Canada port steams ahead
The newly opened Port of Prince Rupert in British Columbia boasts an impressive advantage over any other western port in North America; it’s two days closer to China.
The port officially opened Sept. 12 of this year, and received its first shipment on Oct. 31.
The port sits 36 hours closer than Vancouver, B.C., and 68 hours closer than Los Angeles to Shanghai, China, creating faster transit times between Asian and North American markets. This translates into an express route with efficient connections to the three NAFTA countries.
“If you’re not familiar with this I guess you soon will be,” said Ron Beal, Orgill president and CEO. Orgill is just one of the many home channel distributors who will benefit from the shorter, more efficient shipments.
“If everything goes as planned, and you hope it will—we’ll see—we should be able to have our world sourcing products at our facility in about four days and have them on our shelves before it would get out of the port in Long Beach, so it’s a big deal,” said Beal, speaking at the Hardlines Conference Series in Toronto last month.
The port’s main advantages are that it is the shortest land-sea route from China to Chicago and has efficient uncongested express rail lines to Chicago and Memphis. It is the deepest port with closer access to open water creating quicker and safer navigation to the terminal for today’s largest transport ships. Since Prince Rupert is a thinly populated area, the port can be greatly expanded in the future to accommodate the growing shipping industry.
The port is a partnership between three major players, The Prince Rupert Port Authority (PRPA), Canadian National Railway (CN) and Maher Terminals. The trio has created a completely intermodal system for getting freight from the ship, to the container terminal and onto train cars entirely contained within the facility and without the use of trucks.
“What we’ve done is we’ve been able to build not just a new terminal but a new system from the ground up,” said Barry Bartlett, manager of corporate communications, Prince Rupert Port.
Once offloaded, the containers can be put directly onto freight cars and travel CN’s express rail to Chicago and Memphis.
“When the ship comes in, the first train will be out within 24 hours, and in Chicago before 100 hours,” said Bartlett.
CN Rail has invested over $150 million Canadian dollars (US$163.3 million) into developing the rail infrastructure for the port, including C$25 million (US$27.2 million) in rail building, another C$25 million on bridges, tunnels and sidings, and more than C$100 million (US$108.9 million) to purchase the 50 new locomotives to run on the line.
“The port combined with the Chicago station is creating seamless distribution of goods from Asia to the North American markets,” said Kelli Svendsen, a spokeswoman for CN Rail.
Svendsen added that the Oct. 31 shipment arrived in Chicago Nov. 4.
With the completion of the Fairview Container Terminal, phase one of many future terminals, the port has a 500,000 twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) per year capacity. Phase two will up that number to 2 million TEUs, and PRPA hopes to complete that terminal by 2012.
Currently the terminal is seeing only one shipment per week. “There’s certainly discussions, and we’re expecting announcements any day now,” said Bartlett, adding, “We’re expecting to be at capacity by the end of the year.”
“Well, it ultimately has the potential to be very helpful,” said Brian Cronenwett, director of supply chain logistics for Ace Hardware. “Of course, to make that happen there will have to be a couple of big importers to make a commitment to the port before the carriers will go there, so it’s kind of a chicken and the egg thing right now.”
Cronenwett said that it’s difficult to put a number on the money saved or potentially earned by the quicker shipments but pointed out that the quicker a distributor or retailer can get products on their shelves, the sooner the consumer can purchase them.
“The minute a couple of large importers make a commitment to it, and we see multiple shipments up there per week, the lack of congestion up there and the land that they have that allows them to expand the port without some of the environmental concerns that are popping up in Los Angeles and Seattle, I think they’ll really get a head of steam behind it. My hunch is that it’ll happen sooner rather than later. I think within a few years you’ll see that port being a big player,” he said.