The old adage to head west has been reversed as increased cargo volumes to Canada’s East Coast have resulted in a corresponding uptick in infrastructure upgrades and other investments by ports from Montreal to Halifax.
The reasons for market share gains made by East Coast ports have been credited to improvements to the Suez and Panama Canals and free trade deals like the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which in turn have fuelled big growth-sustaining projects like the Port of Montreal’s planned Contrecoeur container terminal and the Laurentia intermodal container terminal—a partnership between CN, the Port of Quebec and Hutchison Ports—opening in the Spring of 2024.
“It’s all about the cheapest way to get it to destination,” says Michael Broad, president of the Canadian Shipping Federation, whose organization represents some 250 shipping lines worldwide. “Money is a prime driver. Everything is cargo driven and shipping costs drive cargo. At the end of the day freight goes where it costs less.”
The proof is in the numbers.
In Montreal, the port has enjoyed a 17 per cent compounded increase in volume since 2017, and 2019 saw a sixth consecutive year of growth in the total volume of goods handled, surpassing 40 million tonnes for the first time in its history.
“We’re expanding and investing heavily in infrastructure because of what we’re seeing and experiencing,” says Tony Boemi, vice president growth and development at the Port of Montreal.
The port is also investing $55 million to add six kms of track to its own 12-km, on-site railway network infrastructure and adding another 250,000 TEU capacity to its Viau container terminal—not to mention the planned Contrecoeur project, which will add 1.1 million TEUs if and when it opens as planned in 2023.
That growth has also seen the port step up its investments on the technology side, including a fully public portal on the Internet that provides real-time information on traffic in Montreal and the port. In December, a new version of the portal was activated that features 24-hour, AI-driven predictive models for traffic, which helps to optimize service to the port by helping truckers avoid areas of traffic congestion in the city.
One hundred and seventy nautical miles up the St. Lawrence a partnership between CN, Hutchison Ports and the Port of Quebec claims it will pioneer new import/export supply chain routes between Asia, the Mediterranean and Europe and central Canada and the U.S. Midwest with the construction of a 700,000-TEU deep-water container terminal
According to CN, the $775 million Laurentia terminal project will have direct access to its mainline rail network that reaches a combined population of 125 million people in the U.S. Midwest and regions of Ontario. From Quebec, rail transit times and supply chain costs to central hubs like Chicago and Toronto will be advantageous compared with those from New York and New Jersey.
“In an economy driven by consumer spending derived freight, long haul supply chains need to be modern, cost effective and reliable. We are confident that we are partnering with a group that can make the project a success,” said CN president and CEO JJ Ruest, when the project was launched last Spring.
At the Port of Halifax, where cargo volumes increased 48 per cent from 2013 to 2018, a terminal extension project—scheduled for completion this month—will allow the port’s South End Terminal to simultaneously handle two vessels of 14,000 to 15,000 TEUs.
The Canadian-European trade agreement has given Halifax in particular, a boost in marine cargo and the recently-hired Halifax Port Authority president and CEO Captain Allan Gray says he sees more opportunities in Europe that will help the port reach its goal of becoming Canada’s Ultra Atlantic Gateway.
Not to be left out is the New Brunswick’s Port of Belledune, which has seen its cargo volumes grow more than 25 per cent since 2016. It is currently in the midst of $34 million expansion project that will improve the port’s ability to move cargo between its four terminals and to and from ships.
“It essentially gives us more space to bring in more materials,” claims CEO Denis Caron. “We’re actually running out of space to store that material on so this project gives us more space.”
PORT OF BELLEDUNE – Port with a Plan
Buoyed by a new expansion project, New Brunswick’s Port of Belledune sets sail for its next 50 years
By Carroll McCormick
In the four years since Denis Caron became the Port of Belledune’s new CEO, port tonnage increased 27 per cent, to nearly three million metric tonnes (MT). “We’re under new management,” he says, and plans are in play to improve the port’s position.
To remedy structural inefficiencies in how the port handles cargo, made more evident by the increase in bulk traffic, the Belledune Port Authority launched a $34-million capital program last year. It will address on-site bottlenecks, enable better use of underutilised equipment and shock proof the port against the most dire consequence of climate change to a seaside business: The rise in sea level.
