Configuration of a Maritime Container Terminal
The above figure depicts the standard configuration of a large container terminal. It occupies a substantial area, mainly because of storage requirements, even if this storage is short term (3 to 5 days). The main elements that compose a maritime container terminal are:
  • Docking area. Represents a berth where a containership can dock and have technical specifications such as length and draft. A standard post-panamax containership requires about 325 meters of docking space as well as a draft of about 45 feet (13 meters). Some terminals have separate facilities for handling barges (such as Antwerp and Rotterdam), although most barges are handled alongside the deepsea quays.
  • Container crane (Portainer). Represents the interface between the containership and the dock. Cranes have technical specifications in terms of number of movements per hour, maximum weight, and lateral coverage. A modern container crane can have a 18-20 wide coverage, implying that it can service a containership having a width of 18 to 20 containers. A gantry crane can perform about two movements (loading or unloading) per minute. The larger the number of cranes assigned to the transshipment process the faster it can take place. However, significant portside capabilities must be present to accommodate this throughput.
  • Loading / unloading area. Directly adjacent to the piers and under the gantry cranes, it is the zone of interaction between the cranes and the storage areas where containers are either brought in to be lifted on the containership or unloaded to be immediately picked up and brought to storage areas. This is mainly done with straddlers or holsters. In the case of straddlers, the containers are left on the ground while with holsters the containers are loaded from or unloaded to a chassis. The usage of straddlers is more common as it enables to move a container directly from dockside to the stack (or vice versa).
  • Container storage. Represents a temporary buffer zone where containers are left while the assigned containership is available to be loaded or while picked up for inland distribution. The larger the containerships handled by a port, the larger the required container storage area. Container storage can be arranged by shipbound (export) and landbound (import) stacks of containers. For shared terminal facilities, stacks can even be sub-divided according to shippers. Stacks are commonly up to 3 containers in height which enables straddlers to operate on top of them. Commonly, a terminal has also a storage area where reefers (refrigerated containers) can be plugged. About 5% of a terminal's stacking area is commonly devoted to the storage of reefers. Specific storage areas are also attributed to empties, which can be stacked up to 7 or 8 containers in height due to less stringent weight limitations. Empty container stacks are therefore easily recognizable from loaded container stacks because of different stacking configurations; empty stacks are higher and denser. For terminals facing capacity pressures, the tendency has been to have empty container depots outside terminal facilities. For a higher stacking density, up to 5 full containers, overhead gantry cranes are used, but this is linked with additional repositioning and rehandling. Stacking areas tend to be linear since straddlers or overhead gantry cranes are circulating over a row of containers.
  • Gate. It is the terminal's entry and exit point able to handle in many cases up to 25 trucks at once for a large terminal facility. The gate is where the truck driver presents proper documentation (bill of lading) for pick up or delivery. Most of the inspection is done remotely with cameras and intercom systems where an operator can remotely see for instance the container identification number and verify if it corresponds to the bill of lading. Modern management systems no longer require paperwork since all the documentation is kept in an electronic format interchangeable through secure connections. The priority is to verify the identify of the truck driver, the truck, the container and the chassis. For a delivery, the truck is assigned to a specific slot at the truck loading or unloading area where the chassis holding the container will be left to be picked up by a holster or a straddler. For a pickup, the truck will be assigned to a slot in a waiting area while the container is been picked up from a storage area, put on a chassis (if the truck does not bring its own chassis) and brought to the proper slot. The truck will then head out of the terminal, be inspected to insure that the right container has been picked up and head inland. If well managed (such as using an appointment system), the container will already be available for pick up (on a chassis in the truck loading / unloading area). However, delays for pick up can sometimes be considerable (hours) when a large containership has just delivered a significant batch of containers and there is a "rush" to be the first to pick them up. Therefore, substantial efforts have been made in recent years by terminal operators to improve the throughput of terminal gates through better design and with the application of information technologies.
  • Chassis storage. Area where empty chassis are stored while waiting to be allocated to a truck or a holster. While in North American terminals chassis storage can take a notable amount of space because chassis are owned by pools, in the rest of the world trucking companies own the chassis and bring them to the terminal. The outcome is less space allocated for chassis storage.
  • Administration. The management facility of the terminal, often having a control tower to insure a level of visibility of the whole terminal area. This is where many complex logistical functions are performed such as the assignment of delivered containers to a storage space location as well as the location and the loading or unloading sequence of containers by straddlers and holsters. Additionally, the complex task of designing the loading and unloading sequence of a containership is performed.
  • On-dock rail terminal. Many large container terminals have an adjacent rail terminal to which they are directly connected to. This enable the composition of large containerized unit trains to reach long distance inland markets through inland ports. An important advantage of on-dock rail facilities compared with near-dock rail facilities is that the container does not require to clear the gate of the marine terminal.
  • Repair / maintenance. Area where the regular maintenance of the terminal's heavy equipment is performed.
Areas nearby container terminals tend to have a high concentration of activities linked to freight distribution such as distribution centers, empty container storage depots, trucking companies and large retailers.