Building and demolition at the port of New York

By: | at 08:00 PM | Channel(s): Ports & Terminals  

Carriers are adding services, while the destruction of a bridge is contemplatedBy Peter A. Buxbaum, AJOTThe port of New York and New Jersey is suffering from declines in cargo volumes, a consequence of the recession. Just as the Port Authority is focusing on building long-term capacity (see accompanying story) instead of bemoaning its short-term fate, so others in the port community are enhancing their services even as the economy is in decline.
The Norfolk Southern Railroad recently added a new service from the port to Harrisburg, Pa., which is notable for its short distance, less than 130 miles, well under the distance the conventional wisdom posits as profitable for rail moves. Columbia Coastal, a short sea carrier, has added to its service to Boston, an additional route serving Portland, Maine.
Meanwhile, the future of the Bayonne Bridge is many minds. With an air draft of 151 feet, the bridge connects New Jersey with New York’s Staten Island over the channel that provides access to the Newark Bay ports of Newark and Elizabeth. Many of today’s larger ships have trouble clearing the bridge and the situation will only worsen.
The Norfolk Southern Harrisburg service started on April 13, related Jeff Heller, the carrier’s assistant vice president for international marketing. “Our business over the last several years has gravitated from west coast ports to the east coast,” said Heller. “Harrisburg is a significant distribution center, and we tried to launch primarily a truck intermodal service.”
As for the economics of the relatively short Newark-to-Harrisburg run, “it depends on what truck pricing is doing,” said Heller. “Up until 30 days ago fuel was down significantly and this has made it difficult to compete. We are hoping that the increase in fuel prices will result in truck prices going up. That will give us the ability to add more density to the service.”
Efficiency and density are NS’s watchwords when it comes to competing with trucks. “Our main line runs through northern New Jersey to Bethlehem, Harrisburg, and Pittsburgh,” said Keller. “We are already running a service to Pittsburgh. We are not launching a new train. We are just adding one more dot on the map for business moving through the port.”
Columbia Coastal has seen fit to expand its services by resuming a barge service connecting the ports of Portland, Maine and the Port of New York and New Jersey on March 29.
“We believe that key importers and exporters in Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and southern Canada will benefit from Columbia Coastal’s alternative,” said Kevin Mack, vice president for business development at Columbia Coastal Transport LLC. “The resumption of our Portland Shuttle Service presents a great opportunity for shippers to avoid terminal congestion, over-the-road weight restrictions and the shortage of truck power that often impedes cargo flow.” The expansion of service also enables steamship lines to offer through bills of lading to and from Portland, Mack noted. The company is using the Columbia Charleston, a 450 TEU barge for the Portland service.
The problem short-sea shipping faces is that it is currently not as cost effective as trucks. “In most instances it will cost more to ship on a barge than over the road because we incur handing costs in transferring the container to a barge that trucks don’t have,” Mack added. “We also have a unionized work force and we have to pay them a living wage.”
Richard Larrabee, the Port Authority’s director of port commerce, believes that financial incentives are necessary to induce shippers to switch from truck to barge. “We started a barge service to Albany five years ago and ran it for three years,” he said. “At the end of the day, we had a difficult time beating the price of a truck.”
Mack agrees that financial inducements are necessary and favors a federal corporate income tax credit for shippers that choose coastwise shipping alternatives. “The port authorities involved would set up an administrative body to a

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Peter Buxbaum has been writing about international trade and transportation, as well as security, defense, technology, and foreign policy, for over 20 years. Besides contributing to the AJOT, Buxbaum's work has appeared in such leading publications as [em]Fortune, Forbes, Chief Executive, Computerworld, and Jane's Defence Weekly[/em]. He was educated at Columbia University.