BALTIMORE -- The Maryland Port Adminstration plans to open a container transfer facility in the spring of 1989 next to the piers where ships receive and discharge their steel cargo boxes.

The two principal rail yards that handle shipping containers in Baltimore -- CSX's Port Covington and Conrail's Bayview -- are miles from the Dundalk Marine Terminal, the port's principal container facility. Cargo is currently shuttled by truck between the docks and the rail yards.

But David Wagner, Maryland port administrator, said that arrangement is no longer sufficient.

"Most major ports that expect to act as hubs for major ship companies have to have rail facilities integrated with port facilities," he said.

Norfolk, Baltimore's primary competitor, has a rail facility. Philadelphia is developing one, and Savannah and Charleston are considering the idea, he said.

The rail facility planned by the MPA will be built in conjunction with Seagirt, the new marine terminal under construction just across Colgate Creek from Dundalk Marine Terminal.

When it opens, Seagirt will replace Dundalk as the port's primary container facility, and will increase the port's container capacity by 40 percent.

The size of the rail facility has not been determined, oficials said, but it is expected to have from four to six tracks, occupy 70 to 90 acres and cost between $15 million and $20 million.

"The important thing is that it will be close {to the piers} and use yard equipment rather than over-the-road trucking," Wagner said.

Containers taken off ships will be able to move directly from the pier to the rail facility without leaving MPA property. No longer will the containers have to be stored on the dock until a truck is available to take them to the rail yard.