Railroad cooperation and a new container port offer promise for better traffic flow

Long time competitors Canadian National Railway (CN) and Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) have reached agreement to share tracks in what’s called the “Lower Mainland” region of Canada, with the aim of easing congestion at the Port of Vancouver.

Canadian government projections are that container volumes in British Columbia will climb from the present 2 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) to between 5 and 7 million TEUs in 2020. Additionally, the Port is handling increased resources export business, including coal, grain, potash and sulphur.

Though the two Class 1 railroads presently have directional agreements – westbound trains move over CN tracks and all eastbound trains share the CPR line – the agreement extends the railways’ running zones further west to gateway ports and terminals, bypassing yards and eliminating freight handoffs. Operational changes are expected to go into effect this month.

Fred Green, CPR’s president and COO, says, “These new initiatives represent a clear commitment to ensuring rail shippers have the best service possible so they can compete in global trade from a position of strength.”

CN’s executive vice-president, Ed Harris, adds, “This is a smart approach to managing rail capacity at a time of substantial growth in Canada’s trade volumes with Pacific Rim countries. It will enhance the fluidity and capacity of both railroads in Vancouver and deliver better service to our port and terminal partners, while ensuring healthy competition between CN and CPR is maintained at the Port of Vancouver.”

In addition to investments in infrastructure and port development, the government of British Columbia is providing tax relief to port terminal operators. The federal Canadian government is providing an additional US$511 million (CAD$590 million) for port and transportation infrastructure and programs for development of the Pacific Gateway.

Part of the funding for Pacific Gateway improvement is going to the creation of an ultra-modern, high capacity container-handling facility at Prince Rupert, B.C. It will have an annual capacity of 500,000 TEUs – with expansion plans to raise that to 2 million TEUs – and be capable of handling large post-Panamax container ships.

The Port of Prince Rupert is the western terminus of CN, which provides direct links to points like Chicago, Toronto and Memphis. It has dedicated facilities for grain, coal, forest products, specialty agricultural products and general cargo in addition to cruise ship capability. The port offers the shortest land-sea link to Asia.

Additional work includes extension of the current dock into deep water with the building of a new berth that will be able to handle super post-Panamax ships. Plans are for installation of three super post-Panamax cranes, as well.

The Port of Prince Rupert project is expected to be completed in 2007 and will help ease congestion all along North America’s West Coast while providing new opportunities for Canada’s importers and exporters.