Maryland port downplays Norfolk rail/truck deal

November 20, 1992|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,Staff Writer

Maryland port officials say a deal between Consolidated Rail Corp. and Norfolk Southern Corp. to offer combined rail and road transportation is not likely to hurt the port of Baltimore, even though it could enhance service at its rival port of Norfolk.

The two railroads announced this week that they are exploring a possible joint venture to recapture business that has been lost to the trucking industry. Railroads carry only about 30 percent of freight moving more than 400 miles, with the remainder moved by truck.

The venture would offer intermodal service -- moving freight by a combination of rail and highway -- through Norfolk Southern's Triple Crown Services division, which uses cars with dual sets of wheels for rail and road. Railroads operating out of Baltimore -- Conrail and CSX -- do not provide a similar kind of service.

The deal would give Conrail access to Southeast and Midwest markets now served by Norfolk Southern, and Norfolk Southern more access to the Northeast.

Under the joint venture, the two railroads could increase their ability to compete with long-haul trucking companies by offering less complex, more competitive rates. Companies now often must negotiate different rates and change from one rail system to another when shipping freight long distances.

Norfolk is one of Baltimore's biggest competitors, with about 23 percent of the East Coast market, compared with 18 percent for Baltimore.

If the railroad venture makes Norfolk more attractive to shippers, it could increase business there at the expense of Baltimore.

But Ray Feldman, a spokesman for the Maryland Port Administration, predicted yesterday that the venture "would have no adverse impact" on Baltimore because Baltimore has access to the markets the joint venture would serve.

He cited an agreement that Maryland port officials announced last month under which Conrail and Canadian Pacific will provide a direct rail link between Baltimore and Canadian markets for the first time.

"We feel that we have access to every major market," he said.

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