Truck News


Moving Containers On The Seaway

MONTREAL, Que. - The Montreal Port Authority reported this January that container cargo rose 7.2% to a record 1.5 million TEUs (one TEU equals one 20-foot container) in 2008. Although the Port Authori...

MONTREAL, Que. – The Montreal Port Authority reported this January that container cargo rose 7.2% to a record 1.5 million TEUs (one TEU equals one 20-foot container) in 2008. Although the Port Authority then went on to say that container traffic could drop by 3.7% in 2009, the Montreal Gateway Terminals Partnership forecasts a nearly 7% annual growth in container traffic between 2008 and 2020.

This is music to the ears of railways and carriers that move containers to and from Montreal. It will also cheer shipping companies, which want some of the coastal and inland waterways’ container action. The mode of transport they want to make more mainstream is called short sea shipping, which takes place along the coast and on inland waterways, not ocean crossings.

Oceanex already moves containers, trucks and other cargo on its three container ships to and from its terminals in St. John’s, Corner Brook, Montreal and Halifax. Burlington, Ont.-based Great Lakes Feeder Lines (GLFS), which did not return calls from Truck News, is said to be operating its newly-acquired short sea shipping vessel, the Dutch Runner, on the Atlantic Coast.

It reportedly plans to start using the ship later this year to move containers from Montreal to Canadian and US ports.

Last December the Hamilton Port Authority (HPA) launched its short sea shipping initiative when McKeil Marine moved a barge carrying 68 containers from Hamilton to Montreal.

HPA notes that 500,000 TEUs a year move in and out of Ontario via east coast ports – all of it moved by rail and truck. Container movements and project cargo moves are major areas of focus for the port’s business development.

“Container feeder service is a big part of our business development plan,” says HPA communications manager Brent Kinnaird. A scheduled service set to begin in June intends to move 150-200 TEUs each way between Hamilton to Montreal every week.

One niche commodity HPA has already identified is project cargo in overweight containers, with regularly-scheduled sailings for transportation, storage and drayage. Unlike the railways, ships would not charge for overweight containers. As for drayage, it would be significantly lower in Hamilton than in Toronto. Too, Kinnaird notes,”Moving goods by vessel had significant energy savings compared to rail or truck.”

Toronto-based Upper Lakes Group is already doing some short sea shipping on the St. Lawrence to Cote Ste-Catherine, Trois Rivieres and Quebec City, but that is mostly grain and agricultural by-products.

“(Shipping containers) is something we would like to see, but it is several years out, for instance, the Port of Canso facility, due to be in operation in 2011. The concept would be to move just a portion of the containers,” says Upper Lakes Group vice-president of business development Graeme Cook. The Port of Canso facility he is referring to is the $300-million container terminal in Nova Scotia under development by Melford International Terminal.

The Upper Lakes Group is looking at using two or three 800-1,000 TEU vessels for moving containers between the Melford Terminal and Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe, then continue their journeys by truck.

“There is a lot of potential there,” Cook notes.

A Quebec-based association called the Armateurs du Saint-Laurent (Saint Lawrence ship operators) has been working for several years to develop short sea shipping but the going is rough, according to executive director Nicole Trepanier.

“Short sea shipping faces cost structure problems and opposition from transportation companies like CN. The cost structure for marine is very complicated. It can cost more, take longer, but what helps us is cost efficiency for fuel and the volume we carry.”

For short sea shipping to work, ships have to have cargo in both directions to be viable, and they need to have long-term contracts with shippers.

“You don’t do it on a one-shot deal. We are trying to make shippers aware of the kind of services we can offer,” Trepanier says; she was the chair of the Short Sea Shipping Round Table formed in 2004.

Transports Quebec is actively supporting short sea shipping with its Assistance Program for Modal Integration, in part because it sees this mode of transport as a way to conserve its road network.

Short sea shipping is also a big part of the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation’s (SLSMC) business plan, according to director of market development Bruce Hodgson.

“There were containers moving through the Seaways in the 1960s and 1970s, but that was short-lived.” Now SLSMC wants to put more ships on the Seaway, which is operating at just 50% of capacity.

“The trailer and barge service is at the study stage. The trucking industry, barge operators and customers are involved,” Hodgson adds; trucking industry participants in the SLSMC initiatives did not want to be named, according to Hodgson.

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