Airport cargo center gets financial boost
By By Mitch Freeman Madison County Record
Huntsville International Airport's International Intermodal Center recently received notice that $4.9 million has been released for expansion of the facility.
According to Intermodal Center Director Don Palmer, the funding would allow the center to move forward with planned facility and equipment renovation. He said release of this money is part of a $15 million U.S. Department of Transportation appropriation.
The Intermodal Center is in the business of shipping cargo via air, rail and trucks, to and from domestic and international locations.
Huntsville airport complex Public Relations Manager Cindy Maloney said, "Don oversees both air and rail. He can look out his window and see both."
From the large windows on the center's third floor building, one can see all of the sprawling 45-acre facility, stacks of cargo containers that weigh up to 60,000 pounds each and the pair of 45-ton, yellow overhead gantry cranes, which tower over it all.
The Intermodal Center is what gives Huntsville's airport its international status, Palmer said. U.S. Customs and U.S. Department of Agriculture agents are on the job 24 hours a day, seven days a week to expedite international commerce, through the center.
Huntsville airport competes with other regional hubs, like Atlanta, for business. Palmer said a wide-body 747-cargo freighter plane could be in and out of the Intermodal Center in about two hours, which makes Huntsville's operation attractive. He said the DOT funding would enhance their ability to be competitive.
Maloney said the air cargo business and the rail cargo business do not interact. The overhead cranes are used to move the cargo containers between rail carriers and chassis that trucks hook to. She said the containers are too heavy for air transport.
Norfolk Southern partners with the Intermodal Center, to move cargo containers to and from the center, and beyond.
The recently released funding will be used for several center projects.
"We're meeting the needs of the future," Palmer said.
One of the overhead cranes is about 17-years-old. It will be modernized and improved.
"We're going to double its speed and it will become a remote operated," Palmer said.
The crane is now operated from a cockpit that sits high above ground level. After the renovation, an operator will be able to run the crane from a remote control, at ground level, where the cargo containers are. The other overhead crane is newer and is already operated by remote control.
An entry way roundabout will be built to make it more efficient for trucks to get in and out of the facility, according to Palmer.
The first floor of the Intermodal Center building will be converted for use by yard staff, the yard maintenance building will be refurbished and other yard improvements will be made, Palmer said.
The $10 million first phase of the center enhancement project included the purchase of the newer overhead crane, expansion of the north cargo yard, asphalt surfacing to replace gravel and the addition of about 2,000 feet of rail track.
Maloney gave credit to U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby for helping secure the appropriation.
"He is a big advocate for the Port of Huntsville," she said.
The Port of Huntsville includes the Huntsville International Airport, International Intermodal Center and Jetplex Industrial Park.