It’s not just proximity to automakers in the US Midwest and Ontario and the large Washington, DC consumer market next door that makes the Port of Baltimore the No. 1 seaport in the nation when it comes to roll-on/roll-off (ro/ro) and auto shipments. Intermodal services, its host of terminal operators, and quality handling (demonstrated annually at the Port’s ro/ro rodeo) are all major factors.
Helping to cement its position, the Maryland Port Administration (MPA) secured $10 million in federal funding in September through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program. The money will be used for MPA to increase cargo handling capacity and provide rail access at its Port of Baltimore Fairfield Marine Terminal.
Currently, a large portion of the Fairfield Marine Terminal is leased to Mercedes-Benz. This specialized terminal processes autos and light trucks. Typically, this includes accessorizing, minor repair operations and final dealership preparation. The terminal is adjacent to a public berth, also owned by the Maryland Port Administration (MPA). A vessel discharging new vehicles can berth within a few hundred feet of the facility.
The project will use dredged material from the port’s main access channel to fill an obsolete and dilapidated basin and create a new 7.6-acre cargo staging area in a prime location near the vessel berth, MPA explains in a press release. The dredged material that will come from deepening the port’s 50-foot deep channel leading to the Seagirt Marine Terminal will be used to fill the basin next to one of the port’s car facilities at the Fairfield Marine Terminal, thereby creating additional cargo lay-down land so that rail access can be added to enhance the efficient handling of autos and ro/ro equipment.
That ro/ro equipment includes farm and construction machinery.
James J. White, MPA executive director, explained in an exclusive interview with this AJOT reporter last year that he’d like to see siding added that would go up to the ships so the port can handle more than automobile traffic.
“We’d also like to handle high and heavy cargo coming in from Midwest,” he said. “That would give us another dock to handle additional cargos and add job growth.”
The total estimate of the project is $29 million. The TIGER grant will provide $10 million with the rest coming from the Maryland Department of Transportation.
The Port of Baltimore continues to set records for its handling of autos and heavy machinery. According to MPA figures, 2013 was a record year with 749,100 cars handled at its public and private terminals – the highest among all U.S. seaports. That’s up 16 percent from the previous record in 2012, which saw 652,000 cars handled.
MPA officials attribute part of the success to the port’s Quality Cargo Handling Action Team (QCHAT). The QCHAT program entails monthly meetings in which all key players in the auto supply chain, including steamship lines, manufacturers, stevedores, processors and terminal operators, members of the Steamship Trade Association (STA), MPA, all locals of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, and other key partners, meet to discuss issues in a timely manner and make sure everyone is on the same page in taking quality seriously.
“The Port of Baltimore is at the top because QCHAT is a key factor of a quality initiative being successful and sustainable. There is a high level of leadership support and tactical responses which are key to organizational strategy,” writes Jaimie P. Lacey, Baltimore Port Operations Administrator, Subaru of America, Inc.
Last year Mazda became the newest auto customer at the Port of Baltimore. Mazda North American Operations (MNAO) signed a five year contract with auto processor Amports to bring approximately 65,000 vehicles a year through the port from Japan. The vehicles will be processed at the Amports-owned Chesapeake Auto Terminal.