Duluth, Minn., has earned a reputation for its ability to handle massive yet delicate pieces of wind power equipment, moving nearly one million freight tons of such components in the past five years, the Duluth News Tribune reports.
Up until now, ships and trucks have carried the load, but June 3 marked a new chapter for the port when crews that have transferred cargo from water to rail see their first train shipment of wind equipment set off down the tracks.
Its destination? The Casper, Wyo., terminal—more than 750 miles away.
The greater efficiency of moving cargo long distances by rail instead of truck could open up new markets to the Twin Ports, said Adolph Ojard, executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.
"Wind energy is a tremendous growth industry, both domestically and globally, and rail offers a great logistics alternative for long-distance moves of this type of dimensional cargo," he said, in a statement.
"While trucking will always play an essential role in the wind energy supply chain, combining the efficiencies of water and rail transport further expands the service area of the port of Duluth. Working collaboratively, we can all contribute to a cleaner, greener world," Ojard said.
The wind equipment destined for Casper began its journey in Denmark and arrived in Duluth two weeks ago aboard the Dutch-flagged Metsaborg.
A second ship, the Gibraltar-flagged BBC Sweden, is expected to arrive next week, loaded with nacelles and hubs for the same 101-megawatt wind farm in Converse County, Wyo., setting the stage for another rail shipment of wind power components in the near-future.
So far, most of the wind power equipment that has flowed through Duluth has been imported from abroad for domestic use. But the port also has seen some outbound shipments of U.S. equipment destined for export, and Ron Johnson, the port authority's trade development director, said a rail/marine option could give the port a competitive advantage in attracting cargo in both directions.
The first train is scheduled to depart Duluth at carrying 24 Siemens wind turbine nacelles and spinner/cones, plus 33 containers of supplemental equipment.
"Adding a rail alternative to trucking allows us to expand our transportation capacity and provides significant efficiency and environmental benefits for long-distance transports," said Sally Chope, transportation and logistics manager for Siemens' wind power business in a press release. "We utilize rail transport whenever possible for long hauls (over 1,000 miles). It's a much greener option, resulting in as much as an 80 percent carbon footprint reduction."