Truck News


Ro-Ro, row your boat

SHEDIAC CAPE, N.B. - A new initiative here could potentially save time, money and equipment wear for truckers transporting goods to the Island of Newfoundland.But could its arrival also impact the ava...

SHEDIAC CAPE, N.B. – A new initiative here could potentially save time, money and equipment wear for truckers transporting goods to the Island of Newfoundland.

But could its arrival also impact the availability of daily service for those dependent on existing operator Marine Atlantic? A proposal to see a new “Ro-Ro” (roll-on, roll-off) service start in the Port of Belledune may come into fruition and to help it along the way Rigel Shipping Canada, of Shediac Cape, is doing everything it can to ensure the trucking industry knows it is cost efficient.

“We know what we want to offer the truckers to offer them savings,” says Brian Ritchie, president of Rigel Shipping Canada. “We want to show a 20 per cent savings for drivers from Moncton and a 40 per cent plus savings for drivers from Quebec because of geography.”

He explains, once in Northern New Brunswick, from St. Leonard the distance to the Port of North Sydney to catch the ferry service offered by Marine Atlantic is 951km. To the Port of Belledune the distance is 235km.

“We’re hoping to achieve a drop-trailer service. The trucker would come in, drop a loaded trailer, pick up an empty trailer and keep rolling.”

For George Marcoux, president and chief executive officer of the Port of Belledune, the decision to go with Rigel for this project was an easy one.

“Rigel Shipping is in the shipping industry now and they have been in the oil business for over 20 years. They know the marine industry,” he says.

From Marcoux’s point of view, the project is sure to have all Ts crossed and Is dotted, ensuring profits won’t come via government subsidies.

“When you look at the mileage saved by trucks going through the Atlantic Provinces, it would be viable for the trucking industry and for the operator,” he says.

The increase will also mean a substantial increase in business for the community of Belledune.

“Bringing an operation like this into Belledune you have direct jobs created on the ferry and also at the terminal. Also the impact it has on the region, because we are going to have 400 to 500 (new) trucks passing through this region every week,” adds Marcoux.

The bottom-line

The ferry in North Sydney, N.S., costs a driver $313 to drop a trailer off. Once sailing, the trip takes six to seven hours to reach Port-aux-Basques, Nfld.

The proposed ferry from the Port of Belledune will cost the driver approximately $550 to drop a trailer and the trip will take approximately 25 hours to cover the 602km to the Port in Corner Brook.

While that doesn’t sound great on the surface, consider the following comparison based on a hypothetical operating cost of .85 cents per kilometre for truckers travelling from St. Leonard to Corner Brook.

Using the North Sydney vessel works out to $1,316.85 (a total of 1,181km travelled by route). The proposed service from Belledune, based on the same rate, would yield a savings of 946km and would cost only $749.75 (a 43 per cent savings of $567.10)

For those running from Moncton, the distance to the present service in North Sydney is 505km and you have to factor in the 230-km stretch from Port-aux-Basques to Corner Brook once on the Rock. The total distance of the on-highway portion of the trek is 735km. Again at a rate of .85 cents, plus the ferry charge of $313, the total comes to $937.75.

The proposed service would see drivers travel only 248km from Moncton to Belledune, totaling only $760.80, still yielding a 19 per cent savings or $176.95.

Customized service

The Belledune Ro-Ro service will not carry passenger vehicles in addition to the commercial traffic. Ritchie believes the whole idea makes a lot of sense, because as well as savings on the mainland, putting trailers in Corner Brook rather than Port-aux-Basques will save an additional 230 km in mileage for freight destined to continue on towards the provincial capital.

Drivers will no longer have to travel the section of road called The Wreck House, and no longer dodge its infamous tricky winds famous for toppling trailers into the ditch.

As well, bypassing the North Sydney Port saves drivers from having to navigate the treacherous stretch of road through Kelly’s Mountain.

The next step for Rigel Shipping will be to test the support from the trucking industry.

“We will probably send out letters to senior people in the trucking industry. This is what we will offer, the savings, if the support is there, we will go forward. We can’t risk (sinking) millions of dollars in a ship” otherwise, explains a cautious Ritchie.

Need for support

Ritchie also insists everything is still very tentative at this moment in the project’s development.

“We need the trucking industry there to support the service. We need at least 400 trailers a week and then we would purchase the ship.”

Rigel has received eight proposals for vessels to run the oft-choppy waters. General specs needed for consideration included the capability of transporting 150 trailers, being able to travel 31.5km-h, being equipped with two engines (a backup in case of breakdown) and ice breaking classification.

“The schedule we want to put into effect is two sailings per week. If you are operating at 13 knots (24km-h) the trip becomes a 25-hour crossing, but with a ship travelling at 17 knots, (if there is a) weather delay, the ship has the capability of catching up to its service (schedule),” says Ritchie.

And if that schedule does ever come to be, John Doucet, president and chief executive officer of Day and Ross, can see some real positives.

“I believe for the volume coming from Quebec and Ontario there is an advantage,” he says at the same time admitting that for those coming from centres in the Maritimes, such as Moncton and Halifax, the advantage will be lessened.

“It will have some savings. I’m not sure if it will create more work because I assume if there is an advantage for me there will be an advantage for others … in the end the shipper will have the advantage,” says Doucet.

He speculates that Day and Ross could be a customer if the service unfolds.

“I am looking forward to seeing what will happen.”

Doucet questions whether this new service will affect Marine Atlantic out of the Port of North Sydney.

“Marine Atlantic is a much more daily and consistent service. Belledune will be twice a week, it may fit for some, but it may not fit others,” he says.

“We will have to see the reaction of Marine Atlantic to know whether this will be positive. As well, what shippers will be able to match with the Belledune service with twice-a-week compared to daily with Marine Atlantic?”

Gulf champion

In the end, a loss of customer use would likely mean reduced service for Marine Atlantic, which currently has a monopoly on the truck freight floating across the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

“Marine Atlantic operates a service for the traffic offering, so on a monthly basis we revamp our schedules to ensure there is adequate capacity for the traffic that is coming our way, should that traffic go up, obviously, we add capacity. If it goes down, we will reduce capacity,” says Capt. Sid Hynes, chairman and chief executive officer for ferry service.

“If that (Belledune) service starts and it does reduce our capacity we will adjust accordingly,” which he says will mean fewer crossings and potentially fewer ships.

Marine Atlantic has the capability to carry 1,400 tractor-trailers a week and up to 700 drop trailers. They make as many as 28 trips a week in the busy season and do not go below 14, even in slow times.

“Marine Atlantic is a non-profit company so our revenue must equal our expenses,” says Hynes. “We can’t operate big ships going back and forth empty.”

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