The Port of Hampton Roads, beating out rivals on both the East and West Coasts, has been selected to handle a $200 million shipment of General Electric Co. locomotives to the People's Republic of China, port officials said yesterday.
The selection of Hampton Roads, which was made by GE and the Chinese government, was hailed by port officials yesterday as a significant victory for Virginia in its increasingly intense competition with arch-rival Maryland for new shipping business that can bring jobs and millions of dollars in economic side-benefits.
The blow to Maryland yesterday was doubly painful because the state was still lobbying for the same contract. In hopes of gaining the locomotive business for the Port of Baltimore, a delegation of Maryland officials visiting the Far East had scheduled a meeting with Chinese officials in Beijing on Nov. 7, according to a spokesman for the Maryland port.
"This fits under the genre, 'here's another piece of business that should have gone to Baltimore and instead is going to Hampton Roads,' " said Debbie Carson-Gorman, spokesman for the Virginia Port Authority.
Starting in December, 203 locomotives manufactured at the GE plant in Erie will be shipped by the Chessie System railroad to the Newport News Marine Terminal at Hampton Roads. The locomotives will then be loaded onto cargo vessels operated by Mammoet Transport U.S.A. Inc., a Dutch-owned company, for shipment to China, where they will be used by the Chinese Ministry of Railways.
This follows an earlier shipment of 220 GE locomotives to China that Hampton Roads handled in 1984. Joseph Dorto, senior managing director for the Virginia Port Authority, said the new contract will create 247 new jobs with $5.3 million in wages and will generate $4.9 million in "spin-off" revenue for the state.
According to Dorto, there had been intense competition for the China contract among ports on both the West and East Coasts, with Charleston, S.C., and Morehead City, N.C., particularly strong contenders. But Hampton Roads was selected, in part because of new low rail rates posted by Chessie that made it cheaper to ship from the Virginia port, according to Dorto.
Maryland Port Authority spokesman Donald Klein, noting the Maryland trade mission's upcoming scheduled meeting in Beijing, said yesterday the port had not received any notification that it had lost the China contract.
"The information we have is that no decision has been made and that any announcement for the moment is premature," he said.
But the selection of Hampton Roads was independently confirmed by a spokesman for GE in Erie, who said company officials had scheduled a news conference at the port today to make the official announcement.
As described by Dorto, the selection by GE and the Chinese is part of a steady exodus of business away from the larger Port of Baltimore and to the Virginia port at the other end of the Chesapeake. Last year, two Far East shipping lines -- the Neptune Orient Line and Orient Overseas Container Line -- announced they were switching to Hampton Roads because of lower port fees offered by the Virginia Port Authority.
During the first nine months of 1985, cargo shipped from Hampton Roads increased 34.2 percent to 2,887,498 tons while cargo shipped from Baltimore was down 10.5 percent to 4,099,556 tons.
But Maryland port spokesman Klein scoffed at the significance of the figures, noting that Baltimore still handles far more cargo. In addition, he said, the port has worked out a rail agreement that will make Baltimore more competitive. CAPTION: Picture, Virginia's port on the James River will be used to ship $200 million worth of locomotives to the People's Republic of China. BY JAMES M. THRESHER -- The Washington Post