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VIDEO: Huge Neo-Panamax Container Cranes Squeeze Under Bridges to Dock in Baltimore

Mon September 13, 2021 - Northeast Edition

Following a two-month journey that included a dramatic passage under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and the Francis Scott Key Bridge, four new, massive Neo-Panamax container cranes arrived Sept. 9 at the Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore's Seagirt Marine Terminal.

Among the tallest in the world, at 450 ft. tall, approximately 25 ft. higher than current cranes, their passage stopped traffic on the bridges, the Associated Press reported.

With the cranes hanging off each side of the Zhen Hua 24, a Chinese ship, their clearance under the two spans was only about 10 ft., according to the state and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Their arrival was greeted by officials from the Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Port Administration (MDOT MPA) and its public-private partner, Ports America Chesapeake (PAC).

"This is a great day for the Port of Baltimore and for the men and women who make up its outstanding workforce," said Gov. Larry Hogan, who watched the cranes make the final leg of their journey. "The Port's container business has grown impressively in recent years and is poised to grow even more with the addition of these new ultra-large cranes.

"Thanks to our MDOT MPA team and our partners at Port America Chesapeake, the Port of Baltimore is well-positioned to continue as one of Maryland's prime economic engines," he added.

MDOT Secretary Greg Slater also was on hand for the delivery and said, "Baltimore is already one of the few ports on the East Coast capable of accommodating the world's largest container ships. These new cranes will allow the Port to serve two ultra-large container ships simultaneously, boosting our capacity and giving us the opportunity to increase revenue and grow the jobs that help fuel Maryland's economy."

A press release from MDOT MPA described the new cranes as being fully electric, meaning they emit no diesel emissions. Each measure weighs about 1,740 tons — 190 tons heavier than the port's first set of Neo-Panamax cranes that arrived in 2012. The cranes can extend to reach 23 containers across on a vessel and lift 187,500 lbs. of cargo.

PAC will test and prepare the cranes over the next few months, according to the state agency, and they are expected to be fully operational in early 2022.

Seagirt Expansion Ongoing at Port of Baltimore

The quartet of cranes are part of a significant expansion by PAC at Seagirt to provide greater capacity and efficiency to handle anticipated increases in container volumes. The $166 million investment in terminal and yard upgrades includes a second, 50-ft.-deep berth to accommodate mega-ships; new container handling equipment, including 15 hybrid-electric gantry cranes; and a new truck gate complex. The company also is making software and technology upgrades at Seagirt, and in February relocated a container repair depot off-dock to provide more fluid container delivery and pick-up.

The MDOT MPA press release noted the need for utilization of more gateways such as Baltimore to handle cargo in the United States, adding that import/export demand for container cargo has substantially increased over the past year and with that, port congestion is at an all-time high. Due to the high number of local centers in the area handling distribution, fulfillment and sorting, Baltimore is a prime gateway for goods heading to the e-commerce market and for cargo sent to the midwest via rail.

In addition, the Port of Baltimore has served 23 "ad hoc" ships over the past year — vessels diverted to the area's dockyards that were not on a regularly scheduled service call — totaling more than 35,000 Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit (TEU) containers.

Port to Benefit from New Howard Street Tunnel

Complementing the new Seagirt berth are plans to expand Baltimore's Howard Street Tunnel, which will allow for double-stacked container rail cars to travel to and from the port, clearing a longtime hurdle and giving the East Coast seamless double-stack capacity from Maine to Florida. That project involves clearance improvements in the tunnel and at 22 other locations between Baltimore and Philadelphia. With the tunnel expansion, Baltimore will be able to send double stacked containers by rail into the Ohio Valley and on to Chicago.

The construction effort received a boost in June when it secured final federal environment approval under the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Howard Street Tunnel project benefits from investment from the federal government, the state of Maryland, CSX, and others — monies that are expected to increase the port's business by about 160,000 containers annually. It also will generate about 6,550 construction jobs and an additional 7,300 jobs from the increased business.

"Today is a terrific day in the history of the Port of Baltimore," MDOT MPA Executive Director William P. Doyle said when the Neo-Panamax cranes arrived. "I've been tracking these cranes since they left Asia traveling across the Indian Ocean, around Africa's Cape of Good Hope and through the Atlantic Basin, strategically avoiding stormy weather conditions during a very active hurricane season. The new cranes will create efficiencies across all landside modes including rail — particularly when the Howard Street Tunnel expansion is complete."

According to Doyle's agency, the Port of Baltimore creates about 15,300 direct jobs, with nearly 140,000 jobs overall linked to port activities. It ranks first among the nation's ports for volume of autos and light trucks, roll on/roll off heavy farm and construction machinery and imported gypsum. The port also comes in 11th among major U.S. facilities for foreign cargo handled and 10th for total foreign cargo value.

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