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Wacky Winter Weather Creates Container Backlog

VANCOUVER, B.C. - A span of wild winter storms along Canada's Pacific Coast left maintenance and cleanup crews in B.C. working overtime cleaning up the debris left in the storm's aftermath.Tree debris...

VANCOUVER, B.C. – A span of wild winter storms along Canada’s Pacific Coast left maintenance and cleanup crews in B.C. working overtime cleaning up the debris left in the storm’s aftermath.Tree debris, downed power lines and damaged buildings all needed attention during the January cleanup. The storm wreaked havoc in Vancouver’s majestic Stanley Park. The federal government chipped in $2 million towards the park’s cleanup, while more than 5,000 donors contributed an additional $2.7 million.

Strong winds from the storm attributed to the collapse of the roof of B.C. Place – home of the CFL’s B.C. Lions and the future host to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games Opening and Closing Ceremonies and the Opening Ceremonies for the Paralympic Games.

Avalanches closed stretches of highway across the province and blocked portions of rail lines.

As a result of the blocked transportation thoroughfares, Vancouver’s Deltaport Terminal experienced its largest container backlog in the dock’s history. At the backlog’s peak in mid-January, about 7,000 containers were left stranded on the terminal’s docks.

“We had successive weather issues in the late fall and early winter,” explained Scott Galloway, director of trade development with the Vancouver Port Authority (VPA). “We’ve had nothing this severe that I can recall, where we can focus on weather being the prime cause – it’s a pretty unusual year.”

With the cooperation of Mother Nature, the port’s stakeholders were hoping to have the Deltaport Terminal running at normal capacity by the end of February.

“Typically there is a seasonal lull in March, so hopefully by the beginning of March things will look better,” noted Galloway.

By mid-February, the backlog was reduced somewhat with about 5,200 containers sitting at the terminal waiting to be moved. The gateway however, is not at capacity and all parties are continuing to work together to seek options that will utilize all gateway facilities. Stakeholders and customers are reviewing forecasted import volumes and corresponding rail supply to determine how long the backlog will continue.

“At the shipping line level we had a pretty high level of cooperation to work through this and clear the backlog,” said Galloway. “There has been come cargo there that has been there probably longer than people would like, so I can’t imagine everyone’s very pleased. But the shippers and rail lines have gotten together to try and ensure goods are moved.”

The terminal’s stakeholders took a number of actions to alleviate the backlog and a number of solutions are continuing, including: additional rail equipment being delivered to Deltaport when available; railways accepting import reefers and dry boxes at their intermodal facilities; utilizing other inland facilities to handle rail traffic; expanded hours of operation to facilitate truck movements; and further vessel diversions are being contemplated.

“There’s a lot on those abbreviated bullets,” added Galloway. “They’re large logistical issues and we thank the efforts of the stakeholders as it gives the ability for the operation to continue. There’s an understanding that when there’s a phenomenon like this everyone has to deal with it.”

Unfortunately for the Deltaport Terminal, severe winter weather conditions on the West Coast are not the only contributing factors to the container backlog.

Winter weather conditions affecting central Canada and the Prairies during early February have had a negative impact on forecasted railway operations, resulting in limited progress in reducing the backlog.

“They’re getting hammered out there on the Prairies right now,” remarked Galloway. “That’s winter in Canada.”

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