By Keith Norbury

One million of anything is a significant measure — no matter what the category.

Port of Prince Rupert’s Fairview Container Terminal, operated by DP World (Canada) Inc., reached that milestone in December, making 2018 the first calendar year in which the facility handled a million standard shipping containers.

“DP World is proud to have achieved the million TEU milestone,” said Maksim Mihic, General Manager DP World (Canada) Inc. “We congratulate and thank the men and women whose hard work and dedication made this achievement possible. This accomplishment is also a testament to the strong collaboration and support amongst the supply chain and community partners.” Mr. Mihic noted that DP World shared the achievement with its partners, First Nations, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, the City of Prince Rupert, the Prince Rupert Port Authority, and Canadian National Railway. “DP World Prince Rupert is a vital link in enabling Canadian trade and this achievement reflects the potential of the port and is a sign of many more to come,” he added.

If container traffic volumes at the terminal are any indication, there will be plenty more records to be broken in the years ahead. TEU numbers at the container port were up 17 per cent in the first eight months of 2019 compared to that period last year. Should that trend continue for the year, the terminal will handle nearly 1.2 million TEUs — edging near its 1.35 million TEU capacity.

“Reaching one million TEUs in a calendar year is a significant milestone for the Port, which demonstrates the success we and our partners have had in building a strategic gateway for trans-Pacific trade, making Prince Rupert one of the fastest growing gateways in North America,” said Shaun Stevenson, President and CEO. “Reaching this milestone would not have been possible without the investment in expanding terminal capacity from DP World, and the strong partnerships with CN and the local ILWU in working together to continue to grow capacity while maintaining the speed and fluidity our shippers have come to expect.”

Tonnage growth was greatest on the import side — by 20 per cent, to 4.4 million tonnes, or 437,305 TEUs, compared with 3.6 million tonnes, or 364,081 TEUs, in the first eight months of 2018. But exports also grew, by 14 per cent, to 3.5 million tonnes from 3.0 million, year over year.

“The Prince Rupert growth story, in terms of our container business, certainly continues,” said Brian Friesen, the Port Authority’s VP of Trade Development and Communications. “It was big year last year. And for the year-to-date this year, volumes are up substantially.”

Even bigger growth is anticipated. A container terminal master plan completed this spring identified the potential for Prince Rupert to handle six million to seven million containers annually by developing multiple terminals. So don’t be surprised if multiple million milestones are soon surpassed.

The master plan — bolstered by research from AECOM, a global development and infrastructure planning firm — proposes a 2 million TEU-capacity terminal on south Kaien Island as the next phase of terminal expansion. That would come after an expansion of the existing Fairview Terminal currently in the works. Mr. Friesen said the new terminal would likely start as a two-berth, two-million-TEU facility. “Four million TEUs of capacity in Prince Rupert in the next ten years is the development vision that we’re working to,” he said.

Shortly after the master plan was announced, DP World’s Mr. Mihic gave it a thumbs up: “We fully support the Port’s development vision which enables Canadian trade and improves the balance between imports and exports through the northern corridor.”

In the more immediate future, a two-phase expansion plan is scheduled to begin this year that will increase Fairview Container Terminal’s capacity to 1.8 million TEUs by 2022. The latest plan comes on the heels of three-year expansion project that concluded in 2017. It expanded capacity by 500,000 TEUs, a project that added 6,000 feet of on-dock rail and increased the terminal footprint by 11 hectares.

The most recent completed work also included a second berth with three Malacca-max cranes — a configuration capable of handling the latest generations of massive 20,000 TEU container ships. So far no ship of that size has called at Prince Rupert — because those vessels now concentrate on Asia-Europe routes. However, Fairview has welcomed ships of up to 14,000 TEU capacity, Mr. Stevenson said. “I think it’s just a matter of time,” he said. “The great thing about the Port of Prince Rupert is we’re ready.”

The latest expansion project is currently in the permitting process, Mr. Mihic said. The project is still on target to expand capacity to 1.8 million TEUs by 2022.

“Expansion plan highlights include increased storage capacity, a new gate that will connect to Ridley Road and an increase in rail capacity from 18,000 to 24,000 feet, as well as the addition of a new ship-to-shore (STS) crane, two new rubber-tired gantry (RTG) cranes, a new maintenance building and a new operations building,” Mr. Mihic said.

Both the current container terminal and the proposed south Kaien site are near expanding export logistics operations on Ridley Island. Construction of the Fairview-Ridley Connector Corridor, scheduled for the end of 2020, will enable the operations to fully integrate.

JJ Ruest, President and CEO of Canadian National Railway, also praised the expansion plans. “The port of Prince Rupert continues to be an important part of CN’s supply chains to and from international markets,” Mr. Ruest said. “This strategic port provides a rail connection to key markets and its continued expansion will further solidify the port’s place as a world class gateway. Our recent record of capital investments further underpins our commitment to getting Canadian natural resources and consumer products to markets safely and efficiently. The Prince Rupert gateway is key to that strategy.”

Until 2007, Prince Rupert was focused on bulk and breakbulk and didn’t handle any containerized cargo. Today, more and more of that traditional breakbulk — such as lumber — is now finding its way into containers. The same goes for some traditional bulk cargoes, like potash. “I think the (container terminal) project represented a fundamental transition at the Port from being a regional gateway to a gateway that anchored a strategic trade corridor into the heart of North America, and with reach into key trading markets in Asia,” Mr. Stevenson said. “Everything we look at now is about the end-to-end supply chain optimization, and how we can create value and advantage, as opposed to just operating a terminal.”

The container terminal has come a long way since its first year of operation in 2008 when it handled 183,523 TEUs under its original operator, Maher Terminals of New Jersey. Fairview’s original capacity was 500,000 TEUs annually, although effective management and an efficient workforce enabled it to reach 776,412 TEUs in 2015. That was the same year DP World bought the operating rights to the container terminal. “Since the acquisition, we have focused on increasing Fairview terminal’s capacity to meet market demand,” Mr. Mihic said. “Its location, as the closest major North American port to Asia, combined with exceptional service, resulting in low dwell times, offers shippers a competitive advantage.”

Headquartered in Dubai, DP World is a truly global force with more than 150 operations in more than 45 countries on six continents. In 2018, DP World handled 71.4 million TEUs, with container handling generating more than half its revenue. “Prince Rupert is quickly becoming one of the major terminals in the DP World portfolio,” Mr. Mihic said.