Located deep inside the Chaleur Bay, off the Gulf of St. Lawrence in northern New Brunswick, the port facility celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018, exactly eighteen years after the Belledune Port Authority was created.
Belledune is a deep-water, year-round port with four terminals that specializes in bulk commodity products. Terminals 1 and 2 are connected by conveyors and pipelines to warehouses and tank farms. Terminals 3 and 4 have a combined 67.4 acres of outside storage space for ro-ro, break bulk, project cargo, and bulk commodities, plus warehouse space for element-sensitive products. Sitting pretty on the shore of Chaleur Bay, there are no obstacles between it and the Atlantic Ocean. “It really is a gem of a port,” Caron enthuses.
According to the Port Authority, the port is approximately a day’s sailing closer to Europe than Halifax or Saint John and it is plugged into the continent’s rail system via CN’s Newcastle Subdivision, and to the world via the nearby Bathurst and Charlo airports, which are vital in supporting business operations.
Caron, who grew up in the area, returned home after a 30-plus-year career as a public servant with the New Brunswick provincial government. The region, once a booming resource area, has endured its fair share of challenges. Just last year the region lost hundreds of jobs and the port lost business with the shutdown of the Glencore Brunswick Smelter.
“In the 1970s the area was booming. It was an industrial hub for the province. But through the years, [and] a lack of technology and investment, many industries pulled up stakes and left,” Caron says.
But to Caron, the port is ripe with potential. With a view of the port from his office window, he told Canadian Shipper about how he has kicked the port into a higher gear.
“Our business model here at the port had to change. [I asked] what are some of its features and benefits? We run a year-round operation. We have the rail service. We have over 1,600 acres of land, with the possibility of acquiring more.
“I also thought to myself, we can lay claim to be the entry and exit port in Canada. What products do we have, what products can we buy? We looked at four key sectors: energy, such as coal and pet coke; forestry, like lumber and wood chips; mining and minerals; and agriculture, such as grain and fertilizer. Looking at it that way you can zero in on sub-products and be more focused.”
Caron decided that the port should strengthen its relationship with Quebec Stevedoring Company Limited (QSL), whose Eastern division is the terminal operator for Terminals 3 and 4, and the provider of stevedoring services to three terminals. “They know what their clients are looking for. We suggested we work together and position ourselves as one of the key ports in their business. [We asked,] ‘What are your needs in working, going forward and developing opportunities?’ We established a rapport,” Caron explains.
The result so far has been positive: QSL’s tonnage is up, and the products the port handles has increased from fewer than a dozen in 2015, to 26 today. They range from armour stone to lead concentrate to wood chips. Jobs-wise, the Belledune Port Authority reports that by 2018 its activities were supporting 3,058 direct, induced and indirect jobs, compared to just under 2,000 jobs in 2014.
The capital program is jointly funded by a $5 million grant and a loan of up to $2 million under the Northern New Brunswick Economic Development and Innovation Fund from the provincial government, a $17-million federal government contribution under the National Trade Corridors Fund, and a $10 million investment from the Port Authority.
“The Port’s focus is on the fluidity of the supply chain, as this is essential in developing competitive business models for global exporting,” read the statement announcing the project. “The project will help in creating greater access to international trade for Canadian businesses by offering a more efficient and effective port experience for clients through improving the current capacities.”
The work began last year with the preloading of Terminal 4 with a 250,000 tonnes of rock fill to compact and stabilize it. “Terminal 4 was conceived for equipment, windmill parts, but our development has occurred around bulk products. They are much heavier. If you have a terminal that is not stable or even this is a problem,” explains Caron.
The Terminal 4 laydown area was also raised by an average of 1.25 metres (it was a metre lower than Terminal 3.) “We noticed in the last number of years, when we have major storms, we get a lot of wave action and water up onto Terminal 4. We are taking immediate action on that,” says Caron.
Transport Canada has granted the Belledune Port Authority $80,000 to carry out a Climate Risk Assessment for all port infrastructure, which is expected to be completed this year.
The contractor completed the stabilization work last October, and the laydown area was immediately paved. One of the next steps will be to raise the wharf deck by one metre.
