By Alex Binkley

Grain shipments have long been the staple business of the port of Thunder Bay, and the port of Hamilton is well known for its connection with the city’s steel industry. While those commodities will remain important to their financial health in the future, the two Port Authorities have been working to diversify their customer bases and in recent months have landed federal support for expansion projects.

Hamilton (HPA) received $17.7 million to expand its docking and rail capacity while Thunder Bay secured $7 million to increase its capacity for handling rail cars. HPA will contribute matching funds from its own resources that will also be used to improve roadways to a new container positioning depot, the Hamilton Container Terminal (HCT), says President and CEO Ian Hamilton. HCT has quickly gained popularity with truckers and the railways, and being located on Pier 15 could handle marine containers, says spokesman Sanjeev Saraf. “That would certainly be of interest to us but we need to build up volume before we can justify adding special equipment.” For now HCT is focused on expanding its services for container shippers in Hamilton and southwestern Ontario that want to send or receive cargo passing through the ports of Montreal and Halifax.

Steel and steel-making products account for almost 60 per cent of the volumes through Hamilton, with the remainder consisting of growing exports of Ontario-grown corn, wheat and soybeans, as well as agricultural inputs used to grow them, he said. In addition to marine cargo, the port handles an increasing amount of rail traffic to companies based on its land. In 2018, more than 6,000 rail cars transited the port, double the level of five years ago. HPA aims to expand rail service to all parts of the port and bring in $80 million to $90 million in new business. Hamilton said the expansion project is needed because the port “is virtually out of room to grow, yet has unmet demand from users who want to invest in trade-oriented business in Ontario.”

HPA plans to build a new dock face for the port’s busiest pier while the track upgrades will enable other railways to access the port. Storage capacity will be increased with a new warehouse for multi-user bulk storage, and cargo laydown areas will be graded and paved. With its increased capacity, HPA anticipates improved trade connections to European, African and South American markets while promoting a greater flow of cargo through its facilities, Hamilton said. “This investment recognizes what a critical trade gateway the Great Lakes are, in serving Canada’s most populated area, and the country’s industrial heartland,” he said. “We’re focused on using this latest investment to continue our positive impact on the regional economy.”

In Thunder Bay, the federal funding will help reduce bottlenecks and congestion in the Keefer Terminal Project Cargo Facility that handles a wide range of dimensional cargoes ranging from structural steel and rail to windmills to modular buildings destined for Western Canada. The port regularly handles wind turbines, mining equipment, structural steel, and electrical infrastructure, among other diverse cargoes, Port President and CEO Tim Heney said. The terminal’s $15 million dollar reconfiguration project includes a new rail yard accessible by both CN and CP, expanded storage for bulk products and doubling the heated storage capacity to 50,000 square feet to house a variety of cargo. The work is slated for completion in 2020 and will give the port improved cargo handling efficiency and expanded storage and staging options for shippers, he said. Already in place is a Liebherr Mobile Harbour Crane and an adjacent intermodal yard which had a top-lifter for handing cargoes. The additional rail capacity is important, Heney said. “More car spots, it means you can load more cars in one day more efficiently. It takes a lot of room, a lot of rail lay-down area, so that’s what we’re shooting for in the future.”