Vancouver whittling down box jam

Vancouver whittling down box jam

Canadian Pacific Railway was bringing in more equipment and juggling its schedule of trains to help clear a jam of more than 200,000 containers at the Port of Vancouver.

"Additional railcars are coming in to clear up the backlog," Chris Badger, vice-president for operations of the Vancouver Port Authority, said late Thursday.

The VPA reported 176,000 containers waiting to be loaded on CP Rail trains at its three terminals and 41,000 at the Fraser Surrey Docks, about 20 miles from Vancouver. Those numbers are expected to drop by week's end.

Following teleconferences between CP Rail, terminal operators, and Vancouver port authorities, Badger said, "everyone is very comfortable that we're going to see this number drop down in the next week or so."

There was no timeline as to when the backlog would be completely cleared.

At the same time, a threatened strike by 800 barge and tugboat operators could further complicate operations at Vancouver. "The impact on us could be significant," Badger said, but he was "very confident" the labor issue would be resolved.

Published reports quoted officials as saying a tug strike could cost the port $100 million per day.

Critics have blamed the container back-up on poor planning by CP Rail that left it short of cars to handle a surge in container traffic, and that it gave preference to more profitable bulk trains moving on its busy single-track bottleneck through British Columbia.

The railroad refuted those charges, saying the double-digit growth in container shipments "was unexpected and mostly unplanned by shipping lines, port and terminal operators."

In a letter to the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association, CP Rail Executive Vice-President Fred Green said that the railroad did not have the capacity to absorb container increases at the expense of growing bulk shipments.

Vancouver and CP Rail have disagreed on growth forecasts. The railroad has said that VPA and other forecasts are too optimistic. Badger said the port, with terminal operators, steamship companies and the railways, are working to develop a mutually agreed outlook.

"It's important to get agreement on what sustainable growth is," Badger said. He believed the various players were "getting close to an agreement" on information-sharing to build reliable estimates.