By Keith Norbury

By the middle of 2021 a new road will increase efficiency at the Porty of Prince Rupert by cutting the driving distance by three-quarters.

Construction on the $115 million Fairview-Ridley Connector Corridor project — which will link the Fairview container terminal and the Ridley Island and other facilities on the south end of Kaien Island — began in May 2019. As this went to press, the new road was about 60 per cent complete, said Shaun Stevenson, the president and chief executive officer of the Prince Rupert Port Authority.

“We’re on track to have that project complete by the end of Q2 of next year,” Mr. Stevenson said. “It effectively creates a dedicated haul road to the terminal that moves all the trucks out of the downtown core, but it also substantially expands our rail capacity south of the terminal.”

Various projects started or planned

The connector road is just one of several projects either underway or planned at the port during the next year.

In 2019, the federal government announced $153.7 million in National Trade Corridors Fund grants for three of those projects with a combined value of over $300 million. Those grants are $49.85 million toward nearly $100 in rail infrastructure to service the Ridley Island Export Logistics Platform project; $60.2 million toward the estimated $122 million Zanardi Bridge and Causeway project to enhance the Canadian National Railway’s port access; and $43.3 million to Metlakatla Development Corporation for the $89 million Metlakatla Import Logistics Park.

Unlike those projects, the connector corridor isn’t getting any National Trade Corridor Fund money. However, in 2018 the corridor did receive $15 million from the Asia-Pacific Gateway Initiative. The corridor will also support the Metlakatla Import Logistics Park and the export logistics platform project as well as any future intermodal terminal developments.

“It’s transformational,” Mr. Stevenson said of the corridor. “It’s going to improve the efficiency. It’s going to reduce costs. And it’s going to reduce our environmental impacts and carbon footprint.”

Mr. Stevenson doesn’t anticipate the economic fallout from the pandemic will alter the course of those projects or the federal government’s financial commitment to them.

“I think those commitments are pretty firm, so long as we continue to be committed to the projects,” Mr. Stevenson said. “Prince Rupert, along with the other ports within the Canadian port system, have certainly been strong advocates for seeing the NTCF fund added to as a source of economic stimulus and economic recovery out of the COVID challenge here. But we’ve certainly had no indication of any change in priorities and are hopeful that there’ll be further investments in ports.”

None of the projects are expected to interrupt operations at the port during construction. The export logistics park will expand next to an existing facility. The current single-lane rail bridge Zanardi Bridge will operate as normal during construction of the new two-track bridge. And the Metlakatla import logistics park is a greenfield project.

Also planned are expansions to the port’s Fairview container terminal, construction of a second container terminal by the end of the decade, and a proposal by Netherlands-based Royal Vopak for a large liquid bulk terminal to complement AltaGas Ltd.’s Ridley Island Propane Export Terminal that began operation in 2019.

Meandering route replacement

The connector-corridor will reduce what is now a 21-kilometre trip between the Fairview and Ridley terminals down to 5.5 kilometres. The existing route follows a meandering question-mark-shaped loop along the east and north coast of mountainous Kaien Island on which Prince Rupert is situated. “Think of it as going 270 degrees,” Mr. Stevenson said with a laugh. In comparison, the new route is a straight shot along the island’s west coast.

“It profoundly shortens the connections between your export transload activities, import transload activities, and the terminal,” Mr. Stevenson said. “But just as important, it actually is an entirely private road. So trucks won’t even cross a public road.”

An increase in local export transload operators at the port has quadrupled the number of trucks transiting downtown Prince Rupert via highway 16 from 50 a day to 200. The connector will mean those trucks don’t have to travel through downtown.

“That’s a significant savings in terms of truck transit time and the ability to increase your truck turn times,” said Brian Friesen, the port authority’s vice-president of trade development and communications.

The Coast Tsimshian Northern Contractors Alliance, a joint venture between two Prince Rupert area First Nations and four northern B.C. contractors, is building the road. Joining Lax Kw’alaams Band and Metlakatla First Nation in the alliance are IDL Projects, Broadwater Industries, JV Driver Group, and Ruskin Construction, noted a recent item in the winter 2019 Lax Kw’alaams newsletter.

