Thursday, July 22, 2010

Congestion looming (updated 2100)

1. Tucks line up at Halterm at 5 pm. At least fifty trucks still waiting to get in. At times during the day the line was twice this long.

2. OOCL Montreal and Valencia Express at Fairview Cove this evening. Both are diverted from Montreal

With diverted ships arriving daily and at least two "stacked" outside, there are now suggestions that the port will become jammed and congestion will further delay shipments.

Some in Halifax have resented the success of Montreal as a year round port. In the "good old days", i.e. before the mid 1960s, Montreal was strictly a summer port. It shut down for three to four months a year due to ice and shipping was diverted to Halifax, Saint John and US east coast ports.
With the advent of winter navigation that all changed, and Montreal has gone on to become the second largest container port in Canada after Vancouver.
In those "good old days" Halifax was only busy for a short winter season, and the rest of the year was a bit of a back water. Extra workers were brought in for the winter, including longshoremen, office clerks, rail workers, etc., But when Montreal went to year round work Halifax eventually benefited too and became a steady year round container port, but with about one third the volume of Montreal.
Now, with the port of Montreal shut down by a lock out, Halifax is all of a sudden inundated with extra cargo and some say it will soon become backlogged.

This could happen and this is why:
1. Halifax quite happily handles 500,000 TEU or so per year. Even so the road network strains to accommodate the trucks, especially downtown. A sudden spike in truck traffic will of course cause line ups and backlogging. New infrastructure cannot be built over night to handle added traffic.
The new main gate at Fairview Cove will be more efficient than the old one at Halterm (which is scheduled for expansion, but work has not started.) The road and street infrastructure will be taxed with what some say will be a doubling or tripling of port related truck traffic.
So although the port infrastructure can handle many more containers, the surrounding road infrastructure cannot.

2. The port itself can berth five container ships at one time. So add several extra ships a day to its ongoing business, and you will inevitably have delays. It will depend on train and truck service to get containers in and out of the two terminals promptly to prevent backlogs. There is sufficient labour and equipment to handle normal trade and extra trade, but there is a limit to how much overtime people are willing to work and how equipment will stand up to constant use.

3. CN Rail is the only rail line in Halifax. In order to handle increased traffic it will have to add more trains coming in and out, and it will have to do a lot more shunting. It can do this, and will. If it has the serviceable equipment and manpower, it should be able to handle whatever is thrown at it. However there will be delays simply because it takes time to accommodate extra trains on its tracks, and deal with "upstream" delays in Montreal and Toronto.

Another issue that will arise as part of the Montreal lock out is delays in Newfoundland traffic. Since Newfoundland is dependant on shipping, the Montreal lock out has caused major head aches. Oceanex Inc handles a good portion of that trade and Marine Atlantic handles the rest. With Montreal closed, Oceanex must re-deploy two of its ships to Halifax- that isn't a big problem in itself, but these ships must find berth space at container terminals that will now be very busy.
The bigger problem is that the container and RoRo cargo normally destined for or coming from Montreal must now be brought to Halifax, either by road or train. I have heard that Oceanex has contracted for one hundred trucks to carry container into and out of Halifax. Many of these boxes will be carrying perishables, which need to be moved quickly. And of course theses boxes originate from all over Canada, and were collected in Montreal for shipping.
Last night's container train out of Halifax was carrying an unprecedented number of Oceanex containers, but none of these were reefers.
Just the addition of the Newfoundland containers would be a significant boost to traffic in Halifax.


Just as a point of interest, CN has put on extra container trains. Starting yesterday an additional container train has been added, making two trains arriving and two trains departing per day. Each train may be up to 12,000 feet long.

Also of interest MSC (Mediterranean Shipping) is not using the train. All their containers are being trucked into and out of Halifax. This must be using hundreds of trucks per day. They seem to have signed up any available vehicle they could find, because some of the trucks I saw today were old and beat up. At least one broke down just after leaving the Fairview Cove terminal.

Oceanex seems to have had better luck with the trucks they have hired. I saw dozens of them today and most looked to be in good condition.

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