Rail intermodal traffic consists primarily of retail goods in overseas containers transported by train, ship, and truck; and in domestic containers and 53-foot trailers moved by train and truck. Since Canadian railroads directly control the marketing of their intermodal services (in contrast to the United States where the service is wholesaled), the commercial pulse of the Class 1 railways in Canada can directly energize port traffic.
Intermodal traffic volume increased seven per cent for CP and 16 per cent for CN in the Second Quarter of 2017. With such a torrid growth rate, port officials and shippers are asking what the outlook will be for international intermodal traffic. This article explores several important topics with top Canadian National (CN) and Canadian Pacific (CP) representatives to help shippers make informed supply chain decisions.
The growth of international intermodal traffic in Canada is increasingly linked to North American economic and trade conditions. CN’s Jean-Jacques Ruest, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, noted that the international intermodal model is different in Canada and the U.S. “In Canada, there is not as much transloading as Los Angeles and Long Beach, for example,” he said. “In fact, the Prince Rupert international intermodal model is the total reverse of the southern California market. Vancouver is somewhere between Los Angeles/Long Beach and Prince Rupert. In the Canadian port market, the cargo and containers need to go inland.” In turn, this creates opportunities for export cargo to flow through either the Vancouver or Prince Rupert gateways.
In an interview with BC Shipping News, CP’s Jonathan Wahba, Vice President Sales and Marketing, Intermodal and Grain Canadian, said that “the direct relationship that railways have with customers has resulted in service innovation. For example, in the U.S., railroads do not offer generator sets for cool cargoes. Rather, they offer a clip-on service.”
The reach of CN’s international intermodal service extends to import and export container traffic at the ports of Vancouver, Prince Rupert, Montreal, Port of Saint John, Halifax, New Orleans and Mobile whereas CP’s international intermodal business consists primarily of containerized traffic moving between the ports of Vancouver, Montreal and New York and inland points across Canada and the U.S. Import traffic from the Port of Vancouver is mainly long-haul business destined for eastern Canada and the U.S. Midwest and Northeast.
On Canada’s Pacific Coast, CN is the clear international intermodal market leader. The company handles approximately 70 per cent of Vancouver’s container traffic and 100 per cent of Prince Rupert’s traffic. In January 2016, CN’s major container line contracts were renewed and they also picked up Yang Ming’s business following commencement of a new service for the container line at Vanterm and Centerm.