The port said an informal partnership called the Upriver Container Barge-Rail Shuttle will help business in eastern Washington, Oregon and Idaho move containerized agricultural products to markets in Asia. The service is the result of cooperation between Tidewater Barge and the ports of Morrow and Portland in Oregon and the Port of Lewiston in Idaho.
The first barge in the service is currently loading at the Port of Lewiston this week and expected to get underway Thursday. Planning for the service began this summer.
Loaded containers will be barged to the Port of Morrow in Boardman, Ore. and empties returned to Lewiston, with a roundtrip rotation every two weeks.
In Boardman, containers will be combined with Oregon agricultural and paper products and taken by train to the Northwest Container Service yard in Portland, Ore. From there, containers will either remain in Portland for export through T-6 on Westwood Shipping vessels, or continue by rail to marine terminal in Seattle and Tacoma.
“I am pleased that the Port of Portland and regional shipping partners are offering creative solutions to challenges Oregon businesses face in getting goods to market,” Oregon Governor Kate Brown said. “Having completed my first trade mission to Asia, it’s clear there is a growing interest in Oregon products, particularly agricultural products.”
Earlier this year Hapag-Lloyd and Hanjin ended container service to the Port of Portland because of labor strife between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI), the operator of the Port of Portland’s only container terminal. When those services stopped calling Portland, barge service upriver to Lewiston ended.
As a result, container traffic flowing through the port has slowed to a trickle. Only Westwood, an operator of specialized forest product ships that carry some containers on deck, has continued to move containers to and from Portland. Only 241 TEUs were handled in Portland in October compared with 15,070 TEUs in October 2014 and 21,836 TEUs in October 2011.
The container barge-rail service “provides a cost-effective alternative to over-the-road shipping to Puget Sound ports and utilizes river and rail assets in the region,” said the Port of Portland in a press release. “The primary beneficiaries of this service are 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 announcement was welcomed by the Agriculture Transportation Coalition (AgTC), which represents U.S. agriculture exporters.
"Many agriculture and forest products producers are physically located far from the gateway seaports they require to access foreign markets. Similarly, food and other processors located in these rural areas, often depend upon imported components, which must travel far inland. Finding efficient and affordable distance transport to, from and through seaports is particularly challenging for the richest agriculture production areas in the country, including the Upper Midwest, Texas, the Southeast and the Pacific Northwest," said Peter Friedmann, AgTC executive director.
"As we have said for the 28 years of the AgTC’s existence: 'if US agriculture and forest products producers can’t deliver affordably and dependably, our foreign customers will find other sources for their food, farm and fiber.’ Thus the resumption of barge service on the Columbia-Snake River system is a welcome piece of what we in the AgTC call "the distance solution for inland agriculture" in Idaho, Montana, Washington and Oregon. It is a first step, as agriculture and forest products producers in those states and throughout the country are eager to see and support the next step: resumption of large scale ocean carrier container service into the Columbia River, to the Port of Portland," Friedmann added.
The Port of Portland said it contributed $51,000 in seed money to kick start the project and said it grew out of work it 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 said that there is potential for 199,000 TEUs of exports from Oregon, with leading commodities being hay and animal feed, logs and wood, other agricultural products including refrigerated commodities, paper, and scrap metal.
The port said it expects the service 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," it said.
"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.”
The Port of Portland said in a press release, "Recruitment of new transpacific service is critical to our region and is a priority for the Port of Portland. The Portland region cargo market of 336,000 TEUs has the potential to support two weekly non-competing, transpacific container carriers. The Port of Portland recently began targeted outreach to four target carriers that can serve Oregon’s key international markets (Japan, China, and Korea)."
It added that resolution of the "productivity issues" at the T-6 container terminal run by ICTSI "will be critical to recruitment of new service."