Rail pact gives port new markets

BALTIMORE-CANADA CONNECTION

October 14, 1992|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Maryland officials announced an agreement yesterday between CSX and Canadian Pacific railroads that will link the port of Baltimore with Canadian markets for the first time.

The news came as Gov. William Donald Schaefer and an entourageof state officials made their annual pilgrimage here to lobby the "Who's Who" of the shipping industry and persuade them to bring their vessels to Baltimore.

"The port of Baltimore has turned around and is headed in the right direction," state Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer told the steamship executives during a luncheon at the Whitehall Club, a prestigious maritime social and business club overlooking New York Harbor.

At the same time, state officials announced that the South American steamship company Venezuelan Line will cease calling Norfolk, Va., and begin service at Baltimore once a week. As a result, every South American steamship company with service to the East Coast will now be represented in Baltimore, port authorities said.

The message here yesterday was upbeat: Baltimore is capturing an increasing share of the port business and can well serve needs of shipping companies.

Although details of the CSX-Canadian Pacific agreement were sketchy, Mr. Lighthizer said it would provide direct rail freight lines to Montreal and Toronto.

Port officials have long touted rail service provided by both CSX and Conrail as beneficial to shipping lines coming to Baltimore.

The existence of the rail service in part offsets the fact that Baltimore is farther inland than competitors like Norfolk. "This essentially gives us three railroads," Mr. Lighthizer said.

"We have a direct line to the Canadian markets."

In their annual progress report, state officials also told the steamship owners that the port is operating profitably, after having lost money for three years.

Perhaps most crucial, the relationship with labor has improved.

After decades of watching shipping companies move away from Baltimore, port officials say, Baltimore is gaining market share steadily despite a drop-off in total cargo moving through state-owned piers.

Largely because of the recession that affects steel and lumber shipments, cargo declined in the first half of this year compared with the first six months of 1991, according to state officials. But they say Baltimore is one of two cities whose market shares have increased.

Baltimore had been steadily losing market share in recent years, falling from 16.6 percent in 1987 to 12.9 percent in 1990.

By 1991, it had risen back to 13.8 percent, and state officials said it has increased 2 percent this year.

State officials have attributed the port's decline in recent years mostly to a hostile labor environment that has produced two strikes in the past three years.

Shipping executives here said the labor situation has brightened dramatically.

"The climate has vastly improved," said Joseph Merante, a senior vice president for Zim-American Israeli Shipping Co. Inc., a New York-based company that has just begun service to Baltimore. "We don't look for any labor problems in Baltimore."

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