By Leo Ryan, AJOTContainer activity should be concentrated and expanded at the Port of Montreal while bulk transshipment facilities at the Port of Quebec should be significantly enlarged to meet world demand. Such are the key recommendations of a two-year, private sector St. Lawrence and Great Lakes Trade Gateway Study. The study was undertaken to act as a contribution to the Ontario-Quebec Continental Gateway government initiative, and seeks to assess the main needs of cargo transportation in the region for the next 15 to 20 years. Some 75 participants from 50 companies took part in the consultant study of the IBI Group. “The fact that we were able to gather to gather as many participants and reach a consensus within three transportation modes deserves to be underlined,” stated Madeleine Paquin, President of Logistec Corporation and Chair of the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes Trade Gateway Leadership Council.
She summarized the study’s conclusions at a luncheon staged in Montreal on November 13 by the St. Lawrence Economic Development Council (SODES), one of the partners in the study along with the Quebec provincial transport department and Canada Economic Development (a federal agency). The strong endorsement of Montreal was based, in part, on its perceived excellent intermodal connections to key markets in the United States, notably the Midwest, and central Canada. “However, to handle growth, it (Montreal) will need to increase its container infrastructure as well as improve its hinterland connections,” said Paquin. At the same time, Paquin indicated that the Council’s Container Working Group, headed by David Cardin, president of Maersk Canada, “did not believe that it would ever be feasible to expect shortsea shipping of containers without year-round access to the Great Lakes.” Such access is not possible because the St. Lawrence Seaway system of locks and channels linking North America to the Atlantic Ocean is closed every winter between late December and late March for maintenance and other tasks. Last June, Great Lakes Feeder Lines launched a feeder service with one small vessel from the Port of Halifax, but the service has reportedly not expanded as hoped. Paquin said the study also recommended an improvement of the navigation channel on the St. Lawrence River between Montreal and Quebec City by ensuring another foot of water. Open 12 months a year, this channel is dredged to a depth of 11.3 meters (37 feet). This is sufficient for container vessels with a nominal capacity of 4,400 TEU. Paquin recalled that Montreal’s container service growth has been linked to the North Atlantic trade to the tune of five percent - “but trade from hubs in the Caribbean and Mediterranean, which are reaching cargoes from South America and Asia, are averaging higher growth. As per credible research sources and as supported by our private sector container group, this brings the expected average annual growth over the next 10-20 years at the Port of Montreal to 5-7%.” “Also,” Paquin continued, “as 60% of containers leave and arrive at the port by rail and some 50% of total traffic is for/from the US, rail capacity bottlenecks will need to be addressed. These include the development of the Detroit River Tunnel to obtain increased capacity and efficiency, as well as specific rail-grade separations between Montreal and key markets in Ontario and the Midwest.” In terms of road networks, Paquin said the study comments that access to the Port of Montreal needs improvement as well as access to intermodal facilities, particularly in such large centers as Montreal and Toronto. Regarding the dry bulk sector, the study notes that although various commodities can be cyclical in nature, demand for metallurgical coal, iron ore, nickel and copper, notably from China and Asia, is expected to be sustainable for many years to come. Many bulk commodities going