Posted on: August 16th, 2012 by Stas





A new marine highway service proposes to shift 750 containerized truckloads per week off Northern California freeways and on to two tug/barges.

The service between the Port of Oakland and the Port of Stockton, located 75 miles to the east of Oakland along the Sacramento river, expects to begin operations at the end of August.

The new service will focus on relieving truck congestion generated between the Port of Oakland and 1) farm exporters 2) importers at distribution centers both located in California’s Central Valley.

There are 1,600 trucks per day which transit the 580 freeway corridor connecting the Central Valley with the Port of Oakland.

“This is a great example of a public private partnership that will help shape the future of freight transportation in Northern California in an environmentally conscious and sustainable manner,” said Allen Alexander, chairman and ceo of Savage.

Savage has been selected by the Port of Stockton to operate the service. The Utah-based company will provide management, marketing and logistics services.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District are supporting the project because they expect a major reduction in carbon and sulfur emissions using more fuel-efficient tug/barges as opposed to trucks.

Mark Tollini, deputy port director at the Port of Stockton, says the Marine Highway  service “will relieve truck congestion to and from the Port of Oakland by shifting containers onto the two barges.”

Tollini  expects the service to attract overload customers who are restricted on the weight they can carry by truck on highways. The container loaded onto a barge can carry considerably more weight and so reduce the number of Oakland-Stockton  truckloads.

The estimated cost savings to shippers utilizing  the barge is 15%.compared to the truck, according to Savage. The company says the barge service will charge $350 per container for one way service including lift charges at each port and waterborne transportation.

The service will deploy two barges –one carrying 256 containers and a second carrying 169 containers with the capacity to move 750 containerized truckloads on the two barges per week.

Savage says target exports from the Central Valley include:

  •  agricultural products
  •  waste paper
  •  scrap metals
  •  wine

New rail line extensions at the Port of Stockton will increase rail  service carrying containers to and from the Port so as to offload containers at Stockton and have them   delivered to Oakland by water. Two railroads are spearheading these extensions, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and the Union Pacific.

Savage says that instead of having one driver make one trip per day to the Port of Oakland from the Central Valley, the driver can make as many as four truck deliveries per day to the Port of Stockton for barge pick-ups and deliveries. This improves  productivity, lowers cost and mitigates driver shortages problems for  the trucking company.

Savage also points to a persistent problem in the hauling of containerized truckloads between Oakland and Central Valley shippers:  distribution centers do not always accept truck deliveries right away. The result is a container load leaving Oakland may need to be parked at an intermediate destination before being transported to the distribution center. This adds to the number of truck trips that can be avoided by using the barge.

There is skepticism among Northern California maritime executives that the barges can compete with trucks. They point to the cost of lifting containers on and off the barges in Stockton and Oakland, followed by the reliability of schedules moving the barges back and forth by tugboat along the Sacramento river where vessel service can be shut down due to fog. There is also the question as to whether there will be sufficient cargo to keep the service profitable. The biggest question is whether the longshore workers union  will support the service or make it more difficult to keep scheduled service at a fixed price. Savage says it has  the cooperation of the leadership of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) in Stockton, because, the company says, the ILWU sees the service creating new jobs for longshore and harbor workers.

A company official admits there are many questions about the service coming from shippers and that some shippers want to see the barge service work for three months before they decide to ship.

What is not in question is that research consistently shows that tug/ barges consume  two third less fuel than a truck going the same distance. The result is considerably less transportation cost on water and less emissions along the freeway corridor.

The Marine Highway Project is funded through a $30 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act.  The Port of Stockton says it used the funds to buy two 140-ton mobile harbor cranes built by the Austrian crane maker Liebherr. It also spent money on dockside improvements, a rail extension completing an on-dock and off-dock rail loop system, and a near-dock rail serving a container yard. In addition, the Ports of Oakland, Stockton and West Sacramento, in concert with San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, are providing $3.2 million dollars for the purchase of the two barges.

The Port of Stockton’s Mark Tollini is optimistic: “ I am confident that we will have the cargo necessary to make the service viable…the barge service meets a long-term need to move truckloads off the roads, reduce carbon emissions that is long overdue.”

A Savage power point presentation summarizes the service:


Leave a Reply