Export logistics platform imminent

About the time the connector corridor is completed, work should begin on the Ridley Island Export Logistics Platform project. “We’re looking to make a decision on this project and move into construction in Q2 of next year,” Mr. Friesen said.

Embedded within that project will be a large-scale off-dock container yard capable of handling 400,000 twenty-foot-equivalent shipping containers of exports a year. That’s “a big number,’ Mr. Friesen said. “We’re talking about establishing essentially eight million tonnes of export transload capacity, and then connecting it to Fairview terminal with theport authority-owned the road.”

The aim is to create “a closed-loop ecosystem dedicated to the movement of containers within it.” Information technology integration will enable containers to be pulled onto the terminal as needed, “as opposed to a push model that you see in other gateways,” Mr. Friesen said.

“This represents an absolute game changer,” he added. “This is a transformational project in Western Canada for exports.”

The goal is have the export logistics platform in operation by the end of 2023 to coincide with the next expansion phase of the Fairview container terminal.

The NTCF money for the Ridley Island Export Logistics Platform project will focus on expanding an existing rail loop on Ridley Island known as the Road Rail Utility Corridor, or RRUC. The new rail infrastructure will serve as a precursor to large-scale bulk and breakbulk transload facilities as well an integrated off-dock container yard. The export facility will replace current temporary facilities.

Once fully built, the new platform, which aims to attract private-sector warehouse and export transloading investments, is expected to handle large quantities of agricultural products, forest products, and plastic pellets. Those products will arrive by bulk car and then be loaded into containers. The goal is to increase the number of export containers — destined for Asia and elsewhere — to keep pace with import containers.

As Mr. Friesen said in 2019 when the federal funding was announced, “All Asian markets will benefit from this. And Canadian exporters will benefit from this capacity coming online and servicing new and existing markets.”

Bridge and causeway in planning stages

Work on the Canadian National Railway’s Zanardi Bridge and Causeway project is still in the planning and engineering stages, Mr. Stevenson said.

He said the causeway work will likely proceed first, possibly in 2021, “because it also relates to what we’re doing on the Ridley Island export logistics project,” Mr. Stevenson said.

The original scope of the rail bridge project was to keep the existing bridge and build a new double-track bridge. “And we’re looking at options and alternatives to that in concert with other investments CN is making on the northern mainline,” Mr. Stevenson said. “They’re putting in sidings immediately adjacent to the bridge, so that it decompresses the bridge as a source of potential bottleneck.”

The port and CN are also looking ahead to how many train pairs will access the port in the next three to five years, as terminal capacity expands, he added. Work on the bridge would likely be timed to coincide with the Fairview Terminal expansion in 2023 and be ready for the potential Royal Vopak project coming on stream in 2024.

At present, the single-track Zanardi Bridge provides the only rail link to Prince Rupert’s many terminals and other facilities. Named for the Zanardi Rapids that it crosses near Porpoise Harbour, the bridge connects with the CN mainline on the mainland to the south end of Kaien Island. Rail leads from the bridge also access northern Kaien Island facilities, such as Fairview Terminal, Westview Wood Pellet Terminal, the Northland Cruise Ship Terminal, and the Atlin Terminal. A causeway links Kaien Island to Ridley Island where other rails leads service Prince Rupert Grain Terminal and Ridley Terminal.

The port, which is partnering with CN on the bridge itself, is taking responsibility for the causeway part of the project.

Import logistics park in the clear

Site clearing, meanwhile, has already started on the Metlakatla Import Logistics Park, Mr. Stevenson said. The port is now working with the Metlakatla Development Corporation, the business arm of the Metlakatla First Nation, on reviewing the optimum site plans for the four sites that make up the project.

The facility, on a 25-hectare greenfield site on south Kaien Island about 10 kilometres from the city, will complement the Ridley Island Export Logistics Platform. The import logistics park will provide warehouse and transload operations, enabling importers to move ocean containers into domestic 53-foot truck trailers. Although the CN mainline is nearby, the facility won’t have a rail yard but will move containers to Fairview and back by road.

Container terminal expanding

Work on expansion of DP World’s Fairview Terminal is expected to begin soon, as early as the end of this year. “Certainly by the start of next year, that next phase of terminal expansion will begin,” Mr. Friesen said.

