Stobart is considering increasing rail freight services through 3MG, its multi-modal container handling facility near Widnes.
Stobart used the expanding inland port to pilot a daily rail service between Tilbury in Essex and Widnes for a four-month period. In an interim results statement issued today, Stobart said the trial was successful and could be extended to larger trains in the coming months.
Widnes handles around 100,000 shipping containers a year and nearly 1,000 vehicle movements every day with an average turnaround time of 12 minutes a vehicle.
Stobart said the nearby Port of Weston's redevelopment would wait for the medium term while the container market was flat.
The statement, covering the six months to the end of August, said: "The ports division has maintained container volumes and inland transport through the first six months by achieving a preferred carrier status with major UK retailers."
During the six months, Stobart borrowed £29m in the form of an asset-backed loan to finish the new 528,000 sq ft chilled distribution facility at Widnes, which was completed in July 2009. The remaining development land around the Widnes site is now cleared, surplus buildings having been demolished.
Elsewhere, the group completed the takeover of Carlisle airport for £10.1m in May and is now costing up development of the airport into a modern passenger and freight terminal.
On the balance sheet, Stobart has net assets of £289.8m and non haulage fleet-related net borrowing of £103.4m, up from £67.3m in February 2009.
Andrew Tinkler, chief executive, commented: "Our half-year results demonstrate stability and performance against a background of economic recession. Volumes are strengthening with new contracts recently signed with Tesco, Nestlé and the launch of new rail services such as the distribution from Valencia to the UK of temperature-controlled fresh produce. We also announce today a further contract award from Tesco in Donabate, Ireland. The civil engineering business continues to win new contracts and add value on the Group's capital projects at the two airports and the Widnes inland port.
Operating turnover was £218.2m, up from £199.2m this time last year. Earnings after fleet financing costs were flat at £13.5m (2008: £13.4m) and pretax profit was £11.1m (2008: £11.0m).