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NS' green, cost-efficient service recognized

Fall 2015

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NS intermodal train 237 stops at the South Carolina Inland Port terminal at Greer, S.C.

Customers on board for intermodal at inland port facility in Greer, S.C.

Norfolk Southern continues to gain intermodal business at the South Carolina Inland Port in Greer by offering cost-efficient and environmentally friendly rail transport to and from the Port of Charleston.

Customers are showing their appreciation. Eastman Chemical Company has recognized NS’ intermodal group for helping develop a sustainable rail option at the inland port that has reduced the company’s shipping costs and truck emissions.

“Combining this inland terminal with reliable rail service to the Port of Charleston allows Eastman to take shipments off the highway, which is more efficient from an environmental standpoint,” said Chris Luebbers, NS group manager intermodal marketing.”

“What’s really exciting to me is that it proves the point that rail can be better from a cost perspective, even in short-haul lanes like this.”

— Chris Luebbers,
group manager intermodal marketing

NS is the exclusive provider of rail service to the inland port, which is owned and operated by the South Carolina Ports Authority. With BMW as an anchor customer, NS partnered with the ports authority to open the facility in fall 2013, providing rail, signal, and other track infrastructure. BMW operates a production plant at Greer for its X-series sports activity vehicles, and NS transports parts and components for the luxury automaker in double-stack intermodal containers between Charleston and Greer.

NS has added other high-profile customers in and around northwestern South Carolina, known as the Upstate. Among the largest are Adidas, the athletic apparel company, which operates a distribution facility at nearby Spartanburg; tire maker Michelin, one of the state’s largest manufacturing employers with a production facility near the inland port; and farm equipment manufacturer John Deere. 

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A container crane at the South Carolina Inland Port.

In 2015, NS container traffic at the inland port outpaced its first-year volumes by more than half. NS added a second train to and from Charleston to better serve the inland port. To further enhance efficiencies, NS has worked with the Port of Charleston to streamline container movement between NS’ intermodal facility at Charleston and the port’s two marine terminals.

“The response from companies in the Upstate has been good,” said Luebbers, who has been involved with the inland port project since its conception. “We’ve seen extraordinary growth above and beyond projected estimates.”

The Eastman intermodal solution

Eastman, a specialty chemical company based at Kingsport, Tenn., began using NS’ Greer service in March 2014. Its products move mainly in 20-foot containers and include specialty plastics and wood pulp-based products bound for markets worldwide. The plastics, primarily plastic pellets, are used by manufacturers to make things such as packaging products, refillable hydration bottles, and housewares. Companies use the wood pulp-based products to make liners for high-end suits, wedding and prom dresses, and caskets, among other things.

Before NS' rail option at Greer, Eastman moved these export products by highway from Kingsport to Charleston. Eastman used a relay system in which trucks traveling from each end of the route – one with a loaded container bound for the port and the other with an empty container for return to Kingsport – met in Columbia, S.C., to exchange containers.

NS intermodal gained the business by developing a service plan that offers a similar delivery time at a lower cost, said Debbie Davis Waltermire, Eastman’s director of global logistics procurement. Now, Eastman uses trucks only on the move between Kingsport and Greer. NS’ service removes about 212 miles of truck travel from each Eastman shipment and provides next-day service for containers moving from Tennessee to the port.

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“We had to build the right lead time into our business model to do this, but it is very manageable,” Waltermire said.

As part of its Supplier Excellence Program, Eastman presented NS intermodal and the ports authority with awards for innovation and sustainability for helping advance the company’s business goals. It was the first time that Eastman’s global logistics group issued a sustainability award to supply-chain partners, Waltermire said.

Eastman cited its collaboration with NS in its 2015 sustainability report in a section entitled “Making a difference along the supply chain.” Waltermire said NS earned the award for offering a transportation solution that was cost- and resource-efficient and that helped Eastman reduce supply-chain carbon emissions. Trains, on average, are four times more fuel-efficient than trucks and reduce carbon emissions by 75 percent, according to Federal Railroad Administration studies.

“Eastman has goals around sustainable growth and improved carbon footprint, and we felt that this gives us supply-chain efficiencies that allow for sustainable growth,” Waltermire said. In addition, the NS solution helps Eastman deal with truck driver shortages – what Waltermire described as “resource scarcity” – and also generates a social benefit: safer highways.

Waltermire said Interstate 26 between Greer and Charleston “is exceptionally congested, and we felt rail was a safer approach. Anytime you can take truck traffic off the road, I think that’s a personal safety improvement.”

While greener transport is an Eastman goal, NS’ competitive pricing made the conversion to rail possible, Waltermire said. “One thing we say about sustainability is that you can pay a fortune to be sustainable, but you wouldn’t stay in business doing that,” she said. “What the Norfolk Southern intermodal group did was to make sure that this was a value proposition that made sense for Eastman.”

A triple play for NS

Eastman does business across three of the railroad’s markets. NS’ coal business group transports bituminous coal to the Kingsport plant for use as energy and as a feedstock for manufacturing chemicals and materials. NS’ merchandise group moves chemicals and inbound wood pulp. The intermodal service at Greer makes it a triple play for NS.

“Norfolk Southern’s rail service is a crucial component to Eastman’s success, as equipment turn times greatly influence their production capability,” said Joe Abernathy, NS industrial products senior account manager in chemicals marketing. “Innovation is a key component for both of our companies, and we complement each other in that regard. They are staunch supporters of the rail mode of transportation.”