VANCOUVER, B.C. – The Port of Vancouver and other West Coast ports are plagued by a massive container backlog, the Canadian International Freight Forwarders’ Association (CIFFA) reported recently.
In late May there was speculation that some14 miles of containers were sitting at the terminals, waiting to be shipped.
And while most of the backlogged containers are destined to be moved by rail or ship, the situation is causing major headaches for trucking companies servicing the port.
“When the containers don’t move, they occupy space which complicates things because trucking companies are not able to return empties,” explained B.C. Trucking Association (BCTA) president Paul Landry.
“So then they have to find a spot to position empty containers because the terminals are full of full containers.”
The backlog also results in delays while loading and unloading at the terminals.
“The drivers are still facing unacceptable delays at the terminals,” reported Landry. “Even though there are a lot of containers to haul it’s still a struggle for both the companies and the drivers to generate reasonable revenues. They’re going all out, but when all out includes sitting in a terminal for two hours, that’s not very productive…It’s a real pain.”
Both the CIFFA and BCTA report the effects of a strike by Canadian National (CN) Railway have been mitigated and are not to blame for the latest backup. But both suggested the ports are just not prepared to handle the increased volumes of shipments.
“There just is not enough rolling stock to handle the containers. It seems the West Coast is awash in containers. There’s been a tremendous growth in terms of containers at our ports as well as ports in the U.S. and it’s been very, very difficult for carriers to keep up. Many of them are backed up for three, four or five days – they just were not able to meet the needs of their customers,” said Landry.
“It’s purely and almost exclusively simply volume,” said CIFFA’s George Kuhn.
“We have suddenly grown to such an extent that the whole infrastructure simply isn’t there to cope with it.”
When contacted by Truck News, the Vancouver Port Authority chose not to comment on the cause of the backlog.
CIFFA also partly blamed a major volume hike in early May on truckers’ protests at U.S. West Coast ports. (Truckers were protesting increased fuel costs.)
“In addition, there is a significant imbalance between Eastbound and Westbound volume,” the association observed.
“And it is simply not economical to bring in empty equipment to service west-east traffic only. Why marine carriers do not address this imbalance with a more steady and predictable return of empties, is not known at present. To complicate things further, there are no additional double-stack cars available to increase volume capacity due to the well-known shortage of steel.”