The rail loop is considered a key new capability for the first major U.S. port that ocean freighters reach while sailing from the St. Lawrence Seaway into the Great Lakes, The Plain Dealer newspaper reported. Railroad cars generally can carry more cargo and take it further than the trucks that typically move smaller loads to local destinations, such as northeast Ohio factories.
The rail link broadens the reach of the port, which is trying to sell shippers on the idea that they can drop off cargo in Cleveland to be transported into the Midwest or beyond by rail instead of sailing further into the Great Lakes, said David Gutheil, the port's vice president of maritime logistics.
"When you go to any port in the country, they have much better rail connectivity," Gutheil told the newspaper. "We have now caught up."
More than a mile of track now runs through the 80-acre port complex to connect existing rail lines with main lines running through Cleveland, providing greater access between the port and two prominent railroads, CSX and Norfolk Southern.
"It's a natural fit," he said. "Maritime is the most efficient form of transportation. And then to be able to transfer it to the second most efficient form of transportation, rail, benefits us and benefits our customers."
The improvement project was finished this fall with the help of a $3 million forgivable state loan, the newspaper said.
About 160 rail cars will be loaded with three shiploads of steel in the coming weeks in a large train staging. Port officials hope that becomes a more common sight.
Because the Seaway closes for the season this weekend, they likely won't know until next year whether the addition of the rail loop will attract much new business.