OPINION: Second Track, Second Chance for Port of Halifax
Posted January 26, 2019
Whether Halterm in the city’s south end has room for needed expansion has partly fuelled debate about moving the port to the Dartmouth side of the harbour. - FILE
By MURRAY METHERALL
In the week before Christmas, an inbound container train approached CN Rockingham on the Bedford highway led by two locomotives with one in the middle, and in total length stretched as far back as Clearwater Seafoods.
In the Financial Post story before Christmas, CN Rail CEO Jean-Jacques Ruest is quoted as wanting to “make a terminal ready for bigger things” by increasing efficiency with the capacity to handle trains over three kilometres long.
From an autumn of uncertainty and angst on the waterfront as the ongoing port saga unfolded, 2018 ended on a more hopeful and optimistic note.
Disappointed over being excluded from port infrastructure funding while other Canadian ports received lavish federal handouts, Halifax Port Authority began expansion on its own, dredging and extending Halterm to accommodate two of the next generation of mega-ships. (One of the ultra class vessels with nearly 12,000 containers docked last weekend as dredge barges and shovels began work.)
Business and the shipping industry hate uncertainty, and this past fall with the terminal up for sale and the apparent lack of government support to the port, container line executives could have been forgiven for calling up the mayor’s office to ask whether the Port of Halifax was going to continue to be there in the future. Now, with December’s announcement, the deal to purchase and expand Halterm has the potential, says Ruest, to make Halifax “the Prince Rupert of the East.”
The Port of Prince Rupert, B.C. is significantly north of Vancouver, but more importantly, it is also to the west by about 500 kilometres by ship, making Prince Rupert the closest North American port to Asia, thus reducing average ship transit time by roughly a day. The port authority website notes that Prince Rupert is 36 hours closer to Shanghai than Vancouver.
For time-sensitive cargo moving inland and because it cuts customer costs, this gives the same advantage that the Port of Halifax has for trans-Atlantic cargo, as Halifax is the closest North American port to Europe. Water depth, as in Halifax Harbour, is a major asset. The rail line from Prince Rupert, at one time the Grand Trunk Pacific, has the gentlest grade through the Rockies, making for faster service to the midwest. Starting in 2006 as a container port and moving only 182,000 twenty-foot equivalent units, Prince Rupert has seen explosive growth, becoming the third-busiest port in Canada and moving its millionth container last year on Dec. 18. Halifax is now the fourth-busiest port with total volumes around 500,000 TEUs.
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