Next up, a 3.7-acre water lot, currently the tug wharf berth area separating Terminals 3 and 4, will be filled in to create one continuous berth. “Cargo is unloaded at Terminal 3, then the material is brought to Terminal 4. The handling and loading and unloading become very costly,” says Caron.
“The infill between Terminals 3 and 4 will improve operational efficiency and safety as well as increase capacity for cargo handling,” notes Alysha Elliot, a spokesperson for the New Brunswick Regional Development Corporation.
Terminal 3 will be expanded by infilling nearly 20 acres of harbour between it and the shore to accommodate ongoing and future increases in bulk cargo traffic. The current plan is to carry out this work at the tail end of the overall project, however the Belledune Port Authority acknowledges that the sequence in which the work will be carried out may be revised due to various circumstances.
Real estate reality
The terminals stand between the water and the port’s huge Modular Fabrication Facilities, situated about a kilometre inland. They are close to the rail line and right beside the highway. The Belledune Port Authority is considering selling it, as well as some of their other above-asphalt facilities, but retaining ownership of the land, with the goal of further increasing efficiencies and cost-savings.
“Is it wise for us to own that real estate and cover the costs, or look to someone to attract and use that building for their business needs, and us look at our core competency?” asks Caron. “The buildings have been underutilized. Major firms have been unaware of them. It is a marketing issue that will be resolved. We are looking at optimizing and maximizing our existing infrastructure.”
Then there are the conveyors owned by Glencore and NB Power on the port property. “The NB Power conveyor system is about two kilometres long. It is used at 20 per cent capacity. We are looking at ways to use that infrastructure to the benefit of ourselves and our tenants and clients,” says Caron.
The Belledune Port Authority is also looking to increase its transshipment activities. It is already transshipping products such as pyrophyllite, silica sand, and bauxite across the Chaleur Bay to Port Daniel, located in Port-Daniel–Gascons, Quebec, and Caron sees no reason why Belledune cannot be a bigger player in transshipments destined for the Great Lakes, or down the East Coast, for that matter. “We can handle vessels of 60,000 to 70,000 tonnes. We are looking at transshipment opportunities,” he says.
Then there is the main CN rail line running approximately 3.5 kms from the terminals, and which serves the port via a spur line. While CN’s 2019 revised three-year rail network plan lists its Newcastle Subdivision sections from milepost zero to milepost 173 as “retain,” the line has been in jeopardy several times in the past few years and the New Brunswick government has had to step in with funds. But it could face closure yet if freight traffic dips too low.
On the potential of rail, Caron comments. “One of the areas we’ve been exploring is shipping by rail to inland North America. We have lumber products here next door to us and most of the product right now is destined for the U.K.”
Invoking the name of QSL again, as a strategic partner, Caron notes, “However, QSL operates the rail yard for lumber in Chicago. They can be the connection to that market as well.”
Whether it is looking to more shipping to the Arctic, up the Saint Lawrence, down the Eastern Seaboard or bringing in raw materials for on-site processing, creating value-added products and forwarding, the Belledune Port Authority is preparing, both with a self-assessment of areas requiring improvement, and in upgrading its infrastructure.
Yes, there are challenges, such as the likelihood that New Brunswick Power will eventually go off coal and pet coke, a high-tonnage customer that brought 328,540 MT of pet coke into the Port from the U.S., in addition to 816,947 MT of coal in 2018, for example. On the other hand, the possibility that Toronto-based Maritime Iron Inc. could build a $1.5 billion iron ore processing plant projected to produce 1.5 million tonnes of pig iron a year in Belledune is still in play.
Caron points to the Port’s return on revenue, which, he says, has increased from 20 per cent in 2015 to 33 per cent in 2018. An optimist who has already made a difference, he says of the port, “We feel we have a clean slate to develop. I really believe we can do 30 million tonnes a year.”
PORT OF MONTREAL – Collison Course
Digital innovation at the Port of Montreal has accelerated since its partnerships with a local tech incubator
By Mark Cardwell
Daniel Olivier says that from an infrastructure perspective the Port of Montreal can’t hope to match the multi-billion-dollar investments being made by many of its deep-water, deep-pocketed North American rivals.
But from an organizational viewpoint he says the port can, and does compete with the world’s elite by following a strategy focused on the development of innovation and visionary technologies and digital solutions that serve the whole of the Montreal supply chain.
