MILLER Transporters Inc added its fifth tank container depot facility in early 2017, to be followed by at least one more depot in 2018. More expansion is almost certain as the carrier identifies strategic opportunities at US coastal and inland ports.
Intermodal operations are growing steadily for Miller Transporters, which is based in Jackson, Mississippi. Tank container activity accounted for a significant percentage of revenue growth over the past year at Miller Transporters.
“Increasing tank container depot services continues to be a critical part of our company’s overall growth strategy,” says Lee Miller, president of Miller Transporters Inc. “Each new location we add is another step toward positioning ourselves to take advantage of opportunities that complement our core business and add to our ability to serve the chemical industry.
“We believe that tank container depot and drayage service are a natural extension of the liquid bulk transport services that Miller Transporters has been offering its customers for 75 years. We are seeing that the Panama Canal expansion is beginning to bring more container traffic to the eastern side of the United States, and we are positioned to benefit from that.
“We would like to have a presence in every major seaport and inland port in the country. While our depot operations currently are concentrated along the Gulf Coast and in the Southeast, customers are calling for additional locations in other areas.”
Steven Tapscott, Miller Transporters vice-president of marketing, adds that increased tank container activity made 2017 an even better year for the carrier. “Business was stronger overall this year, and we’ve seen more import and export activity,” he says. “Our tank container activity was up about 20% this year.”
Miller and Tapscott both say they believe tank container drayage helps with driver recruitment and retention. “Much of the tank container drayage work is local and regional, which appeals to many truck drivers,” Tapscott says. “In many ways, it is a driver-friendly business.”
The tank container depot services operate as a division of Miller Transporters. In addition, the Miller organization includes Miller Intermodal Logistics Services (MILS), which is focused on tank container leasing.
Miller Transporters’ five tank container depots are part of a 20-terminal network that is spread across the eastern half of the United States. The tank container depots are in Mobile, Alabama; New Orleans East, Louisiana; Channelview, Texas; Savannah, Georgia; and Charleston, South Carolina.
“Several of our tank container depots also serve as terminals for our tank truck operations,” says Jeff Uhl, director of depot operations for Miller Transporters.
Distributed among the tank container depots are nearly 200 owned and leased drop-deck chassis. Chassis also are stationed at Miller Transporters terminals in Chicago, Illinois, Memphis, Tennessee; and Nitro, West Virginia.
Most of the chassis are configured to transport one loaded tank container or two empties. All of them have a lift capability to raise the front of the tank container for faster and more complete unloading of the cargo.
The newest ISO tank container depot in East New Orleans opened in January 2017. Leased from the Port of New Orleans, the five-acre New Orleans East depot has room for at least 450 double-stacked tank containers.
For transloading and domestic tank container movements, the depot has rail service provided by the Public Belt Railroad of New Orleans, which has access to six Class 1 railroads.
Facility services also include a Taylor lift for handling empty and loaded tank containers and a maintenance shop that provides tank tests and inspections (2½- and 5-year), bench tests of pressure- and vacuum-relief valves, and minor repairs and service. Two mechanics handle shop operations.
High-pressure steam and chemical tank cleaning are available at Destination Tank Wash, a commercial wash rack that is roughly adjacent to the Miller Transporters depot.
Savannah, the first and largest depot in the Miller Transporters system, was opened four years ago. The Savannah operation is spread across three four-acre sites. Fifty-five tractors and roughly 50 tank container chassis are based in Savannah, and 35 of those tractors focus on serving depot operations.
The original four-acre site includes a tank wash rack that was recently upgraded with a new 40-horsepower boiler and a vat-style cleaning system. The second four-acre site offers plenty of room for staging loaded tanks and for tank container heating. The third site is being developed to provide additional services.
Miller Transporters’ four-acre Mobile depot is part of a 14-acre Miller Transporters terminal complex that includes five-bay maintenance shop and two-bay chemical wash rack. Two dedicated tank container mechanics are part of the shop crew. Of the 36 drivers based at the terminal, five are assigned to tank container drayage.
One of the newer depots is in Charleston on a four-acre leased site that has storage space for loaded and empty tank containers. Eight drivers and 15 tank container chassis are assigned to the facility. Tank cleaning is provided by a Quala wash rack that is across the street, and Miller Transporters plans to add testing and inspection services and tank maintenance at the depot.
Covering 12 acres, the Channelview depot and terminal serves the greater Houston, Texas-area and is one of the busiest in the Miller Transporters system. The facility has room to store 100 empty tank containers and services include drayage, tank maintenance, and tank cleaning. Five drivers are dedicated to tank container drayage and about 35 drop-deck chassis are based at the facility.
Twenty tank containers at the depot are used for domestic over-the-road shipments of epoxy resin. The tank containers are in dedicated service.
“We’re seeing steady growth in tank container activity across our depot network,” Uhl says. “At locations like Channelview, we have reached a point where we need more space. We are unable to expand further at that location, and we are studying options to develop a new site. We need the potential to grow to accommodate the future needs of our customers.”