Box growth buoys Canadian hubs

Halterm is exploring digital solutions. Credit: Steve Farmer
Halterm is exploring digital solutions. Credit: Steve Farmer
Vancouver is working on upgrades for its Deltaport Terminal.Credit: Port of Vancouver
Vancouver is working on upgrades for its Deltaport Terminal.Credit: Port of Vancouver
Traffic at Montreal has remained buoyant. Credit: Montreal Port Authority
Traffic at Montreal has remained buoyant. Credit: Montreal Port Authority
Industry Database

Canada's four main container ports are going through a strong period of growth, writes Alex Hughes

Canada’s container ports are enjoying a surge in volumes which is spurring necessary capacity expansions to cope with demand. Vancouver Fraser Port Authority for one is enjoying record-breaking volumes that have cemented the need for new capacity.

In 2017, container traffic of 3.3m teu was a new record, equivalent to year-on-year growth of 11%. Laden containers handled by Canada’s largest box port went up by 2.8% to a new record of 2.8m teu.

“Containerised growth can be attributed to growing demand for imports from key Asia markets, as well as containerised exports of Canadian goods destined for Asia,” said a port authority spokesperson.

For the first two quarters of 2018, the port authority reported additional growth of 5.1% in container traffic, which reached 1.6m teu.

In April, the port authority approved the permit application for the Centerm Expansion Project and South Shore Access Project. Centerm, which is located on the south shore of the port's inner harbour, is DP World's existing container terminal. If plans are approved, it will increase the terminal footprint by 15% and capacity by approximately two-thirds.

In the meantime, work has been ongoing to upgrade Deltaport Terminal, which is Canada's largest. Capacity of 1.8m teu was increased by 150,000-200,000 teu in November 2014, when a new causeway overpass opened.

In 2017, that was followed by the reconfiguration of the intermodal yard.

The eventual aim is to add a further 600,000 teu of capacity through additional rail sidings and road improvements, which include an HGV staging area.

The port authority is also promoting the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Project, a new three-berth container terminal that will be built using port authority and private sector funding. This would add 2.4m teu capacity and is due to come on stream in the mid-to-late 2020s.

In addition, the port is to benefit from C$200m in federal government funding to ease traffic congestion, improve cargo movement and set up more efficient transport corridors.

Montreal’s movements

On the east coast, the Port of Montreal posted throughput growth of 6.2% last year, with traffic of 1.5m teu. “Two growth drivers largely explain these very good results: the markets of Asia and the Mediterranean,” says Tony Boemi, the port authority's vice-president for growth and development. “Asia now accounts for 24% of our international traffic, an increase of 14% compared to 2016. As for the Mediterranean, with a rise of 9%, it represents 21% of international traffic.”

Mr Boemi stresses that there are almost as many import containers as export containers, which is an undeniable advantage for shipping lines.

Transhipment currently accounts for 42%-43% of total international box traffic.

Two new international container services were added in 2017. In the spring, CMA CGM announced an agreement to partner with Hapag-Lloyd on its new NAWA (North America-West Africa) service, which links the North African hub of Tangier Med with North America.

Then, in September, Maersk commenced the Med-Montreal service.

More recently, Germany's Hamburg Süd Group launched a new service connecting the Port of Montreal to the ports of Algeciras and Valencia in Spain, Fos-sur-Mer in France, and La Spezia and Salerno in Italy.

Traffic remains buoyant into 2018, with throughput rising 6.5% to 813,665 teu in the first two quarters.

“We believe that 2018 will also be a good year for the Port of Montreal. Almost all of our container markets are growing. Europe is on the rise, suggesting a tangible impact of the global trade economic agreement between Canada and the European Union (CETA). Domestic container traffic is also increasing,” says Mr Boemi.

Exceeding expectations

In terms of capacity, the new Viau container terminal completed its first year of operation in 2017 with results that exceeded expectations. In service since November 2016, Viau Terminal offers a 330-metre berth, an intermodal zone, rail service and truck access roads.

