The Port of Montreal’s plans for growth are outlined in an interview with Sylvie Vachon, president and CEO of the Montreal Port Authority (MPA), and Tony Boemi, VP growth and development.
The past few years have seen the Port of Montreal post healthy gains in total and container traffic while pursuing infrastructure and capacity expansion projects. A force to reckon with in North Atlantic container business in close competition especially with the Port of NY/NJ, latest statistics indicate Montreal is well on track to achieving another overall cargo record in 2016 thanks to a comparable box throughput to 2015 and robust increases in grain and liquid bulk volumes.
Clearly, Montreal has the wind in its sails, underscored by the recent addition of a new container facility aimed at helping the port to better respond to present and future demand, including the arrival of larger ships.
Last year, Canada’s second biggest port after Vancouver handled 32 million metric tons of cargo. The container component translated into a record high of nearly 1.5 million TEU.
Interviewed by the American Journal of Transportation, Sylvie Vachon, president and CEO of the Montreal Port Authority (MPA), and Tony Boemi, VP growth and development, shared their views on the potential of this key Canadian gateway on the eastern seaboard.
AJOT: What are the strategic advantages of Montreal as a North American multimodal gateway? And can it continue to compete effectively with Halifax and U.S. East Coast ports enhancing their capabilities to handle larger containerships?
Vachon: Ranked the largest container port in Eastern Canada and the second largest in the country, one of our main advantages continues to be our strategic location. Our position, 1,000 miles inland from the Atlantic coast, places us at the centre of Eastern Canada and within proximity of the U.S. Midwest and U.S. Northeast consumer markets and distribution centers. In effect, we provide access to 40 million consumers within one trucking day and to 70 million consumers within two rail days.
Being the only port of call on the North American loop (for a number of carrier services), the Port of Montreal is a unique model benefiting from the fully loading and unloading of container vessels. As a dedicated port of call, carriers recognize the efficiencies of our multimodal platform. Our proven on-dock rail known as The Montreal Model enables us to provide reliable and fluid services, valued by our supply chain partners.
AJOT: For the moment, vessels with nominal capacities of 4,400 TEUs are calling at Montreal within its draft limitations of 11.3 metres (37 feet). But will more dredging need to be carried out on the St. Lawrence River to protect Montreal’s competitiveness if current carriers want in the near future to deploy post-Panamax “workhorses” of 7,000 to 8,000 TEU?
Vachon: Here, it should be recalled that the Port of Montreal has been open to post-Panamax ships following a Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) decision in 2013 authorizing the passage of vessels up to 44 metres wide (144 feet) in the Quebec-Montreal section of the St. Lawrence navigation channel. The Port adapts to needs by closely monitoring the status of water levels and sharing this information with port users; by carrying out maintenance dredging; and by supporting the development and use of tools that enable ever more efficient management of the available water column.
AJOT: How would you describe the importance of the U.S. market as a whole for the port.
Boemi: In 2015, 20% of the Port of Montreal’s total containerized cargo was to/from the United States. Historically, the Port of Montreal has always been a leading player on the East Coast for Midwest containerized cargo. Our fluidity, low dwell times and connections to two Class 1 railways are some of the factors driving the success of the Port of Montreal with the Midwest Beneficial Cargo Owners and shippers.
AJOT: Is present capacity, including the Viau expansion inaugurated this past November, sufficient to meet anticipated container demand over the next few years?
Boemi: With the construction of our new Viau container terminal, the port’s capacity will increase by 600.000 TEU - from 1.5m TEU to 2.1m TEU. The first of two phases of construction is now completed, adding 350.000 TEU to the port’s actual capacity.
Over the next few years, Termont and the MPA will establish a second berth and develop another container reception area, thus completing the second phase of this major infrastructure project. The terminal is operated by Termont Montreal Inc, which has been operating the port’s Maisonneuve terminal since 1987. Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) is also a major partner in the project. Based on our current container growth projections, Viau terminal would allow us to sustain this sector’s growth until the beginning of the next decade.
AJOT: When will the process be launched for a proposed big new container terminal at Contrecoeur 25 miles east of Montreal on the St. Lawrence River as part of a long-term blueprint?
Vachon:: In December 2015, the Contrecoeur Port Terminal Expansion Project reached a new stage when the Montreal Port Authority submitted its project description to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. Guidelines were issued and the MPA is proceeding with environmental impact studies. It is estimated that a first new container terminal on site could be operational in the next decade, conditional upon obtaining the required regulatory approvals and continued market growth. This terminal would add 1.15m TEU to the Port’s capacity. The site is situated near rail and road links and an industrial neighborhood.
AJOT: The port recently announced a project that will reduce GHG emissions by optimizing truck routes and reduce dwell times at terminals. When will practical application begin of this important new initiative?
Boemi: MPA announced last October 3rd the implementation of a project that will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by optimizing truck routes to and from terminals located on Port of Montreal territory. The advanced new Trucking PORTal Web-based application will be a key tool to reach the goal of reducing wait times at port container terminals. A data retrieving system makes it possible to measure truck trip transits from entering to leaving the Port, and to relay this information in real time to drivers and dispatchers.
To achieve this, we rely on a combination of Bluetooth and RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) technologies and license plate readers. Specifically, truck trips are captured at several points on Port territory, tracking their movement. This results in a comprehensive view of the traffic, bottlenecks and wait times at the various terminals. This information is sent to drivers in real time by means of a mobile application that they download on their mobile device (from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store), or directly on their computer (from www.portmtltrucks.com).
They use this information to plan their route to get to the Port and, while on Port territory, optimize the time it takes them to deliver or pick up cargo. The 53,000 web hits we saw during the first 3 weeks suggest that dispatchers and truckers are consulting the Trucking PORTal quite heavily!
AJOT: Has the special relationship going back several years with the Port of Antwerp lived up to expectations?
Vachon: The Port of Antwerp has been our leading partner in containerized trade for many years. Our annual meetings with the Port of Antwerp allow us to strengthen our partnership through exchanges of best practices and identifying new market opportunities. In April 2016, we renewed our Memorandum of Understanding for an additional 3 years. With 1 out of 5 containers of our total volumes being exchanged with Antwerp in 2015, this port remains our largest trading partner. These strong ties have allowed us to increase our presence in emerging markets such as Africa, Middle East, India and Asian countries.
AJOT: Have you estimated the potential benefits for the Port of Montreal, in volume terms, of the Canada-European Union free trade agreement (CETA) that could be implemented in substantial part by the end of 2017 if the ratification procedures proceed as hoped?
Boemi: First of all, it should be noted that Northern Europe and the Mediterranean markets represented 64% of our container traffic in 2015. In fact, the Port of Montreal alone accounts for one third of the Canada-EU trade in tonnage terms. Generally speaking, CETA offers a great opportunity for increasing trade between Europe Canada. We estimate that CETA could bring an increase in the order of 4% of the port’s European business by 2020 through the proposed phased elimination of tariffs.