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  April 11th, 2014 | Written by

Port of Portland

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Bill Wyatt, Executive Director

FTZ No. 45 • 900,000 total acres two berths • 43-ft. channel

Rail: BNSF, UP

Highways: I-5, I-84, I-205

Top export destinations: Japan, China, South Korea

Top export commodities: Grain, Potash, Soda Ash


IN THE DRIVER SEAT Port of Portland’s strong rail service has led to a boom in autos shipments.
IN THE DRIVER SEAT Port of Portland’s strong rail service has led to a boom in autos shipments.


Bill Wyatt: A thing which is somewhat unique and that makes the port truly competitive is rail access on our terminals. Not all ports have that. Many of the larger ports on the West Coast have both railroads but they don’t have both railroads in the same space and that is somewhat unique. One thing I would say about the Port of Portland is we do have a container facility. It primarily serves a local market–and local for us is the greater Portland metropolitan area, which is about 3.5 million people–but it also can and does include shippers from as far away as Boise, Idaho, eastern Oregon and eastern Washington. Our container facility, unlike virtually every other one in the United States, is export-oriented. We have about twice as many exports as we do imports.

The irony is we could use a few more imports to be sure that we have sufficient empties for all of the exports that would like to leave, so we focus a great deal on that very thing. The other thing that I think is somewhat unique about our port and, frankly, the other ports on the Columbia River is that we were created here. We’re 107 miles from the Pacific Ocean, largely as a result of the cargo gathering that came from literally floating cargo down the Willamette and Columbia rivers to Portland, where it was gathered up and consolidated and put on ships and sent to various parts around the world. As a result of that history, the western railroads began to really focus service along the Columbia River to serve bulk commodities primarily. So we find ourselves with a tremendous rail network here that comes down the Columbia River at grade, so it doesn’t have to go over the Cascade Mountain Range. That makes the cost of rail service into our area just that much less expensive because we don’t have to put on the extra engine power to pull the trains over the Cascade Mountains. So we’ve got really good rail access.

We do continue to gather cargo from up the Columbia River that comes down by barge and some goes up by barge on the import leg. This good rail service has led to, for example, a very robust auto business here on the Columbia River, but we import Toyotas, Hondas and Hyundais. And just recently we began to export Fords made in the Midwest, railed out to Portland and then put on vessels and sent to both South Korea and to the Port of Tianjin in China. Ford selected Portland as its Asia export gateway and they expect to see this business grow, and I think this is a terrific story because it is part of the rebirth of American manufacturing. I mean, five years ago if you would have suggested that we would be making cars in the United States and exporting them to China, I am not sure many people would have believed it, and yet here we are doing exactly that. So again, the very strong rail network really contributes to the success of this gateway.

Global Trade: I have to agree with you about the auto exports. In fact, we have reported on Ford making a new type of Mustang for the Asia countries, which I thought was pretty interesting and fun. It’s great that Ford chose the Port of Portland. And you said both BNSF and Union Pacific are available; at how many different terminals there?

 BW: Four.

GT: Do you have any idea how many trains are leaving per day?

BW: These are all unit train dimension and each of the big bulk terminals is capable of both receiving and departing simultaneously unit trains.