“We’re on a river so we have limited capacity (and) it’s pretty clear we’re not going to compete with the capital expenditure envelopes of ports like New York City or Los Angeles,” said Olivier, the Port of Montreal’s director business intelligence and innovation. “So innovation is the core component of our business model. We want to become North America’s smart port.”
A geographer by trade with a PhD in maritime transport geography from the University of Hong Kong—the so-called ‘Harvard of the East’—Olivier leads a four-person team that works to design, spearhead and manage the development and implementation of digital solutions to organizational and operational problems identified by the Montreal Port Authority (MPA).
Start me up
The most recent innovations have come from the port’s participation in Centech, a world-class tech business incubator and accelerator for budding technology companies.
Created in 1996 by the engineering school at the Université du Québec à Montréal and housed in the old planetarium in the city’s downtown core, the start-up launcher has three programs—Acceleration, Propulsion and Collision—that provide tools, technologies and business opportunities for the design and development of new products.
Centech is also part of a fast-growing AI ecosystem that makes Montreal one of the world’s leading hotbeds for deep machine learning with more than 100,000 experts, researchers, students and workers in AI and AI-related fields.
In late 2018, the Port of Montreal joined nearly a dozen major companies—among them German engineering and industrial manufacturing giant Siemens and Canadian flight simulator manufacturer CAE—in Centech’s Collision program.
Under the program, in-house technological experts from participant companies meet with start-ups and doctoral students from several universities to explain their real-life business problems and challenges and to discuss possible digital solutions.
The most promising ideas are developed under contract in fast-paced, four-month cycles. Work on the port’s projects is carried out in a dedicated 600-square-foot workspace in the old planetarium nearby.
According to Olivier, the Port of Montreal has so far done four projects aimed at developing scalable digital solutions to address challenges faced by the Montreal cargo community in four areas: supply chain visibility and freight mobility; cyber security; process improvement and agility; and supply chain decarbonisation.
The showcase project developed so far by the port’s Centech-based logistics innovation unit—which Olivier says is the first of its kind for a port in North America—is the Digital Twin.
Developed by two UQAM grad students at Centech, it provides an immersive, three-dimensional modelling experience of port locations and facilities that can be used for everything from infrastructure planning to fire prevention simulations and training.
“It’s very useful to have such a design tool available to us,” Olivier said about the port’s digital clone, which was produced using photos taken by drones and augmented reality software and technology from Montreal high-tech firms PreVu3D and ARA Robotics.
In addition to helping to improve and optimize planning and operational conditions at the Port of Montreal, Olivier said the same digital cloning technology can be used to help in the design and development of other sites or projects like the Contrecoeur container terminal.
Construction of the nearly $1-billion project is expected to begin later this year. Designed to support the growth of the container market in Eastern Canada, the terminal is designed to handle 1.15 TEUs a year with two berths, an intermodal rail yard and an entry portal through which 1,200 trucks a day will pass.
“This technology allows us to introduce and import objects that you’d find in a typical container terminal like truck gates and container stacks,” said Olivier. “We can also add and remove things to optimize our operations and traffic flow.”
Other innovative projects the Port of Montreal has developed with partners through Centech are an AI-powered container inspection device to scan inbound truck containers for seals, placards and rust and to detect anomalies.
“It helps to facilitate, streamline and speed up the human verification process and increase truck fluidity,” said Olivier.
Another Centech-spun project—an automated labour dispatch app—contacts replacement workers automatically when vacancies arise and features pre-programmed labour contract parameters.
“We’re leveraging data over bricks and mortar,” said Olivier. “We’re migrating away from being a traditional infrastructure provider to a hub of digital solutions that serves the Montreal supply chain.”
Olivier considers the advent of Centech and other local initiatives like Scale AI, one of five Canadian government-backed, super-cluster networks of businesses, academics and start-ups that is devoted to the rapid creation, adoption and integration of AI in the supply chain, as a godsend for economic development in an increasingly AI-dependent world.
“The beauty of Centech is that it helps us fast-track our innovations and reduce costs,” he said. This puts it at the forefront of the marine sector’s movement towards a future where emerging technologies, efficiency and sustainable development go hand-in-hand. Instead of the traditional procurement process where you identify the problem you draft solutions and then contract out solutions—which is long and expensive—this open innovation approach is fast, easy and cheap. From Day 1 we working with people to co-create and co-innovate solutions to our problems.”
