GOLDEN, B.C. – Hundreds of truckers were stranded in the B.C. interior in January, when avalanches and freezing rain forced the closure of several well-travelled sections of the Trans-Canada Hwy.
Roads in and out of Golden and Revelstoke were closed for up to four days with trucks stacked up like cordwood in town, waiting for a break in the weather.
Some restaurants reportedly started closing their doors as they ran out of food.
And one trucker told Global TV in Calgary that some drivers resorted to opening their trailers to search for food.
Nobody seemed to know for sure just how many trucks were stranded in the B.C. interior during the week of Jan. 17-21, but estimates ranged from between 300 and 600 in Golden alone.
A similar number of truckers were reportedly stuck in Revelstoke, while another 100 truckers hunkered down in Valemount, according to locals.
Kindersley Transport alone had 50 trucks stranded at one time and reported losing up to $100,000 for every day those trucks remained tied up.
Not only were they not generating revenue while stuck in B.C., but shippers were canceling orders and truckers at other terminals were forced to stay home rather than run freight into B.C.
“It’s affecting us hugely,” Doug Siemens, vice-president of Kindersley Transport told local media.
“You’re losing revenue on all those trucks every day, and you’re losing money because the guys at the branches in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver have nothing to do, and our customers are holding off shipping anything until the closures end. So your productivity just disappears.”
Most Western Canadian-based trucking companies preferred not to tally their losses, as they have come to accept unpredictable winter weather as a cost of doing business in Canada.
“We did have a number of trucks sitting there and it’s just one of those frustrations that sort of goes with the territory this time of year as well as in the spring when avalanches are a concern,” Stephen Evans, vice-president of loss control and regulatory compliance with H&R Transport told Truck West. “We don’t really track the losses.”
Lethbridge, Alta.-based H&R had about 10 trucks stranded in B.C., but Evans said the company and its drivers took it in stride.
“There’s not much you can really do – just send messages to the guys to make sure they’re alright and talk to our customers,” he said.
“We’re always really, really grateful when these things happen that nobody got hurt. These things have the potential to just whisk trucks away and we’re very fortunate that nobody was injured.”
When Truck West asked Glenncoe Transport’s Ted Adair how many of its drivers were affected by the storm, he joked: “It would be a shorter list if I told you which ones weren’t stranded!”
He didn’t even want to take a guess at the amount of revenue lost by Glenncoe as a result of the avalanches and winter storms.
It’s hard to estimate the cost of the road closures, said Don Bietz of Economy Carriers, because you can’t place a dollar figure on the damage that can result in the carrier/shipper relationship if a load can’t be delivered.
“The biggest impact is the service to the customer, especially in our business hauling propane and fuel where the demand is so high,” said Bietz, adding 10-15 ECL trucks were stranded.
“But, you’re better off parked than trying to run through the ice and snow.”
For the most part, carriers said shippers understood when informed their loads were stuck in the mountains indefinitely.
“By and large the shippers have been good. Everyone recognizes when the road’s closed, no matter how much you wish and hope your stuff is there, there’s not much you can do about it,” said Evans.
But although carriers are suffering financially at the hand of Mother Nature, there’s nobody to blame, said Paul Landry, president of the B.C. Trucking Association.
“The feedback I’m getting is that (road clearing crews) are doing the best job that they can. If there’s a potential avalanche they have to deal with that and they can’t allow the traffic to pass until they clear that threat,” Landry said.
He added Jan. 17-21 was among the worst weeks for weather he’s ever seen.
If there was a silver lining to the havoc Mother Nature wreaked on much of the B.C. interior in January, it was that business was booming for at least one trucking industry supplier.
The Husky Truck Stop in Golden was the busiest it has ever been, according to manager Amy Briard.
“This whole week has been a blur,” Briard said. “We’ve had the most trucks I’ve ever seen in my life.”
She said most of the truckers were courteous and patient and they passed the time by drinking coffee and socializing. Briard spoke to Truck West shortly after the road was re-opened and the trucks began filing out of Golden.
But the conversation was cut short when she said: “Now I have to go get ready for the 800 trucks that are on their way here from Revelstoke!”