Ro-Ro: the West’s marine highway

By: | at 03:47 PM | Channel(s): Liner Shipping  

For the island-strewn Pacific Northwest, Ro-Ro is far more than an alternative means of shifting cargo.

“The Pacific Northwest and the West Coast of Canada are dotted with islands, many with small to large-sized communities such as Victoria, B.C. that, like other communities, require an endless flow of freight that, in most cases, arrives by boat, barge or ferry.

These vessels range in size from small barges capable of carrying a truck, lumber and, perhaps, a small crane for unloading freight, to large barges, either towed or self propelled capable of carrying containers or semi-trailers with or without the tractor, or ferries with passengers usually with vehicles and sometimes highway trailers with or without the cabs.

All of this roll-on, roll-off freight is the arterial system of coastline communities that are unreachable except by boat and sometimes by air, including those in the Gulf Islands, British Columbia, and Puget Sound, Washington State.

Seaspan Ferries Corporation

Small barges that can be driven, pushed or pulled onto a small beach or to a small dock to unload freight such as construction materials are common. Others, such as Seaspan Corporation’s fleet and B.C Ferries provide a semi-trailer or drop trailer service that require established loading and unloading facilities and provide what is essentially a marine highway service to Vancouver Island.

Steve Roth, V.P., Seaspan Ferries, told AJOT, Seaspan has three unloading facilities on Vancouver Island: one at Nanaimo (Downtown), one at Nanaimo (Duke Point) and one in Victoria (Swartz Bay). Trailers are moved to Vancouver Island from mainland terminals in the Tilbury area (on the Fraser River) and Surrey, B.C.

“Seaspan Ferries uses seven vessels right now,” Roth said. “This is a combination of four ATB (Articulated Tug and Barge) and three self-propelled vessels.”

Roth said Ro-Ro freight handled by the company is dependent on economic growth on Vancouver Island.

“What isn’t grown or manufactured there (The Island) has got to get over there from here (the mainland) and most of that is going over by a ferry; either Seaspan Ferries or B.C. Ferries.

“We’re looking at one to one and one-half percent increase in population size and that’s the kind of growth we expect for the Island.”

Roth is optimistic about the ro-ro business between Vancouver and Vancouver Island, the only thing that could set it back, he said, would be the construction of a bridge between the Mainland and the Island, something that has been talked about and studied for years in B.C. but appears unlikely to happen, at least in the near future.

“I think prospects are good,” he said, “We’re re-investing in our fleet. We’re going to be building some new ferries over the next two to seven years, which I think is a reflection of our confidence in the market.”

Leo Quigley's avatar

American Journal of Transportation