The port of Baltimore enjoyed its best year in almost a decade for coal exports, as tonnage increased by almost one-third last year.
The port handled 10.2 million tons of export coal last year, up from 7.8 million tons in 1990, according to statistics compiled by John S. Connor Inc., ship agents and freight forwarders.
The surge was the result of increased demand in Europe becauseof uncertainty about coal supplies in the former Soviet bloc, the deepening of the port's shipping channels and the diversion to Baltimore of coal that had been moving through Conrail's Philadelphia pier.
Dredging increased the depth of the main shipping channels in the port to 50 feet from 42 feet, which allows big ships to use a larger percentage of their carrying capacity, significantly lowering the cost per ton of shipping coal from Baltimore.
Conrail's decision to ship its coal through Baltimore instead of Philadelphia was the result of two factors, said C. Richard Foster, a vice president at John S. Connor. The economics improved because of the deeper channels and because the system used at the Consolidation Coal Sales Co. terminal in Baltimore allows the railroad to get maximum use of its rail cars.
The diversion of coal from Philadelphia was the primary reason for the big increase last year.
As a result, the Baltimore port cannot expect to sustain the same growth rate this year, though the port hopes to gain a share of the 3 percent increase in coal exports the industry expects next year, Mr. Foster said.