HAMILTON, Ont. — The first regularly scheduled container service between Montreal and Hamilton, Ont., got underway on July 3.
The Niagara Spirit, a tug and barge vessel operated by McKeil Marine, set sail with 260 TEUs aboard — a full load — from Pier 26 at the Port of Hamilton, across Lake Ontario and down the St. Lawrence to the Port of Montreal.
It will make that trip every Friday until the close of the season this fall. And the return trip, from Montreal to Hamilton, sets sail every Monday. The maiden ‘backhaul’ consisted of 200 boxes, deemed by insiders to be a great start.
"It’s fantastic, actually," said Ian Hamilton, vice president, marketing and business development at the Port of Hamilton. "There are a lot of people who are really excited about using this service, but some of them have to re-engineer their logistics chain to work it in."
He predicted the service would reach full utilization by August, in time for the official launch ceremony at the end of July.
The initiative was initially driven by the Hamilton Port Authority, which created a wholly-owned subsidiary called Sea3 to develop and market the service. Partners include McKeil Marine, the Montreal-based shipping agent Montship Inc., and terminal operators Federal Marine Terminals (Hamilton) and Montreal Gateway Terminals (Montreal).
Hamilton said the name Sea3 refers to the three distinct advantages the service brings to shippers and residents in the trade corridor between Hamilton and Montreal – namely cost effective transportation of goods, environmental benefits like lower energy consumption and reduced emissions, and social benefits like reduced noise and road congestion.
"Sea3 is designed to increase transportation system efficiency in our region and meet the demands of economic expansion, increased trade, and population growth," said McKeil Marine president Blair McKeil.
He estimated it would take less than three liters of fuel to transport a tonne of cargo from Hamilton to Montreal with this mode — better than rail, and significantly better than road.
According to Brent Kinnaird, market development manager at the Hamilton Port Authority, the service is particularly suited to the transport of what is typically considered overweight material.
"We’re focusing on things like ceramic tiles and steel — commodities that typically would be subject to either overweight surcharges on the rail, or that would have to be shipped in trucks and rail cars at less than capacity, so you’re talking about shipping more boxes. And ultimately that would drive the cost up."
Hamilton said the ability to carry up to 560 "heavy boxes" each week is the service’s true advantage.
"It can carry up to the container’s plated capacity (approx 28 metric tons) and initially this will mean that heavy cargos such as steel and ceramic tiles moving in 20′ containers and paying overweight surcharges will benefit hugely," he said. "We are also in the process of creating an inland container depot for empties in Hamilton so users can pick up their containers in Hamilton and minimize the local drayage charges."
A trial shipment sailed last November to develop the model for a weekly service. The schedule includes two days sailing followed by a day for loading and offloading, and one idle day per week.
This year the service will operate for about 20-weeks (July to mid-November). Next year it will go the full 40 weeks starting in mid to late March.
Kinnaird said the service has plenty of potential for expansion.
"Right now, obviously, we’re concentrating on getting this service up and running, but absolutely, there is the potential to add other phases onto it, breaking off other routes, or even extending it with links directly to the east coast."
— by Allan Jannsen
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