Port Metro Vancouver remained fluid during the first two days of a strike that shut down Canadian Pacific Railway’s operations throughout Canada, but if the job action continues much longer both container and bulk shipments will be severely affected, a port executive said Thursday.
Vancouver, like other ports on the Pacific Coast of North America, is heavily dependent upon rail, said Peter Xotta, vice president of planning and operations at Canada’s largest port.
Vancouver is served by CP, Canadian National Railway and BNSF Railway. The two Canadian rail carriers account for the vast majority of the port’s rail traffic, and they split the volume evenly.
The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, which represents 4,800 engineers, conductors and rail traffic controllers went on strike Wednesday in an attempt to stop CP from shifting workers to a cheaper pension plan. The union also said fatigue management issues haven’t been fully addressed.
Large-volume bulk exports such as coal and grain that CP was carrying to Vancouver have come to a halt. If the strike lasts a few more days, the entire supply chain for those commodities will be affected, Xotta said. Mines do not have much storage capacity, he noted.
Containerized imports that should be moving via CP’s intermodal rail service from Vancouver are starting to back up, and if the job action continues well into next week, the situation could become critical, Xotta said. The port has been meeting with private sector companies involved in the transport and receipt of intermodal shipments to discuss options in the event the strike continues much longer.
For every day that intermodal service is down, the supply chain is extended four to five days, Xotta said.
Other railroads that share stretches of track with CP are unable to send their trains through, said CP spokesman Ed Greenberg. “We don’t have the resources to do the interchange,” he said.
Canada’s labor minister said the government will introduce legislation on Monday designed to end the strike, but every day the strike continues Metro Port Vancouver’s customers will suffer, Xotta said.
“We encourage CP and the Teamsters to reach an agreement as soon as possible to preserve the port’s reputation,” she said.