(August 14, 2019) — To learn what transport drivers want from a terminal, two of the principals of Tri Gas & Oil (Federalsburg, Md.) got in a transport truck and experienced it firsthand. That paid dividends when the company decided to build a new propane bulk terminal in Baltimore for its newly launched affiliate, Mid-Atlantic Rail Services (MARS).
“We are a discerning buyer,” says Nash McMahan, president of Tri Gas & Oil. He and his father Keith McMahan, chairman and CEO of Tri Gas & Oil, spent time in the transport truck before beginning the project. Based on what they saw, he says, “We wanted to provide high-speed loading, ease of getting in and out of the facility, and a facility drivers will want to use. The drivers we are now serving say we have met those goals.”
The Baltimore terminal was commissioned in December 2018. MARS is a new corporation that houses the terminaling business, including the new terminal and an existing one. Tri Gas & Oil is a fuel wholesaler with both a wholesale division and a residential and commercial division.
“We are no stranger to rail terminals; our first one was built in 1990 and is still in operation,” McMahan says. “We determined this was the right time to bring the same model to the mid-Atlantic region to service this market.”
Superior Energy Systems (Columbia Station, Ohio), the general contractor on this project, has been busy with many projects in the region. “We have been working all along the East Coast, from South Carolina to Maine, over the last five years,” says Jim Bunsey, director of operations for Superior Energy Systems. “There have been many terminal expansions because of the demand from population growth and need.”
Tri Gas & Oil had operated at the Baltimore location for the last three winter seasons using a transloader. About a year ago, the company’s board of directors approved moving forward with permanent infrastructure.
Today, the Baltimore terminal includes two 60,000-gal. tanks providing 120,000 gallons of HD-5 propane storage, four rail spots for off-loading, two transport truck loading stations, and one bobtail loading station.
It meets the goals the company had set before the project began. As McMahan explains, “This terminal offers high-speed loading through a fully digital operating system, easy access to major interstates, and the security of having staff onsite during all hours of operation to aid in loading transports. That takes the level of safety up.”
Double-acting compressors by Corken quickly unload and recover vapor from railcars. Turbine pumps by Flowserve provide high-speed loading of trucks. “Centrifugal turbine pumps fill quicker,” says Derek Rimko, vice president of operations for Superior Energy Systems. These pumps allow for high-speed loading rates of 550 gallons per minute. They can load a transport truck at an average rate of 18 minutes per truck. With two transport truck loading stations, the new terminal can load up to six transport trucks per hour.
Turbine pumps are an upgrade that both new and older terminals consider. “Time is money,” Bunsey says. “By upgrading to turbine pumps, terminals can meet customer needs. If customers have to drive farther but can fill quicker, they will make the drive.” Rimko adds that when an existing facility is looking to upgrade, they consider automation throughout the system; the pumps and the volume they have; and replacing antiquated piping to increase safety.
LOCATION, SPEED, STORAGE
Bunsey explains that when wholesale customers are choosing a terminal, they look at the location, speed, and onsite storage capacity. “They look at how far they have to drive, how quickly they can load their transport, and, especially during peak demand months, whether there is enough propane there to service them.”
The terminal’s fully digital operating system offers a number of benefits for both the terminal company and terminal customers. “It’s a very robust electronic system,” says Donald Fernald, president and CEO at Superior Energy Systems. This GVM Integration system enables the terminal to be unmanned, so the driver can do all the inputs and outputs for the loads. The inputs include the driver number, so the system can tell if the driver has been trained, and information about the truck, so the system knows how many gallons the truck can take. The system also allows the terminal owner to allocate loads to certain customers, so the owner can determine how many loads or how many gallons a customer can get. Lastly, the digital operating system saves the information about each transaction and forwards it to the terminal’s office for billing.
Fernald added that the Baltimore terminal also features a remote inventory control system, which enables Tri Gas & Oil to monitor how many gallons are in the tanks, and a Dräger flame and gas detection system, which is outside code requirements.
Tri Gas & Oil’s Baltimore terminal is served by Norfolk Southern and CSXT railroads. Switching and operations are provided by Canton Railroad, a Class III switching and terminal railroad in Baltimore County.
“We have the opportunity for servicing outside normal business hours,” McMahan says. “The hours are now Monday through Friday, but if we need additional switches, Canton Railroad has committed to make that happen for us.”
VERTICALLY ORIENTED COMPANY
MARS is the newest addition to the Tri Gas & Oil family of companies. The wholesale division of Tri Gas & Oil offers fuel delivery, risk management, supply physical and financial hedges, fixed pricing, spot contracting, index, and swaps/options. The residential and commercial division of Tri Gas & Oil serves the eastern and western shores of Maryland and Delaware and surrounding areas. It provides propane, heating oil, petroleum-based fuels, and propane appliances to area homes and commercial businesses.
“Tri Gas & Oil is a vertically oriented company,” McMahan says. “We have a very wide range of offerings. We’re in the retail business, we’re in the wholesale business, we’re in the transportation business, and we’re in the terminaling business.
“Tri Gas & Oil can offer you the physical gallon; MARS can offer terminaling of our railcar or yours; and Tri-Trucking can give you a delivered product,” he adds. “All three can be done with one sole source.”
The new terminal is located just north of the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel, off of Interstate 95 or Interstate 895.