AAPA Seaports Advisory

Hinterland Connectivity: Portland (OR)

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Portland (OR): Container Barge-Rail Shuttle Service Provides Shipping Relief

Container barge service has been restored to the upper Columbia and Snake rivers. The Upriver Container Barge-Rail Shuttle will help importers and exporters in eastern Washington, Oregon and Idaho move containerized agricultural products to markets in Asia. An informal partnership including Northwest Container Service, Tidewater Barge and the ports of Morrow, Lewiston and Portland helped facilitate the return of this service. The first barge departed the Port of Lewiston on December 3.

The new service would address key issues driving up the cost of transportation in the wake of losing direct carrier service at Terminal 6 in Portland earlier this year— loss of barge service, container availability and cost of trucking to Puget Sound ports. The planning for the return of container barge service started in summer 2015, and required commitments from multiple transportation providers and key exporting companies to make the service viable.

Containers began arriving at the Port of Lewiston in Idaho in October filled with agricultural and paper commodities from Idaho and Washington and ready to be barged to the Port of Morrow in Boardman (OR).

The barge service will continue to carry empties up river and return full every two weeks. In Boardman, these commodities will be combined with Oregon agricultural and paper products and taken by train to the Northwest Container Service yard in Portland. From there, containers will either remain in Portland for export through T-6 on Westwood Shipping vessels or continue by rail to seaports in Seattle and Tacoma.

A Port of Portland press release describes the Container Barge-Rail Shuttle as a cost-effective alternative to over-the-road shipping that utilizes the region’s river and rail assets. The primary beneficiaries, according to the release, will be shippers of peas, beans, lentils, hay and paper products—high volume, economically impactful commodities for rural Oregon communities that rely on low cost barge/rail transport.

The project is the outgrowth of work the Port of Portland and the State of Oregon took on with shipping companies across the state to find alternate routes to market until weekly transpacific container service resumes at T-6. The Port of Portland contributed $51,000 in seed money to kick start the project and offset the additional cost of transferring agricultural products from the barge to rail in Boardman.

The shuttle is expected to be self-sustaining by the second full month of service. Once established, rail service from Boardman is expected to increase to weekly as additional importers and exporters participate in the program.

"We appreciate this kind of ‘out of the box’ thinking from all parties involved, providing a partial solution to shipping challenges while we continue working to recruit critical new transpacific service," said Port of Portland Executive Director Bill Wyatt. "We hope the success of this plan will entice labor and terminal management to come together in agreement sooner and shippers to resume frequent, regular container service."

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