Business has been good at the Port of Baltimore. General cargo moving through public terminals jumped 6 percent in the fourth quarter. For the second straight year, traffic was up. The port administration was in the black. And most important, Baltimore gained market share at the expense of rival ports in Norfolk and Philadelphia.
Finally, years of preparation are paying off. The port agency is slimmer and more focused on quality service for customers. Management and labor unions are talking in an atmosphere of trust and mutual benefit. Railroads have been more responsive. And the strategy to privatize much of the Dundalk Marine Terminal and take advantage of the modern container facilities at Seagirt Marine Terminal is showing good results.
As the local economy picks up, port traffic should rise. Officials have been preaching diversity to customers. Baltimore offers a wonderful array of choices, be it public or private terminals, competing stevedoring companies, two railroads, a bevy of truckers and longshoremen now anxious to show flexibility if it brings more ships to port.
Carving out niche roles for Baltimore in such products as steel, cocoa and rubber has been slow-going, but even here, longshoremen have proved helpful. The goal is to get more cargo for Baltimore.
A potential winner down the road is cruise-line business. The number of passenger ships coming into Baltimore has doubled in the past two years. Officials believe that could be doubled once again if Baltimore were made more hospitable. They say this would require two steps: allowing cruise liners to keep their gaming tables open during the 10 hour trip up the Chesapeake and the 10-hour return trip; and an inner-harbor passenger terminal.
We remain dubious about any expansion of gambling in Maryland. Yet the port's proposal is very tightly restricted to international cruises. A more enticing carrot for cruise lines would be an inner-harbor terminal. That would make Baltimore an exceptionally attractive port of call. The Port of Baltimore remains a key economic engine for the entire region. Officials there seem to have gotten their act together. They clearly have the port steaming in the right direction.