By Leo Ryan, AJOTFrom the East to West Coasts, Canadian container ports recognize that much of their future growth hinges on wide-reaching intermodal networks, notably involving Class 1 railways that help them penetrate major consumer centers in North America. And as a recession slowly recedes, attention focuses increasingly on the most cost-competitive links in the logistics supply chain. Among the leading box ports, Vancouver is, by far, the largest – handling some 2.5 million TEU, followed by Montreal at 1.5 million TEUs and struggling Halifax at under 500,000 TEUs. The remote Port of Prince Rupert, in northern British Columbia, is currently operating at about 50% of its 500,000 TEU capacity, but industry observers consider its potential appears considerably higher in light of rather unique intermodal features as an emerging trade corridor between Asia and North America.
At the recent annual conference of the Association of Canadian Port Authorities (ACPA) in Prince Rupert, Robin Silvester, president and CEO of Port Metro Vancouver, stressed: “To manage the future, we can’t be complacent now. We have witnessed in the past 15 years extraordinary growth, including the emergence of containers as the preferred means of shipping and significant public and private investment in ports. We need to move now to ensure that 15 years from now industry and community leaders look back at what we have done just as we look back at the work done before us.” Later this fall, Vancouver’s Deltaport Third Berth Project is slated for completion and will boost capacity by 600,000 TEUs and will add over 20 hectares of storage space to the existing facility. In addition, several multi-million dollar infrastructure projects to reduce rail and road congestion are in progress as part of the federal government’s Asia-Pacific Gateway Initiative. At the same conference, David Fung, chair of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters industry association, said that Canada needs to become more agile and appreciate that logistics constitutes a fundamental part of production. “The old idea that I buy from you and you buy from me is passé,” he said. “Nations are no longer competing with nations. Instead, one industry supply chain is competing with another industry supply chain.” On Canadian transportation trends, Fung said there was little future in long-distance trucking – affirming trucks should only be used for the last 200 kilometers (125 miles) of a supply chain. “We need to use rail and ships.” Chief executive of the Vancouver-based ASDEG Group of Companies with partnerships in Europe, Asia and North America, Fung suggested that Canada should start establishing container transfer terminals in many locations and should better exploit the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence system, emulating the extensive barge movements seen today in Europe and on the Pearl River in China. “We are the only continent in the world that regulates ourselves out of using shortsea shipping,” Fung said, citing a specific case involving Oshawa, Ontario. Instead of shipping auto parts directly from the GM auto plant at Oshawa across Lake Ontario, the parts are shipped along congested highway 401 and enter the US by road. Fung singled out the US Harbor Maintenance Tax, which charges a levy on shippers based on the value of goods as a trade deterrent. “Because of the regulations,” he said, “we have condemned the St. Lawrence Seaway into a commodity highway.” PRINCE RUPERT’S INTERMODAL FEATURES As mentioned earlier, the container terminal at Prince Rupert is currently working at about half capacity. But the latest numbers point to a renewed growth pattern. Biggest target market is Chicago and the US Midwest, followed by such strategic hubs as Memphis, Toronto and Montreal. One should recall that Prince Rupert, thanks to the Great Circle route, is more than 1,100 nautica