Canada has two major west coast ports that are connected to the North American railway system. The Port of Vancouver is one of the largest ports in North America with twenty-seven different terminals and move just about everything that can be imported and exported into and out of North America. The Port of Prince Rupert has been around for a long time and is now emerging as a port that competes with the big ports including the Port of Vancouver and others on the US west coast.
As Canada has traditionally been a large exporter of bulk products (grain, coal, fertilizer, potash, sulphur), the Port of Prince Rupert initially catered to these commodities. The Port of Prince Rupert’s Fairview Terminal started handling container shipping in 2007 and has since grown to be in the top twenty in container volume in North America. Expansion is also occurring at the port and the capacity will be expanded greatly to accommodate more container imports and exports. Currently, the capacity is around 850,000 TEU’s (twenty foot equivalent units) and after the current expansion is completed within the next year, the capacity will exceed 1.3 million TEU’s.
There are many advantages that the Port of Prince Rupert has over other North American west coast ports and they include:
- Excellent partnership with the rail provider (CN) to Prince Rupert
- Shorter rail time to major centres in North America due to lack of congestion on railway
- Lack of congestion at the actual port
- Shorter shipping times to and from Asian markets due to shortest shipping route
The following figures show the average in-gate times required to have product ready at the intermodal facility in order to transport and meet vessels at west coast ports in western Canada.
These charts and further information can be found at the following: The Van Horne Institute and searching under: Research & Development / Presentations / Study of Southern Alberta for Import and Export Opportunities for West Coast Ports. The direct link to all six reports are there and this is a link to Phase 1: Click here to access Phase 1 of the Report.
As Canadian National (CN) is the only railway that connects to the Port of Prince Rupert, they have developed a very solid relationship where they are working to grow together and this partnership works to the benefit of both parties.
CN has capacity to ship more product that is currently moving into and out of Prince Rupert and this allows the product to move with less delays on the railway to and from large cities such as Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto and Chicago on the CN rail network.
Because Prince Rupert is a city with a population of only about 15,000, there is not the extensive local market that the other major west coast ports deal with. Each of the other major ports has a large local population that is also serviced by the traffic into and out of the ports. This causes congestion both for truck traffic, people traffic and train traffic. The imported containers into the Port of Prince Rupert are generally all loaded onto a train and once the train is fully loaded, it can depart without having to deal with other congestion issues.
Due to the curvature of the planet, the Port of Prince Rupert is the closest major port in North America to Asian markets. The sailing times are generally about one day faster in each direction over the Port of Vancouver, the Northwest Seaport Alliance (Seattle region) and the Port of Portland. The further south, the wider the Pacific Ocean is and the time advantage increases to be two to three days faster for ocean vessels to get to Prince Rupert from the large Asian ports.
The Port of Prince Rupert is also expanding other terminals. There have been announcements for a new propane terminal (with AltaGas) for the export of propane and other propane products through the Port of Prince Rupert. Additionally, Ray-Mont Logistics will be adding a facility capable of containerizing crops from traditional rail hopper cars into marine containers for export. This will greatly expand the Port’s ability to export pulse crops to Asian markets.
The Port of Prince Rupert used to be a smaller player in the large sandbox of ports but is quickly emerging to have a much larger presence. The ability to move products faster should not be ignored by shippers in North America wanting to get their products to market faster and more efficiently.