Friday, December 4, 2015

Upriver Container Shuttle Launches

By Mark Edward Nero

Container barge service returned to the upper Columbia and Snake rivers this week with the launch of the Upriver Container Barge-Rail Shuttle. The first barge loaded at the Port of Lewiston and got underway Dec. 3.

The shuttle is expected to 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 the service.

The service helps to fill the void that emerged with the withdrawal of Hanjin and Hapag-Lloyd’s weekly transpacific service at the Port of Portland’s Terminal 6. After the withdrawals, container barge service on the Columbia-Snake River system and the container terminal in Lewiston, Idaho shut down.

The new service addresses key issues driving up the cost of transportation in the wake of losing direct carrier service at Terminal 6 in Portland earlier this year, including 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.

Empty containers began arriving at the Port of Lewiston in October, were filled with agricultural and paper commodities from Idaho and Washington, and are to be barged to the Port of Morrow in Boardman, Oregon. The barge service is expected to continue carrying empties up river and return full every two weeks.

In Boardman, the 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 on Westwood Shipping vessels, or continue by rail to seaports in Seattle and Tacoma.

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 Terminal 6. The port contributed $51,000 in seed money to kick-start the shuttle project.

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.

Currently, Westwood Shipping provides monthly container service from T-6 to Asia. To accommodate other exporters, Northwest Container Service increased rail service from Portland to Puget Sound Ports.

“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,” Port of Portland Executive Director Bill Wyatt said.

According to the port, the Portland region cargo market of 336,000 TEUs has the potential to support two weekly non-competing, transpacific container carriers. The port recently began targeted outreach to four target carriers that can serve Oregon’s key international markets, Japan, China, and Korea.