Tampa, Florida -- Two miles of railroad tracks may not seem like a big deal, but it's a huge step forward for Tampa Bay's biggest economic engine.
A study found the Port of Tampa generates about 100,000 jobs and pumps $8 billion into the local economy.
Those numbers should grow after Tuesday's inauguration of the port's new Tampa Gateway Rail facility.
The new facility will make Tampa the first port in Florida to allow a shipper's dream: pulling a 100-car train right up alongside the docks and loading or unloading it.
A public-private partnership made the Tampa Gateway Rail project happen. Dollars were combined from the Tampa Port Authority, railroad company CSX, and energy company Kinder Morgan.
Kinder Morgan plans to ship 300 million gallons of ethanol a year through the port using the new rail line, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
But ethanol's just the beginning.
Right now, much of the cargo that comes through the Port of Tampa is moved in "bulk." That generally means the stuff has to be loaded in and out of vehicles bit-by-bit -- like gravel, phosphate, or oil.
Rail right along the docks opens the door to containers, which is the preferred way to ship merchandise and many other things around the world.
Containers are steel boxes, typically the size and shape of the trailer of a semi truck.
A container can be loaded up with products at a factory in Brazil, hoisted onto a ship, carried to Tampa, offloaded right onto a rail car, and then carried by train to a distribution center in Topeka.
Shipping with containers is efficient. It opens up a vast number of new potential trading markets. And it's a tremendous growth opportunity for the Port of Tampa.
In 2011, the Port of Long Beach in Southern California handled more than six million containers, worth $155 billion. Capturing even a fraction of that business would be a big win for Tampa.
Grayson Kamm, 10 News