DP World Fairview Container Terminal

Following a period up till three years ago as arguably the fastest-growing container port in North America, the Port of Prince Rupert in northern British Columbia is pursuing a comprehensive strategy to broaden its cargo base by developing big new transloading infrastructure and energy export facilities.

The closest North American West Coast port to Asia in 2023 handled 23.5 million metric tons of cargo, five percent less than in 2022. Hardest hit was container traffic, which plunged by 32% to 7 million tons. Thus, container cargo translated into TEUs fell from just over one million units in 2022 to 704,248 TEUs in 2023.

This marked the third consecutive year of volume decline and reflected challenges of shifting global shipping routes, soft demand for imports, and competition with other North American trade gateways for discretionary cargo, Prince Rupert port officials have noted.

The July 2023 docker strike in British Columbia ports which had a major impact on Canadian supply chains was another important factor, industry observers indicated.

The downturn trend carried over into early 2024, with total traffic at all terminals in January pegged at 1.75 million tons versus the year earlier 2.1 million tons. At DP World Fairview Container Terminal, January 2024 volume amounted to 625,670 tons versus the year-earlier 765,635 tons.

Comparatively speaking, the Northwest Alliance ports of Tacoma and Seattle were showing evidence of container recovery while Los Angeles was forecasting a 20 percent increase in Q1 2024.

Commenting to the American Journal of Transportation, Ron Corey, president of the Freight Management Association of Canada, said: “Agriculture traffic volumes have been historically in an upward trend from Canadian west coast ports. However, early 2024 has seen Canadian rail carloads flat compared to last year. Intermodal traffic is up only slightly in the beginning of 2024.

“COVID and its aftermath of inflation and high interest rates has dampened Canadian discretionary spending more than in the US, which has a higher rate of per capita GDP growth. Our slowing Canadian economy is taming inflation, and interest rates may come down in the summer.”

The above context notwithstanding, Prince Rupert’s port management points to significant milestones being reached in 2023 that support the evolution of the Pacific gateway to become more competitive, resilient, and sustainable in the near and long-term.

Strengthening Competitive Advantage

“The Port of Prince Rupert is at a critical juncture, and we are focused on actively expanding the services, capacity, and capabilities required to strengthen our competitive advantage that trade partners and industry have come to rely on and grow our gateway,” said Shaun Stevenson, President and CEO, Prince Rupert Port Authority.

“The 2023 results underscore the importance of the projects already underway to develop large-scale transloading infrastructure and build new energy export facilities. These developments will open a new chapter in intermodal trade at the Port and anchor Canada’s role in global energy security for decades to come.”

DP World Prince Rupert’s Fairview Container Terminal saw a 32% decrease in volumes in 2023. This large drop was attributed to a broader decline in North American intermodal imports and strong competition on Transpacific trade routes. Terminal performance was also impacted by the longshore strike that halted operations at British Columbia for 13 days in Q3.

On the positive side, demand for western Canadian energy products was strong in 2023, with AltaGas’ Ridley Island Propane Export Terminal shipping nearly 2 million tons, a 13% increase over 2022. Pembina’s Watson Island LPG Bulk Terminal entered its third year of operations, handling close to 494,000 tonnes, an eight percent decrease year-over-year. Drax’s Westview Wood Pellet Terminal shipped 1.3 million tonnes to markets in Europe and Asia.

Trigon Pacific Terminals also saw a strong year, moving 8.8 million tons of dry bulk product through its terminal, including 5.4 million tons of metallurgical coal. Shipments of that product saw a 51% jump over 2022.

A stronger harvest year contributed to Prince Rupert Grain shipping nearly 3.6 million tons of western Canadian agricultural products, an 11 percent rise year-over-year.

Strategic Projects

Meanwhile, the Port of Prince Rupert has moved ahead on important strategic projects and partnerships.

Construction was started in 2023 on the $750-million Ridley Island Export Logistics Project, an innovative large-scale facility that will provide rail-to-container transloading of multiple export products. RayMont Logistics will develop and operate the site’s transload facilities that will provide a total capacity of 400,000 TEUs annually and is to commence operations in Q3 2026.

The Ridley Energy Export Facility, a joint venture between AltaGas and Vopak, executed a long-term lease on a 190-acre site administered by the Prince Rupert Port Authority. The proposed terminal will develop infrastructure that can provide over 7 million tons of capacity for a variety of liquid bulk cargoes, including lower-carbon energy sources such as propane, butane, and methanol. Early works began on the bulk liquid storage and export facility in Q4 2023, with a Final Investment Decision anticipated in Q2 2024.

Meanwhile, operational today is the Fairview-Ridley Connector Corridor – a critical component of the port’s intermodal ecosystem. Several years in the making, the five-kilometre stretch of road has been drawing containers headed to the DP World Prince Rupert Fairview Container Terminal away from the central core and downtown city streets. It reduces the trans-loading haul distance to the terminal from 20 kilometers (12 miles) down to five kilometres (3 miles) for the more than 200 trucks transporting containers to the site daily.