Conrail, one of two railroads serving the port of Baltimore, is exploring the possibility of re-establishing a direct ship-to-rail connection at Dundalk Marine Terminal.
In the early 1980s, Conrail operated a railhead where cargo containers were moved directly between rail cars and the marine terminal. The elements of such a rail yard -- the tracks and adjacent storage area -- are still in place at Dundalk and could be used if Conrail decided to reopen a rail ramp there.
"Conrail has shown enough interest to have people look at it," Milton H. Miller Sr., a member of the Maryland Port Commission, said yesterday.
Mr. Miller cautioned, however, that it is hard to say how serious Conrail is in establishing an on-dock rail facility in Baltimore.
"Their interest is, in my opinion, courteously sincere," he said. "They're looking at the concept and the idea."
Officials at Conrail's headquarters in Philadelphia were unavailable for comment yesterday.
The port of Baltimore has been striving in recent years to improve its rail links to Baltimore's traditional markets in the Midwest. Until recently, containers had to be trucked between the docks and the rail terminals operated by CSX Corp. and Conrail.
Two years ago, a CSX subsidiary, CSL Intermodal, began leasing the port's new on-dock rail terminal, which was built in conjunction with the Seagirt Marine Terminal. The opening of Seagirt this month permits a container to be moved directly between the docks and the rail yard for $18, $30 or $40 less than the cost of trucking the container to the railhead.
Officials of the Maryland Port Administration have hoped that competitive pressures would persuade Conrail that it needed to provide comparable service in the port. The assumption in the past had been that Conrail eventually would decide to share the Seagirt rail terminal with CSL.
Now, apparently, Conrail could be considering direct ship-to-rail service, but at Dundalk rather than at Seagirt.
Bruce Cashon, director of marketing for the Port Administration, said the tracks at Dundalk could be used to create the kind of of dock-rail terminal known in the industry as an ICTF, or intermodal container transfer facility.
"The facility there doesn't have the bells and whistles that Seagirt does, but it's there," Mr. Cashon said.
The MPA is reluctant to discuss any details of the discussions with Conrail.
"There is an ICTF at Dundalk already, physically. The railroad that most directly serves Dundalk is Conrail. Other than that, any discussion is premature," Brendan W. "Bud" O'Malley, the association's executive director, said.