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Port of Baltimore handles record number of autos in October

The Port of Baltimore handled a record 42,830 autos in October, the latest example of increased activity at the state’s public shipping terminals.

Roll on/roll off cargo, a strong suit for the port, has had a rocky year, with manufacturers coming and going, but is expected to up about 7 percent over 2009.

The port handled about 375,000 cars that year and is expected to ship 400,000 in 2010, an indicator of an economy on the rebound, according to state officials.

“Cars are a very good barometer of economic times,” said port spokesman Richard Scher. “When times are good, people are going to want to buy cars. When times are not good, they’re not going to want to buy cars.”

The ro/ro record in October easily beat the previous high, set in March, and the pre-recession peak of 37,552 in July 2008. Still, Scher cautioned, the port still has a way to go to a full recovery.

“Last year was a terrible year for not only the Port of Baltimore, but the maritime industry as a whole,” Scher said. “It’s key to remember that it’s going to take at least a few more years to get back to our pre-recession levels.”

Last December, the port inked a 5-year deal with BMW, which agreed to shift its shipments of 50,000 vehicles annually from Charleston, S.C., to Baltimore. In the summer, the port lost about the same number of Hyundai and Kia cars to Philadelphia, but gained 17,000 Fords.

The auto business at the port employs about 1,150.

Other business at the port has been up this year, too. A record 91 cruises are expected to carry 190,000 passengers by the end of the year, and 112 trips are already on the books for next year.

Cargo container traffic has increased 16 percent over last year and set a series of records during the summer, with 63,740 units handled in July. Shipments of pulp for paper products have also increased in 2010.