The Centech projects come on the heels of other successful high-tech innovations the Port of Montreal has adopted. It was one of the first ports, for example, to join TradeLens, a blockchain-enabled digital shipping platform, jointly developed by A.P. Moller-Maersk and IBM.
In 2016, the port introduced a fully public portal on the Internet that provides real-time information on traffic in and Montreal and the port.
“It’s really helped to optimize service to the port by helping truckers avoid areas of traffic congestion in the city,” said Olivier.
In December, a new version of the portal was activated that features 24-hour, AI-driven predictive models for traffic. “We’re the only port in the world with that,” Olivier said about the technology, which was developed as the result of a hackathon (speed dating-like events to bring together developers, start ups and investors in the world of software development) that was organized by the Montreal Board of Trade for the Port of Montreal and the Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport.
According to Olivier, the port’s focus on innovation and visionary technologies as part of its development strategy reached a major milestone three years ago when it joined the chainPORT group.
Founded and led by the ports of Hamburg and Los Angeles, chainPORT is an international partnership of a dozen ports that share knowledge and innovations about digital tools to help improve their use of existing infrastructures and to plan and maintain sustainable future growth.
Other group members include the ports of Antwerp, Barcelona, Busan, Felixstowe, Indonesia, Panama, Rotterdam, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Singapore, as well as the Global Institute of Logistics, a non-profit group founded in 2003 by U.S. logistics guru Kieran Ring to promote “joined up thinking” among global supply chain stakeholders.
The organization notably features working groups that meet online and/or at annual meetings to discuss, share and develop ideas and strategies on four themes: smart IT solutions (such as standardization in data formatting and terminology between maritime and logistics partners, data exchange between ports, cyber resilience, and hackathons); global maritime logistics; shaping the digital culture in port authorities; and the chainPORT Academy, an annual continuing-education IT event for port and partner employees.
“It’s a terrific international forum for high-tech learning and development,” said Olivier, who was a speaker at the Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona last November, an event dubbed ‘Smart Ports, Piers of the Future’ that was co-organized by the ports of Montreal, Antwerp, Hamburg, Los Angeles and Rotterdam.
“We are working to leverage these fantastic digital tools to help optimize the flow of goods and traffic and to create a chain of intelligent ports around the world that communicate with one another, their customers and local and regional supply chains,” said Olivier. “This collective thinking is not only great for our port but the future of the marine industry as a whole.”
PORT OF HALIFAX – No Gray Area
Growth and prosperity for the port are the goals of the Halifax Port Authority’s new leader, Captain Allan Gray
By Tom Peters
With his strong Australian accent, Captain Allan Gray’s voice exudes optimism and excitement, not only for his new position as president and CEO of the Halifax Port Authority (HPA), but also for the future growth and prosperity of the port.
Gray, who says Halifax has a “similar style port as Fremantle,” where he was harbour master and general manager port operations of Fremantle Ports in Perth, chose Halifax because the city is “going through a lot of growth. The port has got potential to grow so I looked at it as an exciting opportunity and to bring some of the experience and global perspective that I have, but it is just exciting. The people I have met are full of optimism, which is terrific,” he told Canadian Shipper during a recent interview.
Captain Gray took over the top HPA position in November, succeeding Karen Oldfield who had held the position since 2002.
In announcing Captain Gray’s appointment, HPA Board Chair Hector Jacques said, “Captain Gray’s extensive experience in leading a large port with similar priorities and economic impact as our own, from container and bulk shipping to cruise and infrastructure expansion projects, will serve the growing Port of Halifax’s needs well. Our new CEO brings great depth and breadth of experience, and relationships in maritime transportation, shipping and cruise which will allow the Port of Halifax to continue to play an important role in growing Canada’s international trade.”
Captain Gray spent 20 years at sea and traded on various vessels from ro-ro, container, bulk and tankers. After his sea career he was involved in various marine safety management positions. He diversified into systems development and management with extensive experience in the operation of dynamic under keel clearance, berth warning systems, ship movement displays and real time geographic information systems.
During his initial days in Halifax, Captain Gray has been immersing himself in the issues and challenges of the port and discussing strategies for growth.
