Geography and space are the Port of Prince Rupert’s two keys to success. Because, taken together, the two mean speed.
While the 500,000 teu terminal located on the North Coast of British Columbia has proven it can deliver a container to Chicago in two to three days less time than the Ports of Los Angeles or Long Beach - that speed is going to increase in the future.
At a recent maritime conference in Vancouver, Hunter Harrison, president and CEO of Canadian National Railway, the only railway serving the Port of Prince Rupert, told delegates CN is now planning to introduce 100 mph container trains to the northern route.
This increased speed will mean less time is spent moving containers to the US heartland from the Port of Prince Rupert. The port has already gained an international reputation for being the closest port on the North American West Coast to Asia and having a railway capable of delivering containers to Chicago in two to three days less time than containers moving through the port of Long Beach or Los Angeles.
Harrison said the increase in speed would mean a “modest investment” for Canadian National. The move to higher speeds would dramatically improve the railway’s service, lower labour costs, reduce carbon emissions, reduce highway congestion, be safer and create additional capacity for moving containers to the US from the northern British Columbia port.
However, before the speed of double stack container trains can hit 100 mph he said infrastructure changes will have to be made, especially the construction of overpasses and underpasses in Western Canada and changes to track configurations to handle stresses caused by the higher speeds.
As well, Harrison said the railway will have to decide whether to encourage other railways to change their container equipment to be compatible with the high speed CN trains or, whether to operate a “closed loop” system similar to the one container trains now use between Prince Rupert and Chicago.
It’s this reputation for speed that is now delivering success to the terminal.
The concept of building a container port in a small city without a large domestic market did not attract a lot of supporters initially and Krusel told AJOT that, before Fairview was built, containerization was, in fact, the enemy of the Port of Prince Rupert.
As a breakbulk facility in the remote northwestern corner of British Columbia Krusel said he could see few opportunities for the Port of Prince Rupert.
“We really had to look at ourselves in the mirror,” he told conference delegates. “When we looked at the global map and saw where we stood; geographically between the heartland of North America and Asia it was like lining the dots up and seeing a real opportunity.
“And, how did we convince the industry that this was a good idea?” Back then, he said, “the concern was the tsunami of containers hitting the West Coast and inundating the system.”
This, he said, forced people to look at alternatives just at the time that the Port of Prince Rupert was “waving the flag.”
“Thankfully,” he said, “we gained sufficient support to get the project off the ground.”
Krusel pointed out that the terminal at Prince Rupert is a new business model in the shipping community since the port is not the final destination for either US or Canadian cargo.
“The port and terminal are simply the point along the logistics chain of a much longer marathon that the containers are moving through.
“That is the model it (Fairview Terminal) is based on,” he said.
All the reasons that were put forward initially as to why Fairview Terminal wouldn’t work: a remote location and a non-urban environment are actually the strengths that have made the terminal a success he said.
“We were able to side-step all of that congestion,” he said, “and all of the, what I call, Velcro on Velcro that slows things down.
“It gives us the ability to measur