Losing a long-shot bid to expand port traffic

Port of Baltimore: Opposition from CSX railroad killed chances of winning giant shipping contract.

May 14, 1999

BALTIMORE had the best offer on the table -- by far. But when it came time for a decision, it was the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that secured a 30-year contract for a container terminal that could ultimately handle $10 billion a year in maritime cargo.

It should not have come as a surprise. The deck was stacked against Baltimore by CSX Corp., which owns a half-interest in the Maersk/Sea-Land Services steamship combine that was seeking a hub terminal capable of handling the next generation of container ships.

CSX, despite its long history with this city, made clear its distaste for Baltimore's bid. The railroad is in the process of buying for $4.4 billion much of the Conrail line that serves New York. Keeping the Maersk/Sea-Land maritime cargo in New York harbor protects CSX's investment.

Yet Baltimore offered a far cheaper labor force that is vastly more efficient, a brand-new terminal headquarters building, a 50-foot channel berth within 18 months, generous lease terms and an ideal location to whisk cargo quickly south and west.

Even if New York spends the $1 billion needed to dynamite its rocky channel to a depth of 45 feet, that still won't be deep enough to handle a fully loaded Maersk/Sea-Land supership. But CSX seems to have been calling the shots.

The Baltimore port community and state officials deserve credit for an aggressive and creative proposal. The unity that marked this effort must be maintained in discussions with other steamship companies about bringing more cargo business up the Chesapeake.

A plus for Baltimore's port should be the arrival this summer of Norfolk Southern Corp. Finally, CSX will have a major-league rail competitor eager to work with port officials to seek new business.

International maritime companies were captivated by Baltimore's upstart attempt to win the Maersk/Sea-Land contract. Some are now intrigued by the prospects Baltimore offers. In the long run, this could be far more important than a contract that was bound for New York regardless of what the Port of Baltimore put on the table.

Pub Date: 5/14/99

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