In each of the past three years the Port of Halifax has handled approximately 550,000 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units). There is still plenty of unused capacity at the port which Captain Gray has visions of filling. He plans to further develop markets in the U.S. Midwest and Central Canada plus expand others.
Looking to the future, he says normal growth at the port will likely be one to three per cent based on population and normal GDP (Gross Domestic Product). So, to build on that he points to the Midwest and the “inter-Canadian area” to develop more cargo “and the only way we are going to get that is by true reliable services by train. We have got to be able to turn (containers) around quickly. So shortly after a ship arrives, we have got to have containers headed out in 24 to 48 hours to their destinations.”
Building local exports is also part of the plan. With the many weekly shipping services into Halifax “it means you open up the export markets for Nova Scotia products. So it is important, from my perspective, that I do everything I can to keep Midwest growth going so I continue to have slots available for further growth in Nova Scotia and that’s certainly a target for the province, to get great export growth to both the airport and port,” he said.
For many years cargo from Europe was a mainstay for Halifax until stronger trade links shifted to Asia. However, in late 2016 Canada signed the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) with the European Union which many felt would be a big boost to marine cargo over Canadian ports. The increases haven’t been as dramatic as some might have expected but the new port CEO still sees opportunities in Europe.
Captain Gray says he has “seen some movement but [Europe] is always a tricky market. Europeans have lots of rules and you have to make sure your customers comply with those rules if you want to break into those markets. It is about working with our customers to make sure we get through those rules and comply. I think it will open up fairly well. The Great Circle route that Halifax is on coming from Europe and Asia, puts us in a good position to further expand opportunities there.”
Taking advantage of those opportunities also means efficient and effective rail infrastructure to and from the port.
In May, 2019, the Quebec Port Authority signed a major, long-term commercial agreement with Hutchison Ports and CN to build and operate a major, new container terminal. Should that agreement with Quebec be of concern for CN’s service to Halifax?
“CN has both Halifax and Quebec in its sights,” he said. But Captain Gray feels Halifax has an advantage because “we already have capacity and we don’t have to spend a lot of money to get there. From a competitive point, we are ready right now. We will see the big ships coming here very shortly and we can handle them. There is probably double the capacity across our two terminals in dealing with throughput so we are in a very competitive position.”
Captain Gray said Quebec has to stand up on its own business case, but added that CN President and CEO JJ Ruest has made it quite he wants to pull the cargo from Eastern ports on the rail system “and he is making sure he has covered both bases.”
Taking a bite out of business
While Quebec has signaled it plans to move into the container business in a big way, there are two container terminal proposals in Nova Scotia, that if developed, could bite into Halifax’s cargo business.
The Sydney proposed container terminal project and logistics park and the proposed Melford terminal and logistics park have been on the books for a number of years. Both say they are shovel ready and only need a long-term contract with a major carrier to start building.
At this point, Captain Gray’s tone didn’t denote any immediate concern.
“I think it is important across the whole port system in Canada that we provide a competitive system not a competing system,” he said. “Again, those ports need to stand on their own business cases as they go forward and it will depend on cost and volume available in the market. Time will tell on those but we are ready to go without a big spend so we are competitive.”
One of the ongoing projects at the port for the past several years has been the redevelopment of the waterfront or Seaport area. Former CEO Karen Oldfield, always felt it was important to bring people back to the port and worked with various retailers, institutions, organizations and levels of government to see that happen.
Captain Gray is excited about continuing the development of the waterfront as an attractive entity.
“I think having an area like Seaport, which is active and vibrant, is certainly something we are focused on to and to see that the Seaport area stays active and vibrant all year, not just in summer,” he said. He added that he would like to see come “connectivity” from the waterfront to a nearby park area.
“My thought is here we are in Halifax the port city, not the Port of Halifax and the city. I have been working with government on how do we collaborate more. I think that the waterfront and bringing people into the waterfront and the operational port environment is important. We are going to work with Develop Nova Scotia and others on how we get some innovative urban planning solutions which get greater connectivity between port operations and the city,” he said.
While Captain Gray continues the learning process at the port with its challenges and strategies, his vision is wide, not only to see Halifax prosper for the province but to see it grow into Canada’s Ultra Atlantic Gateway.