The growth of the globalized economy has led to more supply chains that rely on importing and exporting through the nation's busy seaports. This increase in international business, however, has also led to increased supply chain costs as a result of cargo congestion and capacity constraints around the seaports. Adding to the issue, fewer drivers are available to move containers long distances inland to shipper destinations, which can lead to delays.

How Inland Ports Work

Many shippers that import or export goods and materials are now increasingly exploring the benefits of using inland ports. An inland port is typically an intermodal hub that supports the freight transportation needs of large markets. As trade between the U.S. and the rest of the world has grown, more of these inland ports are acting as direct extensions of seaports. 

To illustrate how an inland port can be used, a company located in Knoxville, TN may import a container of products from Shanghai, China through the Port of Charleston. Rather than draying the container from Charleston to Knoxville or transloading the cargo to a trailer, the importer may take advantage of South Carolina's inland port in Greer.

Once the container is unloaded from the ship, it is then transported 212 miles inland to Greer by rail. In Greer, the container can be drayed a shorter distance to Knoxville or the cargo can be processed for delivery and wider distribution by a nearby carrier. 

There are numerous inland ports supported by rail systems that connect with seaports around the country. For example, the Port of Wilmington in North Carolina is connected by rail to Charlotte, NC, and the Port of Virginia is linked to an inland port in Front Royal, VA. Additionally, southern states, including Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama will find more inland support when the Appalachian Regional Port opens in Northwest Georgia later this year to connect with the Port of Savannah.

Even further inland, there are several distribution hubs supported by intermodal services, such as those in Chicago, Dallas and Memphis.

The Benefits of Using Inland PortsThere are several benefits that an inland port strategy can bring to your supply chain. Together, the following key points will enable you to save money and time on your import and export needs.

(1)Efficient Intermodal Transportation

Shipping by rail has improved over the decades as a result of better technologies and infrastructural upgrades. Intermodal transportation is generally more fuel-efficient than shipping long-haul freight by road. At the same time, rail transit times have also become comparable to traditional over-the-road transportation. 

Interested in learning more about the different benefits of rail service? Check out our article To Ship Freight By Rail Or Road: That Is The Question.

(2)More Freight Capacity

The driver and equipment shortage near major seaports has led to higher transportation costs and longer delays in transit as shippers wait for available chassis to pick up containers. Shipping by rail from the coast to an inland port, however, gives you access to more readily available capacity. By moving containers further inland, you can avoid challenges along the coast and still meet your delivery targets.

(3)Value-Added Services

Tightening commercial warehousing and distribution space near seaports means that you will more likely pay higher supply chain costs along the coast. Processing and storage of imported cargo, for example, can have a considerably higher cost than if those services are performed in areas around an inland port.

(4)Proximity To Your Business

If you're like many other international shippers, vital points in your supply chain are located further inland away from the coast. By utilizing an inland port as your cargo's point-of-entry or -exit, you can reduce the length of the connection between your warehouse or business with the global economy. An inland port can essentially become your gateway to international trade. At the same time, you'll be able to reduce the number of hands that touch your cargo while bringing your goods closer to your customers.