As an international container hub, the Port of Montreal continues to grow in both size and volume.

Montreal is the second largest container port in Canada, the leading container port in Eastern Canada, and the fifth largest container port on North America’s east coast. It handled an unprecedented 1.54 million TEUs (20-foot equivalent unit containers) in 2017 and is well on its way to breaking that record this year. The number of TEUs moving through the port in the first eight months of 2018 was up 9.5 percent compared with the same period last year.

One in four marine containers handled in Canada moves through the Port of Montreal, which is the container port of Quebec and Ontario and the only container port on the St. Lawrence River.

“The Port of Montreal has numerous competitive advantages that allow container shipping lines and, in turn, importers and exporters to move cargo quickly and efficiently, at cost-effective prices,” said Sylvie Vachon, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Montreal Port Authority (MPA).

The Port of Montreal offers the most direct intermodal link between the vast markets of the European Union and North America’s industrial heartland. Strategically located 1,600 kilometres inland, it is the closest international container port to major distribution centres and consumer markets in Canada and the U.S. Midwest and Northeast.

Ten dedicated regular services operated by six global leaders in container shipping – CMA CGM, Hamburg Süd, Hapag-Lloyd, Maersk Line, Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) and OOCL – connect Montreal to more than 140 countries on every continent.

Indeed, Montreal is a freight transport hub that allows shippers to trade with the rest of the world. In particular, it is extremely well positioned to take full advantage of the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) with the European Union. Moreover, through transshipment ports near the Suez and Panama canals and in North Europe, the port handles cargo to and from Asia, the Middle East and other parts of the globe.

On this side of the Atlantic, Montreal serves as a strategic gateway for shipping lines. It provides access in two days or less to a market of 110 million consumers in Canada and the U.S.

“Throughout its history as a container port – and the Port of Montreal was one of the first in the world to establish a dedicated container terminal – Europe has been the most important market,” said Brian Slack, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Concordia University in Montreal and an expert on maritime transport and intermodality. “This market has grown over the years, and with the new free trade agreement with the EEC shipments have been growing by leaps and bounds.

“What is encouraging is that the markets are no longer restricted to the countries of Northwest Europe, but are now increasingly being shaped by trade with Southern Europe. Indeed, it is through the transshipment hubs in the Mediterranean that the Port of Montreal is attracting traffic from Asia. Today, the Port of Montreal has a global reach.

“Why is this so? The port serves as the primary gateway to Eastern Canada, a market of over 20 million, and because it provides access with efficient rail connections to the U.S. Midwest, Montreal presents an alternative to direct shipments via U.S. East Coast ports. Maybe Montreal is a niche port, but the niche is getting bigger all the time.”

Located at the heart of a regional logistics cluster, the Port of Montreal is also known for its collaborative work with the logistics and freight transportation sectors.

“The Port of Montreal is a model of collaboration,” said Mathieu Charbonneau, Executive Director of CargoM, the Logistic and Transportation Metropolitan Cluster of Montreal. “The port is involved in its community and in the entire logistics chain. Of note is its involvement in CargoM, which brings together the logistics and freight transportation industry in Greater Montreal.

“I think that the performance of ports in the future will involve a high level of collaboration with the logistics chain. The Port of Montreal is a leader when it comes to data sharing and developing innovations to improve the fluidity of the entire logistics chain.”

The Montreal Model

A system known across North America as the ‘Montreal Model’ optimizes the flow of containers in the port and provides for seamless transit.

The MPA operates its own unique on-dock railway system that is directly connected to Canadian National and Canadian Pacific and their North American networks. Container trains are assembled directly alongside vessels. There are daily departures to Toronto, Chicago and Detroit. Some 60 to 80 container trains move through the port each week.

The port is also connected to a national network of highways leading to Eastern and Western Canada and the U.S. Up to 2,500 trucks move through the port each day.

The Port of Montreal has four international container terminals to serve global carriers. Each of them can handle two post-Panamax vessels simultaneously.

Container market continues to grow

Montreal Gateway Terminals Partnership operates Cast and Racine terminals. Termont Montreal Inc. operates Maisonneuve and Viau terminals. Viau Terminal, which came online in 2016, will, at term, be able to handle 600,000 TEUs, ultimately increasing the port’s overall handling capacity on the island of Montreal to 2.1 million TEUs.

“Viau already is a great success in just two short years,” Ms. Vachon said. “It allows the port to maintain its enviable position in the container trade and handle growth in this sector.”

Bickerdike Terminal, operated by Empire Stevedoring Co. Ltd., handles domestic container traffic, mainly between Montreal and St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, on a service offered by Oceanex. A modernization project will occur at Bickerdike Terminal, with work beginning in 2019.

Looking to the future, the MPA has proposed the construction of a container terminal with a maximum annual capacity of 1.15 million TEUs on property that it owns in Contrecoeur, located approximately 40 kilometres downstream from Montreal (for further information, please see separate story in this Port Feature).

Montreal’s competitive advantages have encouraged more carriers to sail to the port and others to increase services. Most recently, Maersk Line, the world’s largest shipping company, launched a new exclusive transatlantic service – the Mediterranean-Montreal Express – in July. The five-vessel rotation stops in Salerno and La Spezia, Italy; Fos-sur-Mer, France; Algeciras, Spain; Montreal; Halifax; and Valencia, Spain.

