Port consultant John Martin says the idea that the Panama Canal will instantly bring more business to the Eastern Seaboard is an "urban myth." Whatever business the Atlantic ports could easily take from Los Angeles and other Pacific cities has already moved east, he says.
A 10-day labor lockout on the West Coast nearly a decade ago forced shippers to reconsider their heavy reliance on the Pacific ports. Since then, the haulers increasingly have sent more business east, especially when it comes to cargo destined for or produced by East Coast markets.
The competition now is over goods going to or arriving from the interior. West Coast ports and the railroads that serve them doubt the Panama Canal expansion will siphon off that business.
"Time-sensitive cargo will typically flow through the West Coast ports, which have the infrastructure and technology to process and disperse freight via rail with elevated efficiency, and that doesn't look like it will change," said Aaron Hunt, a spokesman for Union Pacific railroad.
Krista York-Woolley, a spokeswoman for the BNSF railroad system, echoes that sentiment. She says the larger canal is a "positive step toward enhancing world trade" but would not, on its own, move trade eastward.
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