March 13, 2013

Portland's new cargo service set to deliver

With a shipping link to Europe and a railroad link to interior North America, the city is poised again for hub status.

By Tom Bell tbell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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A large crane will gear up at the International Marine Terminal in Portland in a few days as Icelandic Steamship Co. prepares to begin direct container service between Portland and Europe. The first Eimskip cargo-carrying ship is scheduled to arrive later this month.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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In addition, the Newfoundland government over the next few years will spend more than $7 billion building two huge hydro projects in Labrador. Work on one of the projects has just started.

Construction materials for the projects could be supplied through Portland by rail from as far away as Houston, Texas, said Larus Isfeld, a senior Eimskip manager who heads the Portland office.

Maine companies in the fabrication, construction and heavy equipment business could play a role, Sigfusson said.

"There is a huge opportunity for Maine businesses to capitalize on the billions being spent in the projects in Newfoundland," he said.

Eimskip will need a large cold-storage warehouse on the waterfront to store its seafood, mostly haddock and cod, and company officials are hoping that its shipping business will spur a Maine company to build the warehouse.

For Maine farmers and food producers, the service to Europe could open up new markets, particularly for its seed potatoes and frozen blueberries, said Walter Whitcomb, commissioner of the Maine Department of Agriculture.

"It harkens back to the day when the Portland terminal was the hub for the Grand Trunk Railway," he said of the railroad that, from the mid-1800s to the 1920s, positioned Portland as a critical ice-free seaport for Canada and spurred Portland's growth for decades.

Indeed, Eimskip's move to Portland is the best news for the city's waterfront since 1845, when Portland entrepreneur John Poor convinced the Montreal Board of Trade to build the railroad to Portland rather than Boston, said Jack Humeniuk, representative for the International Longshoremen's Association and chief of operations for Ports America at the Portland container terminal.

"This to me is a lot like that," he said. "It's not as big, but maybe second to that. There is a huge economic benefit."

Eimskip has signed a five-year lease with the Maine Port Authority for a 6,000-square-foot warehouse at the Portland terminal.

The company decided to move to Portland to reduce the amount of time its ships will be at sea, allowing for a bimonthly shipping schedule rather than its current monthly schedule. The move also allows the company to add new routes and ports of call in Greenland, Iceland and Europe, Sigfusson said.

Eimskip's first ship, the 416-foot-long Reykjafoss, will arrive on Thursday to deliver empty containers and truck chassis from Norfolk, Va. Its first ship carrying cargo from Europe is scheduled to arrive on March 24.

Until Pam Am extends the tracks to the International Marine Terminal, the containers will be placed on chassis and trucked to the Merrill Marine Terminal, where they will put on trains.

Eimskip also plans to use the Merrill Marine Terminal's warehouse operations to store and consolidate cargo that won't be loaded into containers, such as aluminum.

BRIDGE TO BE REMOVED

To help the port and the railroad, the state this year plans to remove a small bridge on Cassidy Point Drive, which crosses the rails near the Merrill terminal, said Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner David Bernhard. Removal of the bridge, which is redundant, will allow trains for the first time to carry double stacks of containers.

The bridge is the last obstacle preventing trains from hauling double-stacked containers from Portland across Canada all the way to the Pacific Ocean, although a more realistic destination for Portland trains would be the U.S. Midwest via rail connections in Chicago, according to Mario Brault. He is president of the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad, which connects the Pan Am railways with the Canadian Pacific Railway.

The efficiency provided by double-stacked trains is critical for a busy national railroad like the Canadian Pacific, he said.

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Additional Photos

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Gylfi Sigfusson, second from left, president and CEO of Eimskip Logistic Services Inc., tours the International Marine Terminal in Portland along with 17 other Eimskip managers on Saturday.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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click image to enlarge

Portland’s International Marine Terminal has been upgraded to accommodate container shipping. The new cargo service to Europe could open up new markets for Maine farmers and food producers, particularly for seed potatoes and blueberries.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer



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