Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Rail, not Road for Goods Movement - Transport Canada Report

There has been much talk about global trade; making BC the Pacific Gateway for goods from and shipping raw material to East Asia. And why not? With the new Prince Rupert container facility, Canada has the competitive advantage of having the shortest land/sea route into North America. There is host of reasons why Prince Rupert is a good place for shipping, and why the government should invest in this area.
This is Prince Rupert's strategic advantage. Low local population density means few land use, traffic, and rail congestion issues like those facing larger ports, such as Vancouver and Los Angeles. The Port of Prince Rupert links growing Asian markets with important commercial centers and has industrially-zoned land available for development by heavy industry.
In the Lower Mainland, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority operates some of the busiest facilities in North America and provides some 50,000 direct jobs. Their facilities also happen to be in the most populated area of the province. Insuring moment of goods is important for the Canadian economy as a whole, but it must be balanced with the needs of the local community. To that end, Transport Canada commissions a report titled ASIA PACIFIC GATEWAY AND CORRIDOR INITIATIVE (APGCI).

The report makes some great recommendations about how to keep the ports in the Lower Mainland humming while protecting our local communities. I would like to highlight one area in the report: Inland Terminals.

The concept is simple. Instead of having large intermodal facilities and truck unloading/loading at or near the port, you use rail to move goods from the port to an inland terminal that is away from congested areas like the Lower Mainland. As the report says, “virtually every port around the world is planning to use rail to move containers quickly to some variation of an inland terminal where processing and distribution can continue free of congestion. We believe such a strategy would be useful for Canada. Besides relieving port congestion, inland terminals create employment and economic opportunities elsewhere in the country. They also encourage farther-flung industries to link up to distribution systems, again spreading the benefit of the Pacific Gateway across more of Canada. Inland terminals can be especially important in generating a greater variety of alternatives to the use of empty containers heading back to Asia.”

The report states that trucks should be used for final delivery and rail used for long-hauls. It also calls on considering charging tolls for truck that access the port during peak congestion hours. This is very similar to the Alternate to Gateway report done by MP John Cummins.
A long term solution to the problem of congestion in Vancouver may require investment in superior exit and entry corridors for trains from the Port of Vancouver to a point east of the city. (The Alameda Corridor in Los Angeles and the new rail corridor in The Netherlands are interesting examples). Specialized corridors would eliminate much of the current congestion caused by trucks moving freight between terminals and around the region. We noted that Rotterdam, Los Angeles/Long Beach, Felixstowe in England, and Sydney and Melbourne in Australia had all created or were considering variations of this pattern of inland terminals serviced by special trains.

Different ports have developed creative and locally appropriate strategies to deal with local congestion. For example, Los Angeles/Long Beach had a severe problem of congestion during peak hours on major roads leading inland from the ports. The solution was to introduce a system known as “PierPass”, which charges a levy on any truck leaving the ports during certain hours.
With a proper rail system and inland terminals, as this federal report recommends, construction projects like the South Fraser Perimeter Road do not make sense for the economy or for the environment.

Canada can be a leader in goods movement between North America and East Asia. Rail is the key to accomplish this, and all levels of government should be working on making our rail system more efficient and modern.

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