ONE OF the premier hazardous materials transloading operations in southern California just got better. Titan Terminal & Transport Inc in South Gate is putting the finishing touches on a major expansion that doubled its rail capabilities, as well as significantly increasing warehousing, chemical blending and repackaging, and liquid bulk storage capacity.
Underway since early 2004, the eight-acre expansion brought 50 new railcar spots, giving the terminal a 100-car capacity. There is also room to triple storage tank capacity to three million gallons. A 37,000-sq-ft warehouse that was already in place on the new property is being renovated for storage, packaging, and blending operations.
“This expansion was badly needed,” says Jeff Miller, president of Titan Terminal & Transport. “We have a prime location in the greater Los Angeles area, and demand has increased significantly for our chemical transloading and storage services. We had reached a point where we simply could not accommodate much additional business.
“South Gate isn't the only place where we are growing, though. We're in the process of developing a transloading and storage facility in Salt Lake City (Utah), and we are establishing locations in Arizona and Nevada.”
Titan Terminal certainly has come a long way since it was established in 1994. The transloading and storage operation was an outgrowth of LA Chemical, a chemical distributor that has been serving Southern California since 1914.
LA Chemical has a diverse customer base, and it provides a wide range of services, including storage, packaging, blending, and transportation. Products distributed by the company are used in adhesives and sealants, agriculture, cosmetics, electronics, environmental re-mediation, processed foods, metalworking, mining, paint and coatings, petroleum refining, pharmaceuticals, printing, pulp and paper, soaps and detergents, and textiles.
Back in the early 1990s, the future for LA Chemical turned cloudy as the distributor's suppliers exited the California market in the face of rising operating costs and ever-stiffer state and local government regulations. The chemical distributor began looking around for a strategy that would ensure continued availability of the products its customers needed.
“Titan Terminal was started as a way to ensure that LA Chemical would be able to continue obtaining the products needed at competitive prices,” says Dana Fontaine, terminal manager of Titan Terminal's South Gate facility. “Many of the suppliers that ended operations in California still had plants back east. We showed that our transloading facility gave them an efficient and cost-effective way to continue serving the California market from those plants. It has been an outstanding success.”
From the outset, it was determined that the two sister companies would operate independently. “Titan Terminal works with a lot of other chemical distributors in the area,” Fontaine says. “We wanted to make sure that there was no conflict of interest, either real or perceived.”
However, the two sister companies do work together in a number of ways. “We use LA Chemical's laboratory for all of our product analysis,” Fontaine says. “That's a big benefit for our customers. LA Chemical also serves as our in-house carrier. Our customers arrange most of their own transportation, though.”
The managers who established Titan Terminal couldn't have asked for a better location. Situated between downtown Los Angeles and Orange County, the transloading terminal is ideally positioned to serve the southern California market, ranging from Bakersfield to San Diego. Eighty percent of the shipments from the terminal are delivered within a 50-mile radius of South Gate.
The management team has worked hard to develop a product offering that extends far beyond just a prime location with good rail access. “A major strength of Titan Terminal is its ability to serve as a one-stop supplier of chemical handling services for specialty products,” Fontaine says.
Through the South Gate transloading operation, Titan Terminal handles an array of hazardous and non-hazardous chemicals, including acids, caustics, peroxide, latex, paper resin, and petroleum-based oils. The terminal also transloads foodgrade chemicals and a variety of dry products. The facility has kosher certification for some of the products.
Initially, the transload facility occupied 16 acres and had enough rail siding to accommodate 50 tankcars. Both the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern/Santa Fe railroads provide rail service, which enables customers to benefit from competitive rail freight rates.
“Prior to the expansion, we were running about 150 tankcars a month through our facility,” Fontaine says. “The expansion lets us double that. We needed this expansion badly because we had run short of capacity.
“Our customers were asking for more chemical transloading capacity. There are just a limited number of facilities in the region that can do what we do. Barriers to entry (permitting, environmental regulations, and such) make it virtually impossible for new facilities to enter the market.”
Operations at the terminal are in the hands of a team that includes seven administrative staffers and nine yard workers. Railcar management might be one of the biggest challenges faced by the Titan Terminal team at this time.
“It's a challenge every day for us,” Fontaine says. “We're constantly dealing with lost, missing, and delayed cars. A typical shipment will take 15 to 16 days to arrive at our terminal. Railroads are addressing the delays, but they face a three-fold problem: They don't have enough crews to run the trains, locomotives are in short supply, and more trackage is needed. It's going to take time and a lot of investment to solve these problems.”
Whether delayed or on time, railcars arrive at a well-designed transloading facility. Titan Terminal used 136-lb rail, which is on a par with the railroad main lines and should provide a long life. Rails are on wooden ties. Service points with compressed air, steam, water, and electricity are positioned liberally throughout the rail handling part of the terminal.
To ensure outstanding safety and environmental protection, the entire site, including the new addition, is paved with asphalt. Extensive containment is in place to handle any spill. The property slopes to the center, and a collection system of pipe is in place beneath the asphalt.
“We can hold the contents of a 20,000-gallon tankcar in an underground concrete vault that was placed below grade,” Fontaine says. “Our property above grade can contain 200,000 gallons of product.”
Security gets a lot of attention at the terminal. The property is fully fenced, and security cameras are in place throughout. Security guards are present 24 hours a day. “We're taking reasonable security precautions,” Fontaine says.
In addition to the rail transfer capabilities, Titan Terminal offers customized storage services. The company can provide dedicated aboveground storage in steel and fiberglass reinforced plastic tanks with capacities up to 100,000 gallons. The company has 24 storage tanks in the original section and can install twice that number in the new section.
“Space and earthquake concerns are the primary limitations on our storage tanks,” Fontaine says. “We have to use tanks that are more vertical than wide to comply with space limitations. We can heat and filter the products in the storage tanks, and we have nitrogen blanketing capabilities.”
Product storage includes more than 137,000 square feet of warehousing with packaging and blending capabilities. “We've significantly expanded our chemical repackaging capabilities,” Fontaine says. “Repackaging for the Asian market is growing exponentially by the year.”
Titan Terminal can fill a variety of liquid packagings, including tank containers, intermediate bulk containers, drums, carboys, and five-gallon pails. Dry products can be repackaged in bags and super sacks.
Blending services have become increasingly popular. Titan Terminal can perform simple dilutions, as well as complex liquid or dry blends. The company has a reverse osmosis system for blends and dilutions requiring deionized water.
While it is certainly the largest, the South Gate facility is by no means the only Titan Terminal location. The company also has a 40,000-sq-ft chemical storage warehouse in Santa Fe Springs, a few miles east of South Gate.
The latest move to Titan Terminal is the development of a new transloading and storage terminal in Salt Lake City, Utah. Initially, the company is putting in 35 railcar spots that will be ready in 2006.
“In places such as Salt Lake City, we're growing with LA Chemical, which recently acquired a chemical distribution business in that city,” Fontaine says. “LA Chemical also acquired operations in Chandler, Arizona, and Las Vegas, Nevada. We'll set up Titan Terminal operations there as well.”
Titan Terminal also would like further expansion in South Gate. “We believe this company is well positioned for continued growth,” Fontaine says. “Customer demand certainly is there.”