By Tom Peters

The age-old issue of large trucks hauling shipping containers through the busy, narrow streets of downtown Halifax may soon be addressed in a major way.

The federal government recently announced it is investing $47.5 million for two projects that will increase capacity at the Port of Halifax to move Canadian goods to international markets, and secondly, upgrade the Windsor Street Exchange, a main access route to the port. The federal government is working in collaboration on these projects with the provincial and municipal governments plus CN, the rail provider, and the Halifax Port Authority (HPA).

Mike Davie, HPA’s Vice-President of Planning and Operations, said this is a great example of a collaborative effort across different levels of government to solve a number of problems. “The city’s project to redevelop the Windsor Street Exchange will not only give better access for container trucks accessing CN’s intermodal terminal and the Fairview Cove Container Terminal, but it will also provide better access for anyone driving in and around the area, trying to cross the MacKay Bridge or get downtown.”

Davie said the city’s project, coupled with the port’s project, will help address the urbanization issues happening in the city’s downtown. The port community, led by HPA, CN and the container terminal operators in Halifax, are committed to taking as many of the container trucks out of the downtown as possible.

“Essentially these are separate projects, but combined, they will increase efficiency for container trucks moving in and around the city. They will also take up to 75% of the full dry containers and empty containers that currently travel to the South End Container Terminal through the downtown and put them on rail,” Davie said.

Presently, there are approximately 400 to 500 container trucks moving daily through downtown Halifax, but that number often varies. Temperature-controlled containers (reefers), which carry items like seafood and other perishables, plus products such as pharmaceuticals and wine, will not be moved to rail at this point, said Davie.

“Temperature-controlled containers have a number of international regulations and there are insurance issues regarding how many times you can plug and unplug a reefer. So, looking long term, we will try our best to solve that problem and include those containers, but the process to try and do that will probably take a number of years,” Davie said.

Outlining the additional rail requirements for the port’s project, Davie said using existing infrastructure is a primary consideration, “so for the rail which runs from Halterm (South End Container Terminal) to Rockingham (CN’s marshaling area), there is absolutely no requirement to do anything to the rail cut or other infrastructure there.”

But according to Davie, “there may have to be densification of the current track system at the South End Container Terminal,” which will involve adding track within the existing HPA footprint to increase the number of cars CN can bring in.

“This is part of the detailed planning work we are working on now with CN and the terminals,” he said. “We need to make sure we are not going to do something that will effect future plans for the terminal, and at the same time CN has to have an efficient service that is able to do what we need it to do.”

CN currently runs a daily train between 10,000 feet and 15,000 feet, less length in the winter depending on conditions, between Halifax and Brampton. Davie said there are no plans currently for additional track at CN’s Rockingham yard.

As part of the project, the concept calls for the terminals to utilize “specifically designed, rail-mounted, electrically-driven cranes,” said Davie. “These cranes will span as many rail tracks as needed and they will work in tandem with other equipment at the terminal,” he added. The cranes will be more efficient and environmentally friendly, reducing the number of overall lifts without adding cost.

HPA President and CEO Karen Oldfield called the port project “a game changer.”

“This is the transformative change we have been working toward,” she said. “By better using the existing assets, we will be able to seize upon the economic opportunities that will come with larger vessels calling, increase the efficiency at our terminals and improve the quality of life for those living and working in Halifax by reducing the number of port-related container trucks in the downtown core of our city.”

The second project, led by Halifax Regional Municipality, will upgrade the Windsor Street Exchange. This work will include realigning the Bedford Highway, upgrading Lady Hammond Road and installing new traffic signals to improve traffic flow. These upgrades will reduce traffic congestion, improve safety and increase the reliability and efficiency of freight movements, says a federal government release.