Editor’s note: Today, we begin a three-part series on how goods are moved into, around and out of Maine. From trucks to trains to ships, the three legs of the state’s transportation systems are dependent on one another for efficiently moving wares to market both in the state and around the world. But each mode faces its own challenges. We’ll tell you what those who deliver the goods are doing to meet them.
BANGOR, Maine — A banana, a color television, a piece of paper.
The banana might have ridden on rails, through the air and over the asphalt — most likely
all three — during its rushed journey from a tropical grove to your fruit basket. Your television
crossed oceans on a container ship for a layover at one of the Eastern Seaboard’s busiest
ports before being delivered by truck to your town.
A piece of paper, even if it came from a mill in Maine, required ingredients from around the world. While the wood used to make it came out of a Maine forest on the back of a pulp truck, chemicals and clay slurry — a mixture used to make paper bright and glossy — came to the Pine Tree State by barge, rail car or both.
The transportation industry, for the most part, operates behind the scenes to the point that
most Mainers take it for granted. That does not mean any given product’s journey was simple.
The movement of goods requires coordination on a national or international scale with players ranging from railroad companies to barge operators to a vast network of trucking companies.
In Maine, trucks gradually have become the dominant movers, with more than 85 percent of the goods coming into and going out of the state on roads.
That in no way discounts the importance of other transportation modes, according to Rob Elder, the Maine Department of Transportation’s director of freight and business services.
“Think of it as a three-legged stool,” he said recently during an interview with the Bangor
Daily News. “Our ports, rail system and trucking companies all need each other to
Papermakers put their reliance on multiple forms of transportation in blunt terms: They
couldn’t operate without both rails and trucking. Trucking companies — despite their
dominance in the market — concede that the railroads are a vital part of the transportation
“Railroads have some things that they’re really good at,” said Tim Dysart, vice president
of Hermon-based Dysart’s Transportation. “They do better at bulk commodities like coal,
but if you want fresh tomatoes from across the country, it’s most likely coming on a
Maine’s three coastal ports in Eastport, Searsport and Portland also are expanding their
niches, shipping vast amounts of forest products out and a variety of products in, ranging
from energy products to livestock.
On both sides of that equation are trucks and trains.
“We have a huge export potential at our ports, but it requires a lot of cooperation,” said
John Henshaw, executive director of the Maine Port Authority. “A lot of our products
leave the state by truck and rail, but increasingly a lot of stuff is going out by ship.”
Each transportation sector faces its own challenges, many of which are tied to the
economy and energy costs. In a state such as Maine where manufacturers and consumers are
spread across a gigantic geographical area, a financial or logistical challenge for a
trucking company, railroad or port authority translates to a challenge for virtually every
manufacturer and eventually every consumer.
“The best thing we can do for our businesses is to create and maintain shipping options,”
said Elder. “Having choices is the key.”