West Coast port capacity is surging, but can it be put to use?

(credit: Vancouver Fraser Port Authority)

From Prince Rupert down to Vancouver’s Fraser River ports, grain companies are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure for loading grain onto ships destined for overseas markets.

Just a few weeks ago, Raymont Logistics opened the only unit train stuffing facility on Canada’s west coast at Prince Rupert.

In Vancouver, on the north shore of Burrard Inlet, Richardson nearly doubled its terminal capacity in an expansion completed last year. Cargill has recently upgraded its railcar unloading infrastructure, and G3 is building the first new grain terminal in the area since the 1960s. G3’s facility will feature a rail loop track capable of holding three 134-car trains and is slated to open in 2019-2020.

(credit: Vancouver Fraser Port Authority; Colin Jewell Photography)

On the south shore, Viterra said it tripled the nameplate capacity of its Pacific port terminal last year, while Paterson and Parrish & Heimbecker are making upgrades at their Alliance Grain Terminal. The Alliance Grain owners are also working on a new export facility to the south on the Fraser River.

“You add all that stuff up over the past five years and that’s a lot of extra throughput there at the waterfront,” says David Przednowek, marketing manager, grain with CN Rail, in the interview below.

Nameplate capacity is one thing. Putting it to use is another, he notes.

(credit: Vancouver Fraser Port Authority)

There are still bottlenecks getting through the Rocky Mountains and the Greater Vancouver area, with traffic limited over bridges and tunnels, explains Przednowek. CN is hopeful the $2 billion (over 11 years) in the National Trade Corridor Fund announced by federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau in July can be used to reduce the congestion slowing commodities over the last few kilometres before reaching port terminals.

“We’re encouraged by (the National Trade Corridor Fund). We hope that’s going to provide funding for some of these significant capital projects that need to get done to take advantage of that export capacity at the West Coast,” he says.

What does this increased capacity mean for grain shipments east through the St. Lawrence corridor? Where’s the line on the prairies where grain is more likely to go east versus west? (Spoiler: it’s already east of Brandon.) How do ocean freight rates affect movement through east versus west corridors?

David Przednowek gives us an overview of the logistical factors that go into these grain handling investments and how grain companies move grain to market, ultimately affecting prices they offer to producers:

 

Kelvin Heppner

Kelvin Heppner is a field editor for Real Agriculture based near Altona, Manitoba. Prior to joining Real Ag he spent more than 10 years working in radio. He farms with his father near Rosenfeld, MB and is on Twitter at

@realag_kelvin

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