By Tom Peters

Growth, stability and the reliability of container cargo movement over the port of Halifax is a collective effort of several port stakeholders. CN Rail is central to making it all work. “CN is the backbone of the port, certainly for the long haul moves. They get into the heart of big markets like Chicago and Toronto,” said Patrick Bohan, Director, Supply Chain Solutions, Halifax Port Authority. Rail accounts for almost 50 per cent of the port’s laden inland movement.

Halifax Port Authority (HPA) and CN rail give customers highly efficient ship-to-rail connections between ports in key North American consumer markets and to markets in India, Southeast Asia, Europe and the Caribbean, said CN’s Mark Hallman. “CN’s congestion free-line enables CN to assure customers of the fastest, most efficient, competitively priced, on-time service possible. Cargo entering the port of Halifax connects directly to CN’s main line at the dock. From the port, CN provides highly competitive intermodal service to Montreal, Toronto, Detroit, Chicago and Memphis,” he said.

When marketing the port, Halifax’s rail connections are a key factor, said Bohan. It’s usually on top of the priority list, he said. “All of the terminals have on-dock rail, we have daily train service and loads and loads of backup storage track. The rail infrastructure we have here is not something you will find everywhere you go. The terminals here were built with rail transfer in mind right from the beginning and I think we have unequalled rail equipment when it comes to the port,” he said.

The port’s South End Container Terminal, operated by Halterm Ltd., has 2,438 metres of on-dock rail while the Fairview Cove Container Terminal, operated by Ceres-Halifax, has 3,657 metres of on-dock rail. Both handle double-stack trains. Bohan also pointed out that “some of our other facilities like the grain elevator, Ocean Terminals and Richmond Terminals all have plenty of track for high volume moves.”

“As part of its commitment to continuous improvement, CN and Halifax Port Authority (HPA) along with Ceres -Halifax and Halterm Container Terminal Ltd., have signed an innovative and comprehensive Service Level Agreement (SLA),” said Hallman. “The agreement, dating back to 2010, establishes clear and defined performance standards for these Halifax Gateway partners regarding times for loading and unloading containers between vessels and cars, the timing of the placement of rail cars at the terminals and CN transit times to key markets in Eastern and Central Canada and the U.S. Midwest,” he said.

CN also has a strong supply chain collaboration relationship with Halifax Port Authority and its terminal operators, which has led to the G6 Alliance of APL, Hapag-Lloyd, HYMM, MOL , NYK & OOCL adding an export call to  South East Asia on its AZX service triggered by market demand, and the additions of CMA CGM, China Shipping Container Line and UASC adding Halifax as a first port of call on their Ocean Three service from Shanghai, the Pearl River, Hong Kong, Vietnam and South East Asia via the Suez Canal.

Further to cooperative efforts, HPA and CN have shared the cost of having representatives in India and Vietnam to market Port of Halifax as a gateway and CN as a rail connection to North America. The joint effort has “given us a global platform to work within a collaborative fashion,” said Bohan.

In efforts to build cargo and improve supply chain logistics, CN continues to see temperature-sensitive cargo as a growth opportunity. Halifax has approximately 1,000 reefer plugs which shows its commitment to this type of cargo, while CN has also invested significantly in new generator sets for containers with GPS and remote monitoring capability, said Hallman. “As part of CN’s 2015 equipment spending, CN plans to invest $20 million in the expansion of its cold supply capacity to help producers and distributors of chilled or frozen foods grow their businesses in North American and overseas markets,” he said. “CN is acquiring 200 more domestic, 53-foot temperature controlled containers which will add to the current fleet of containers circulating inside North America. CN is also acquiring 32 electrical generators to move 40-foot international marine reefers to and from CN served ports on CN intermodal trains. The power packs provide economies of scale by connecting up to 17 international marine containers at a time,” Hallman added.

In addition to CN’s freight capabilities, CN also operates its Autoport in Eastern Passage. In 2014 the facility handled in excess of 220,000 vehicles moving them to markets by rail, truck and ship. Approximately 200 people work at the 41-hectare Eastern Passage facility which receives automobiles from manufacturers in North America, Europe, Japan and Korea. With its own 262-metre marine dock and 5,574-square metres of service bay area, Autoport offers a full range of services where vehicles can undergo any required maintenance or inspection before distribution. The rail siding was expanded in 2013, increasing the spot capacity to 47 cars from 29 cars.

Vehicles from European manufacturers arrive by vessel, while they arrive by vessel and rail from West Coast and North American manufacturers. Vehicle distribution from Autoport is by rail serving all Canadian major destination ramps, by truck to the Maritime region and by ship to Newfoundland and Labrador. “Export of vehicles through Autoport is a growing business for CN and the facility,” said Hallman. “At this time the exported vehicles are produced in Canada and exported to Columbia as a result of a free trade agreement between the two countries,” he said.

On the trucking side, a critical part of CN’s supply chain solutions is its CNTL unit, one Canada’s largest, full-load trucking companies. The team consists of more than 700 drivers plus a fleet of 6,000 chassis and 6,000 containers. “CNTL delivers more than 1,300 loads a day, safely with a 90 per cent on time delivery record, making it a reliable choice for local pick-up and delivery needs,” said Hallman.

In addition to CN’s truck fleet and intermodal yard, the port works with various trucking firms and the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association as part of its supply chain system. “We have worked closely with Armour Transportation Systems over the years, as well Consolidated Fastfrate Transportation and their cross-dock operations in the Atlantic Gateway Logistics Park and a host of others, like Maritime Ontario and the Irving companies,” said Bohan.

Bohan said the trucking industry, which moves about 30 per cent of the port’s container cargo, has stepped up to support port operations with such facilities as Armour’s warehouse and transload operations. One of the several services Armour offers is the de-stuffing of marine containers which makes those containers quickly available for the marine trade.

“It is important to get that 40 foot container emptied and get that 53 footer loaded to go back to Central Canada,” said Bohan. “It’s important that there are enough 40 foot containers for the export industries like pulp and paper, and peat moss. Having containers de-stuffed quickly and efficiently has gone a long way toward eliminating some of the challenges we saw a dozen years ago.”

Keeping cargo moving through the Port of Halifax is vital, and over the years, Halifax Port Authority has invested significantly to make that happen. “I think the biggest infrastructure assist we gave the trucking segment was working to get new truck gates and marshalling facilities at Halterm and Ceres. That has enhanced the entire operation and increased efficiency in a significant way,” he said. And in the world of international shipping, an investment in efficiency is an investment in the future.