ran phosphate rock through the port via one of its tenants, Kinder Morgan. Mosaic shifted all of that business to Tampa in December, leading the port to begin furloughing each of its 54 full-time employees for one day each month for an "indefinite" time period starting this past January.
Mosaic's pull-out cost the port around $750,000 annually, primarily from railroad fees, dockage, wharfage, linehandling and harbor master fees. Considering that the rail operation was already operating at a loss with the Mosaic business, and that the operating revenue budget for the port this year is the lowest it has been in the last decade, it seems clear that securing considerable business from the expanded Panama Canal may be essential for the rail operation's survival.
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