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  March 29th, 2016 | Written by

Revival at the Port of Portland, Maine

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  • Icelandic shipping company Eimskip was lured several years ago to carry containerized cargo between Portland and Europe.
  • Portland expansion included a link with the Pan Am Railway, a regional carrier with connections to Norfolk Southern.
  • Icelandic shipping company Eimskip, which currently makes bi-weekly calls at Portland, Maine.

After several lean years, business at the Port of Portland, Maine, is back on track, literally.

The niche port, one of the largest on the east coast a century ago, fell victim to the 2008-2009 recession which siphoned off its feeder and container-on-barge business to larger ports with regular liner services.

But a concerted effort to revive the port has paid off as Portland recently saw its first-ever container train leave its new International Marine Terminal (IMT), a string of flatcars carrying 15 containers of locally-produced Poland Spring Water to Ayer, Massachusetts.

On arrival, the containers were trucked to nearby wholesale suppliers. Until now, Maine companies that lacked rail access had to truck their containers to distribution terminals in Ayer and Worcester, Massachusetts.

Departure of the train was a direct result of the successful effort of port management several years ago to lure Icelandic shipping company Eimskip to carry containerized cargo between Portland and Europe and attract $35 million in federal TIGER grants and private investment to expand and modernize its long-idled cargo terminal.

That expansion included a critical link with the Pan Am Railway, a regional rail carrier with connections to the Norfolk Southern rail network, and, thence, to points throughout the country.

The shipping company had called at Boston since the 1950s and had planned to continue there, but had a change of heart when Portland agreed to install 150 reefer plugs at the new terminal to accommodate containerized imports and exports of refrigerated cargo to and from Europe and Asia.

Eimskip, which currently makes bi-weekly calls at Portland, said its container volumes there are growing 20 percent annually with the line expected to move upwards of 10,000 cans through the port this year.

According to the Maine Port Authority, refrigerated imports from Europe include bottled water, chocolate and various frozen food products and frozen fish for processing at local Maine facilities with dry cargo imports made up of alcoholic beverages, textiles, machinery, and silicate from aluminum processing in Norway.

On the export side, the agency said, reefer exports of dried and concentrated Maine cranberries, blueberries, bagels from New Jersey, frozen scallops, lobster, fried potatoes and sweet potatoes top the list of refrigerated cargo moving out of the IMT. On the dry cargo side, exports of cut lumber, wastepaper, and household goods register the greatest volumes.

Eimskip’s refrigerated imports and export volumes are almost in balance, although dry cargo is heavier on the import side.

The increase in Portland’s perishable food business has attracted the attention of Americold, which has said it will build a $20 million cold storage facility on six acres adjacent to the new IMT.

Not to be outdone, L. L. Bean has said it will utilize the PICT as a domestic and international transportation hub.

The iconic New England clothier and outdoor equipment supplier had reportedly been looking for a faster alternative than clearing its imports through the Port of New York/New Jersey.

While it won’t be importing its European-made outdoor clothing directly by sea through Portland, it will reportedly be utilizing the IMT’s round-the-clock operations to significantly cut the time it routinely took for its inbound shipments to clear Customs in New York and then be trucked to its home base in Freeport, Maine.