With an electronic handshake, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has begun testing and implementation of its Automated Cargo Expediting System (ACES).

Designed to speed passage of cargo through port facilities, ACES has been four years in development. Capability to use electronic data interchange (EDI) has been built into ACES.Transit time from shipboard to truck, often four days, could be cut to one day or less using ACES, according to John E. Jakubowski, project manager, Atlantic Container Line.

Implementation of ACES has been eagerly awaited by the maritime industry. It has been touted as one of the most sophisticated electronic systems developed by a port, especially in terms of its use of EDI.

Adding to the interest is the fact that the Port Authority did not develop ACES by itself. Instead, a committee of key port users was formed so that the system might better serve the needs of all those who were using it.

What has been done so far involves only the most preliminary steps toward bringing the system on line, said Larry Sposi, project manager for the Port Authority.

However, the latest steps keep the port on schedule with ACES. The timetable calls for completing a test by June and getting the system up and running by the end of the year, Mr. Jakubowski said.

These steps are being taken despite lengthy delays in contract negotiations between the Port Authority and GE Information Services (GEIS). GEIS will be acting as an electronic network for the network, in effect serving as a high-tech post office.

Making EDI a core element of its makeup gives ACES a very high degree of flexibility. EDI is computer-to-computer communication using highly standardized electronic versions of common business documents.

Because they are so standardized, these documents can cross corporate, industrial and national boundaries. This is not the case with the vast majority of electronic systems that have been created by ports to date.

Most computerized port communications systems are incompatible with those of other ports and with the systems that are used by ship lines.

EDI overcomes this through the standardization of its electronic documents. These documents can be read by any properly equipped computer.

When a port has to link up with computer users that are not part of its local network or user group, EDI can be a vital tool, said Bob Crowley, business systems manager for Wayne, N.J.-based Trans Freight Lines.

Trans Freight Lines, Atlantic Container Line, Sea-Land Service, and terminal operator Universal Maritime Inc. are participating in the initial steps.

No electronic documents have been sent so far, according to those involved. Right now its just communications - the handshake to make sure they can communicate with each other, said Mr. Sposi.

Computers are notoriously fickle in terms of whether or not they will communicate with each other without significant adjustment. Handshake is electronic vernacular for the process of discovering what exact fixes will be needed.

All communication using the ACES system will take place within the GEIS network. Messages will be sent to electronic mailboxes maintained by the network. There they will be held until they are picked up by the addressee.