The second phase development will include the installation of a second 330-metre-long berth, two more dockside gantry cranes and a complementary container receiving area.

Once the second phase has been completed, terminal capacity will rise to 600,000 teu, boosting overall port capacity to 2.1m containers.

“The Viau project is part of the Port of Montreal's long-term strategy to exponentially increase its container-handling capacity so as to maintain its dominant position as the largest container port in Eastern Canada,” says Mr Boemi.

The next step in that direction is the project to build the Contrecoeur Terminal, which will have a 1.15m teu capacity. Its commissioning is planned for the middle of the next decade.

Also in eastern Canada, the Port of Halifax handled record levels of boxes in 2017, with throughput up 16% to 559,242 teu, which is also a 34% increase over 2015.

Lane Farguson, the port's communications advisor, notes that vessels over 10,000 teu started calling as of June of 2017, with the largest to date being CMA CGM's APL Salalah (10,798 teu).

“Containerised cargo remains strong. Throughput in 2018 is up 0.7% to 275,839 teu, with June being the highest volume month in the last ten years, with 51,707 teu,” he says.

Looking ahead, a significant amount of research and analysis has gone into the study of a second UCCV Berth at the port.

Rupert’s expansion

On Canada's west coast, the Port of Prince Rupert reported a 2017 box throughput of 926,540 teu, up 26% from the 736,663 teu handled in 2016.

According to Brian Friesen, director of trade development and communication at Prince Rupert Port Authority, this was partially explained by DP World's Fairview Terminal being expanded in November 2017, bringing the total terminal capacity to 1.35m teu. Some of that additional capacity was online prior to the completion of the project, which enabled the terminal to handle more cargo.

In the first seven months of this year, throughput has grown year-on-year by 16% to 591,335 teu, resulting in an end-of-year forecast in the region of 1.05m teu.

In terms of capacity, the expansion of the Fairview Terminal, Canada's second largest, added a further 500,000 teu last year, bringing total capacity to 1.35m teu. Given the strong volume growth in both 2017 and 2018, the Port of Prince Rupert and DP World have recently agreed on the terms of a project development plan that will see the terminal's capacity expanded again to 1.8m teu by 2022 as part of a Phase 2B expansion.

Work, which is scheduled to begin in mid-2019, will involve expanding the container yard from its current 32 hectares to 41 hectares. Two additional RTGs will also be acquired, along with an eighth quayside gantry crane.


Halifax Port Authority is focusing on digitising key data. In partnership with terminal operators Halterm and Ceres, and rail provider CN, the port authority is pursuing new analytics technologies and applying these to key performance indicators.

The first phase of this initiative is now live with the data available on the port's website. This shows truck waiting times prior to entering the gates at each of the container terminals, information that can be used to assist dispatchers and truckers in scheduling deliveries outside peak congestion.

It also shows dwell time as a percentage of containers loaded out to 90% within 72 hours, and to 100% within 96 hours.

“The next phase of the terminal truck monitoring system will measure truck traffic coming onto the Halifax peninsula, which will provide data on how we can move containers more efficiently,” says Mr Farguson. “We are also looking at vessel schedule reliability, which will focus on measuring the arrival dates (matrix of on-time) against the long-term schedule or pro forma. We are working out the final product with the ocean carriers.”

Although there is no specific policy for introducing zero emissions equipment by a certain deadline, steps have been taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“On the cargo side, we are developing plans for handling vessels with scrubbers to meet IMO 2020 emission standards,” he says.

The Port of Halifax is also promoting the use of rail for movement of cargo. Indeed, the port has direct connections to the CN Rail network.

“About 60% of the cargo moving through Halifax is rail intermodal, which means 60% of containerised cargo is moved by rail and doesn't touch Nova Scotia highways. Working with CN, we are moving New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island truck exports and imports onto rail at a ramp in New Brunswick. This is already in place, and early indications suggest this is leading to a 10% reduction in truck traffic at both terminals.”



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