The expansion, which will increase the annual capacity of the container terminal to 1.8 million TEUs from 1.35 million, will happen in two phases.

“The first is expanding the footprint of the terminal to the south, and an additional container storage area and that will move the capacity up from 1.35 million TEUs to 1.6 million,” Mr. Friesen said. “The next component involves some additional rail infrastructure, an eighth dock gantry crane, some more equipment, realigning some of the areas where the administrative buildings are, and the maintenance shop. That’ll get DP World’s Fairview Terminal 1.8 million TEUs by the end of 2023.”

Driving the urgency to expand the terminal is that in 2019 it handled 1.2 million TEUs, close to its capacity. That came on the heels of the terminal handling one million TEUs in a year for the first time in 2018.

That milestone prompted Maksim Mihic, general manager of DP World (Canada) Inc., to say at the time, “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.” 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.

“We’ve got a great partner in DP World who has invested heavily in this gateway and continues to do so,” Mr. Friesen said.

A three-year expansion of the terminal, completed in 2017, increased annual container capacity by 500,000 TEUs. It also added 11 hectares to the terminals’ footprint as well as 6,000 feet of on-dock rail. That work also included a second berth and three Malacca-max cranes capable of handling ships of 20,000 TEU capacity. So far, 14,000 TEUs is the largest container ship to call at Fairview. But Prince Rupert is ready for that eventuality and more.

Second container terminal site IDed

The port authority has also identified a site for a second container terminal on south Kaien Island, which could accommodate up to three berths but would likely start as a two-berth facility.

“The vision here is to create four million TEUs plus of terminal capacity in the next decade,” Mr. Friesen said.

The establishment of the container terminal in 2007 was a key point in the Port of Prince Rupert’s history. Before that, Prince Rupert focused on breakbulk and bulk cargoes, many of which are now also finding their way into containers. The container terminal spurred the port’s transition from a regional gateway to an international gateway for a strategic trade corridor in the North American heartland.

In 2008, its first year of operation under original operator Maher Terminals of New Jersey, Fairview handled on 183,523 TEUs. Since then it has become one of the major terminals for DP World, which bought its operating rights in 2015 and which has more than 150 operations in more than 45 countries.

Large liquid bulk terminal proposed

Also expected to go ahead in the foreseeable future is the proposal by Royal Vopak for a large liquid bulk terminal near the Ridley Island Propane Export Terminal, a.k.a. RIPET.

“We anticipate a final investment decision from Royal Vopak at some point later next year,” Mr. Friesen said. “That’s a significant project. We’ve got a big opportunity here in Western Canada to export LPGs and natural gas liquids to markets in Asia.”

Royal Vopak already owns 30 per cent of RIPET through a Canadian subsidiary. The proposed bulk terminal would export six million to 10 million tons annually of such fuels as propane, butane, methanol, and diesel.

“If you want to see the natural gas sectors thrive in Western Canada, you need to find a market access solution for the lucrative butane and propane,” Mr. Stevenson said. “We see the potential for Prince Rupert to be that hub for Western Canada.”

Calgary-based Pembina is also planning an LPG export terminal on Watson Island’s Porpoise Harbour, near the Zanardi Bridge. The company expected the facility to have an initial permitted capacity of 25,000 barrels per day when it goes into operation in early 2021. However, in March, Pembina announced it was putting its $175 million Prince Rupert terminal expansion on hold because of the pandemic and the drop in global energy prices.

“We see the role of Prince Rupert can play in breathing some life into the natural gas sector, beyond what they’re talking about with LNG, as pretty material for the viability for that sector,” Mr. Stevenson said.

While Prince Rupert has missed out on opportunities for a liquified natural gas facility, like the $40 billion LNG Canada project in Kitimat, Prince Rupert can help move those liquids that are byproducts of natural gas production.

“Our success in building capacity here for those is a direct correlation to how successful LNG Canada and other LNG projects are,” Mr. Stevenson said. “We’ve got a couple billion of capital expansion going on in Prince Rupert. It’s not the scale of an LNG project, but I think it is a good sustainable rate of growth.”