CSX Intermodal announced yesterday that it will begin offering direct train service from Seagirt Marine Terminal to Cincinnati in January, which should help the port recapture some of the Midwestern markets it has lost in recent years.
In addition to the new intermodal service to Cincinnati, CSXI also will move to Baltimore two north-south trains that had been using the CSX's Potomac Yard in Alexandria, Va. The two trains will link Baltimore with Atlanta and Tampa, Fla.
Together, the changes will nearly quadruple the number of trains using the state-owned Seagirt rail yard.
The moves are "extremely important," Adrian G. Teel, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, said. "From the port's standpoint, it's a home run."
Hunt Valley-based CSXI, a division of CSX Corp., is the sole tenant of the Seagirt rail yard under a 15-year lease with the state. The expansion of rail service is more evidence of growing cooperation between the port agency and CSXI, Mr. Teel said.
The added trains will give the port "the ability to market areas we have not been able to market in recent years," he said.
Rail service is crucial to a port because it tends to define the outer reaches of its markets. The great majority of the port's cargo -- 75 percent to 80 percent -- moves to and from the piers by truck. The remaining 20 percent to 25 percent tends to be cargo bound for the port's most-distant markets, where intermodal rail can compete with trucks.
Capt. Lorenzo di Casagrande, who directs Baltimore operations for Mediterranean Shipping Co., said he expects the new rail service to help his steamship line increase its business in the Midwest. "We feel there is a market in this area," he said.
He also expects direct rail service to Cincinnati to offer distinct advantages over trucks. "It's simpler, more efficient, less costly," he said.
An executive with one Baltimore customs brokerage, however, said the benefits of the new CSXI service might be limited. Morris Horwitz, vice president of Samuel Shapiro & Co. Inc., said a truck can cover the 500 miles to Cincinnati in less than 10 hours, while CSXI is offering 2 1/2 -day service.
Mr. Horwitz said truck rates to Cincinnati are as low as $495 a load, a rate he suspects the railroad will have a hard time beating. Intermodal rail service is perceived by shippers as slower and less reliable than trucks. Consequently, rail service has to cost less.
Nikki Eskow, a spokeswoman for CSXI, said the intermodal rate will be lower than the truck rate.