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CN, Duluth Cargo Connect announce container terminal; intermodal capabilities a ‘game-changer’

The first containers bound for the new intermodal terminal in Duluth roll into town Monday afternoon. Canadian National Railway will service the terminal by rail, and Duluth Cargo Connect — a partnership between the Duluth Seaway Port Authority and Lake Superior Warehousing — will operate it at the Clure Public Marine Terminal. (Photo courtesy Adele Yorde, Duluth Seaway Port Authority)

Duluth’s status as an international hub just got a big boost.

Canadian National Railway and Duluth Cargo Connect officially announced their intermodal terminal on Monday as the first CN train cars carrying shipping containers rolled onto the Clure Public Marine Terminal.

“From a 50,000-foot level it is a game-changer; this is traffic we normally wouldn’t see,” Vanta E. Coda II, executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, said by phone Monday. “We’re going to have an offering that for many becomes the path of least resistance. At the end of the day that’s what supply chain management is all about.”

The port authority and Lake Superior Warehousing have teamed up as Duluth Cargo Connect to operate the new terminal, which will transfer containers between rail cars and trucks at the Clure Public Marine Terminal.

Such a service can save local, regional and even international customers time and money while also providing work for the port. It also connects the port to three coasts — Atlantic, Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico  — via CN’s rail network.

“This may be bold, but from a logistics perspective this is the biggest thing to happen since the opening of the seaway itself,” Jonathan Lamb, president of Lake Superior Warehousing, told the News Tribune.

Container shipping is a hallmark of major coastal ports, and the containers can be seen moving on rails across the country. Until now, Duluth had to watch that traffic head to other cities as it rolled through town.

CN has several intermodal terminals throughout the Upper Midwest and said the new terminal “opens up a new logistics supply chain and growth opportunities.”

“CN is pleased to bring its extensive contacts in international markets, freight-forwarding knowledge and customs and marketing support to the Twin Ports,” JJ Ruest, CN executive vice-president and chief marketing officer, said in a news release.

Container traffic crossing the U.S.-Canadian border on rails has increased markedly in the past several years, and CN pins some of its 2017 prospects on continued growth there.

“The company expects to see growth across a range of commodities, particularly in intermodal traffic, grain, finished vehicles, and lumber and panels,” CN wrote in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing earlier this year.

Transportation and logistics can factor heavily into bottom lines and company decisions; making it easier to get from point A to point B “will return benefits to us in terms of lower cost and greater global competitiveness,” according to the Mid-America Freight Coalition, a Midwestern transportation group.

“What it does for those companies is take freight savings they can reinvest in their business,” Coda said, which could mean jobs for those businesses. It could also mean new jobs at the port.

“As traffic grows we’ll certainly need more individuals with supply chain expertise, and these are really good jobs to have,” Coda said.

With the first shipments just arriving, that door has started to open.

“We’re certainly bullish and excited for where this goes,” Lamb said.

Brooks Johnson

Brooks covers business and the economy for the Duluth News Tribune.

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