Billions of dollars worth of fresh produce and pharmaceuticals cross the Mexican border each year to enter the U.S., and billions more in poultry and meat gets shipped south. Virtually all that trade moves over-the-road in refrigerated trucks, but some companies would like to change that.
CG Railway, the 10-year-old cross-Gulf rail-ferry subsidiary of International Shipholding, operates two double-decked rail-ferry vessels customized to carry railcars between Mobile, Ala., and Coatzacoalcos, Mexico. The weekly service sails 900 miles between the two ports, compared with a highway routing of 1,400 miles.
With 2011 volume that grew 20 percent year-over-year to 18,000 railcars, CG Railway is exploring opportunities to expand its Mexican trade. It plans to build a refrigerated warehouse by year-end in the Port of Coatzacoalcos, on Mexico’s Gulf Coast 200 miles south of Veracruz, so it can begin to carry refrigerated railcars hauling U.S. frozen meat and chicken exports from Alabama to Mexico and transport Mexican produce on the northbound backhaul.
Other groups are exploring the use of specialized refrigerated breakbulk vessels to cut transportation costs in each direction.
Officials from the Port of New Bedford, Mass., and the Port of Tuxpan, in Veracruz near Mexico City, recently signed a sister port agreement.
New Bedford Mayor Jon F. Mitchell called the move the beginning of a public-private partnership that would position New Bedford’s port as a significant import-export hub.
Port officials said New Bedford’s existing cold storage facilities, which serve the seafood industry, make the port a viable location as a distribution hub for fresh produce.
The private side of the public-private partnership talks includes a cold storage company in Tuxpan; Mid-Florida Freezers in Cape Canaveral; and Maritime International, a New Bedford company that operates a marine terminal, stevedoring, logistics services and a refrigerated warehouse.
Rising fuel prices also make the proposal more attractive, according to Pierre Bernier, Maritime International’s stevedoring manager. “It’s expensive to truck produce from Mexico to New York and Boston and Canada,” he said. “We’re trying to change the venue of how fresh produce is transported.”
Current savings would amount to the equivalent of $1,500 per truck shipment, Bernier said. “If we are going to compete and change how the shippers do this, we will have to have an attractive freight rate,” he said.
Southbound shipments could include apples, potatoes, seafood, frozen juice and some dry cargoes.
At least one other group of investors is considering a similar service between Florida and Mexico, but it’s unclear when or if the services would begin.
In the western half of North America, trucking companies reportedly are looking at intermodal reefer shipments across the border as rail service in Mexico becomes increasingly dependable.
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