“This new service strengthens the Port of Montreal’s position as a hub for the container market and will enable shippers to extend their global reach,” Ms. Vachon said.

“With the new service in place, we are confident that we can create opportunities for European and Canadian businesses which will offer them improved transportation solutions to cater to the demands of growing trade,” said Karsten Kildahl, Chief Executive for Maersk Line’s European Region.

Added Jack Mahoney, President of Maersk Line Canada: “With one agreement in effect to fuel Canadian imports and exports in the Atlantic and another one in the works for the Pacific, this represents only favourable wind behind the expansion of our services in Canada and enables our customers to reach new markets in Europe and Asia.”

In conjunction with the launch, Hamburg Süd, through its affiliation with Maersk Line, announced that it would offer a service through the Port of Montreal on the rotation. “With this new partnership, the Port of Montreal can now count on a sixth international line in its trading with the world,” Ms. Vachon said.

In other news, the port’s container terminal operators have permanently extended their gate hours from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday to Friday to handle increased volumes, demonstrating the port’s commitment to ensure fluidity and customer service.

Multifunctional port handles a wide variety of cargo

The Port of Montreal is a major diversified transshipment centre, welcoming more than 2,000 ships annually. It handled a record 38 million tonnes of cargo in 2017, up 7.6 percent over the previous year. Since 2010, the port’s total traffic has increased by close to 47 percent.

Some $41 billion worth of goods move through the port each year. Port activities in Montreal generate up to $2.1 billion in added value to the Canadian economy and support 16,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs.

In addition to containerized cargo, which reached a record 13.8 million tonnes in 2017, up 5.8 percent over the previous year, the port handles a wide variety of cargo in the dry and liquid bulk and breakbulk sectors. The port posted volume growth in every one of these categories in 2017.

As a dry bulk centre with 15 dedicated berths, the port serves numerous industries as a vital gateway for raw materials. It handles iron ore and various other minerals, de-icing salt, gypsum, gravel, raw sugar, fertilizer, scrap metals and other dry bulk commodities. The Montreal Port Authority partners with Logistec Stevedoring Inc. for its dry bulk stevedoring and handling services.

Viterra Inc. operates the port’s grain terminal, which has a total storage capacity of 260,000 tonnes. With vessel loading and unloading capacities of 5,500 tonnes and 3,000 tonnes per hour, respectively, it is one of the fastest and most efficient grain elevators on the St. Lawrence River.

CanEst Transit Inc. operates a facility that containerizes, stores, cleans, sifts and packages agricultural products. It is strategically located next to the port’s container terminals, which facilitates grain logistics and shipping.

Dry bulk traffic totalled 9.4 million tonnes in 2017, an increase of 10.8 percent over the previous year.

With 13 berths and a network of pipelines, the Port of Montreal is a leading centre for liquid bulk products such as petroleum products, and food and chemical products. Terminal operators include Montréal Norcan Terminal Inc., Shell Canada Products, Suncor Energy, Valero Energy Inc. and Vopak Terminals of Canada.

Liquid bulk traffic reached 14.7 million tonnes in 2017, up 7 percent over the previous year.

The port’s breakbulk terminals, operated by Logistec and Empire Stevedoring, can handle all types of breakbulk and general cargo, including out-of-gauge pieces. Breakbulk traffic totalled 229,410 tonnes in 2017, up 29.2 percent over the previous year.

In addition to six of the world’s leading international container shipping lines, other carriers serving the port include Algoma, Atlantic Ro-Ro Carriers, CTMA Group, Canada States Africa Line, Canada Steamship Lines, Canfornav, Fednav International and Fednav Atlantic Lakes Line (FALLINE), Nirint Shipping, Oceanex, Petro-Nav, Rigel Shipping Canada and Transport Desgagnés.

‘Ship Different’ through Port of Montreal

“At the Port of Montreal, we like to say it’s ‘Ship Different,’” says Sylvie Vachon, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Montreal Port Authority (MPA).

In fact, ‘Ship Different’ is a new tag line that the MPA has introduced to promote the port and its competitive advantages.

What does ‘Ship Different’ mean? Well, Montreal is a one-of-a-kind port model in North America. It benefits from its unique status as a ‘one-stop’ or ‘destination’ port: ships arrive in Montreal directly from ports in Europe, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean with no intermediate calls. They are completely unloaded and then reloaded again, departing full.

Because Montreal is a dedicated port of call, the amount of containers that it handles on both the import and export side is similar to that of all other major East Coast ports. Moreover, a 50-50 import-export trade balance ensures an optimal flow of goods.

“Our model is a cost-effective one for shipowners as it simplifies their logistics procedures and allows them to maximize vessel loading,” Ms. Vachon said. “This makes Montreal very attractive as we are a port that handles a balanced amount of import and export traffic.

“All of these unique assets allow us to offer highly competitive transportation costs and highly efficient logistics services to our carriers. Our uniqueness means that you ‘Ship Different’ when you choose the Port of Montreal.”