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Canadian Company's Purchase Of Railway Could Boost Shipping At Maine Port

Willis Ryder Arnold
Maine Public
Maine Port Authority head Jon Nass talks with Irwin Gratz about the purchase of the Central Maine and Quebec Railway, and the implications for Searsport.

The Central Maine and Quebec Railway is being purchased by Canadian Pacific. Central Maine and Quebec - the former Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway - consists of 400 miles of rail.  In Maine, it has lines from Millinocket and Searsport that converge at Brownville, then head westward into Quebec, towards Montreal, where it connects to Canadian Pacific lines. Canadian Pacific is excited by the purchase in part because it will get direct access to the deepwater port at Searsport.

Jon Nass runs the Maine Port Authority. He talked with Maine Public's Morning Edition host Irwin Gratz about the railway purchase from the Maine perspective.GRATZ: So let me start by asking you:  Are you excited about this deal?

NASS: I'm incredibly excited about this deal. it is really good news for Searsport. What it's going to do is give Searsport more options to be the port either importing or exporting product from all over the world and being able to deliver it anywhere in North America via rail.

Let's go back and do a little background about Searsport - what kind of facilities are there now, and what kinds of goods flow through that port now?

It's what's called a bulk facility. So that differs from a container facility where these are products that are shipped in bulk - things like wood products, chemicals, iron or anything that really takes up some volume. The great news about that is that's what's perfect for rail shipping as well.

Now, some goods do move out of that terminal now by rail, correct? So what's going to change here?

Options. The connection now with the the CP, which is a class one railroad, that connection allows us to get all the way to the Pacific coast and all destinations in between.

CP does intersect with the Quebec and Central Maine railroad now, does it not?

It does.  And the difference is the connections. So if you have one rail line, it's a much smoother and,  frankly, cheaper operation because you don't have as many middlemen tapping into that logistical supply chain.

So any kinds of new business that you can see that will flow through Searsport, perhaps, as a result of this?

The neat thing about the Canadian Pacific is the fact that they have a great deal of existing business. And some of that business is currently going to other ports: Montreal, Quebec. And this now positions Searsport to handle some of that business. Shippers will have options. In many instances, it might be closer to get to Searsport then those other ports, and that matters in logistics. And one neat thing is "special project cargo." So these are very large objects - some of the ones might be like a paper drying machine, or heavy machinery. And some of that currently goes all the way to Houston. And the fact is with the Canadian Pacific, it has the clearance all the way to Canada, all the way to Montreal, and then all the way across North America, to handle very large objects. This was containers - they talked about double stacking containers - it has that capacity. But really these big, what we call "special project cargo" will now have a new destination and options.

So when you say "clearance" - in other words, for something that large Canadian Pacific doesn't have any low overhanging bridges or anything covering its rail lines.

Large objects and low bridges don't work well together. The clearance would be the capacity to handle large objects on the railroad.

I know the state has eyed Searsport for years looking for it to be more than it is, to get more business for it. Is this any more guaranteed to generate more business for Searsport than other efforts the state has tried to make over the years?

This is really about the existing capacity at Searsport, and making sure that we're maximizing the state and private investment there. The business at Searsport has been pretty good lately. This really will make sure that that crane that we've purchased - the state purchased there - is used to its full utilization. It's all about options, and logistics is about shortening your supply chain, making your connections as smooth as possible. And this certainly helps with all those efforts.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.