By Keith Norbury

Three major projects, with a combined value of over $300 million, are planned for Port of Prince Rupert in the next few years. To support those projects — a major railway bridge upgrade, new rail infrastructure to support an export logistics platform project, and an import logistics park on First Nations land — the federal government recently announced grants totalling $153.7 million.

The money, from the National Trade Corridors Fund, will provide about half the cash for the three projects, which are key elements of the Port’s plans to double its cargo volumes with the next decade to over 50 million tonnes annually. “What they supported are our top-priority strategic projects, both from a capacity standpoint, but also a resiliency standpoint,” said Shaun Stevenson, President and CEO of Prince Rupert Port Authority. “We were obviously very pleased to learn of the level of support and that the three projects we had put forward were supported.“ Mr. Stevenson added that the financing is a validation that the federal government “recognizes the strategic role that Prince Rupert is playing in Canadian trade.”

Specifically, NTCF grants were awarded as follows:

  • $60.6 million toward the estimated $122 million Zanardi Bridge and Causeway project, which will include a new double-track rail bridge adjacent to an existing single-track bridge that will be rehabilitated;
  • $49.85 million toward nearly $100 million in rail infrastructure to service the Ridley Island Export Logistics Platform project; and
  • $43.3 million to Metlakatla Development Corporation, the economic development arm of the Metlakatla First Nation, for its $89 million Metlakatla Import Logistics Park project.

“Our government is investing in Canada’s economy by improving our trade and transportation corridors,” Marc Garneau, the federal Minister of Transport, said in announcing the $153.7 million in funding. “These three projects are part of the government’s long-term strategy of a stronger West Coast trade gateway. We’re supporting the efficient movement of goods to market and people to their destinations, stimulating economic growth, creating quality middle-class jobs, and ensuring that Canada’s transportation networks remain competitive and efficient.”

Mr. Stevenson said the NTCF-funded projects will focus on intermodal infrastructure at the port but also on broader gateway capacity. “And it is a catalyst for over $2 billion in private sector investment,” he said.

None of the three projects will interrupt operations at the port during construction, said Brian Friesen, the Port’s Vice-President of Trade Development and Communications. The existing single-lane rail bridge will operate as normal while the new double-track bridge goes up next to it. The development of rail infrastructure to service the Ridley Island Export Logistics Platform will not impact existing operations as much of the work will be greenfield. Similarly, the import logistics development is in an area on south Kaien Island away from existing operations.

“So we don’t anticipate any impact to operations as a result of these construction activities,” Mr. Friesen said.

The Zanardi Bridge and Causeway project will also involve expanding the causeway that links the bridge with Kaien and Ridley islands. “With all this growth in cargo volume, we want to ensure fluidity and resiliency from a rail perspective into the gateway,” Mr. Friesen said. The additional crossing capacity “will support all of the cargos that currently move through the Port of Prince Rupert and cargos that will move in the future,” he said.

The existing single-track Zanardi Bridge is the sole rail link to the port’s various terminals and facilities. The bridge crosses the Zanardi Rapids near Porpoise Harbour to connect the Canadian National Railway mainline on the mainland to Kaien Island at its south end. Rail leads from the bridge service facilities on the west side of Kaien Island, such as the Fairview Container Terminal, and Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc.’s Westview Wood Pellet Terminal. A causeway links Kaien Island to Ridley Island where other rails leads service Prince Rupert Grain Terminal, Ridley Terminals and AltaGas’ Propane Export Terminal.

The Zanardi Bridge and Causeway project will triple the track capacity across that potential choke point. The port will partner with CN on the bridge itself and take responsibility for enlarging the causeway to take advantage of the new capacity the expanded bridge will enable.

“As we look at our volume forecast into the future, and then translate that into train pairs in and out of the gateway on a daily basis, we want to ensure we have sufficient network capacity in Prince Rupert to accommodate that growth,” Mr. Friesen said.

The bridge will also serve AltaGas Ltd.’s new Ridley Island Propane Export Terminal, as well as the expanded Ridley Island Export Logistics Platform project. Ken Veldman, the Port’s Vice-President, Public Affairs and Sustainability, said the project enhances all the port’s business lines. “It ensures that as we grow, we’re going to continue to avoid congestion and ensure that the speed and the reliability and the fluidity that this port is known for — in all of its lines of business — continues,” he said.

A $49.85 million NTCF contribution will go toward nearly $100 million in rail infrastructure to service the Ridley Island Export Logistics Platform. That money will focus on expanding an existing rail loop on Ridley Island known as the Road Rail Utility Corridor, or RRUC, which features the ability to handle multiple 10,000-foot-plus unit trains. 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.

“We actually currently have transload facilities there,” Mr. Friesen said. “But the existing tracks on the Road Rail Utility Corridor are designed to support a future bulk terminal. The transload operations are there temporarily. So we’re looking to expand the RRUC and create a permanent export logistics facility of considerable scale nearby.” The platform aims to attract private-sector export transloading investments. At full-build out, it is expected to handle significant increases in such commodities as forest products and agricultural products. “It’s a greenfield development site that will greatly assist our efforts to grow the overall container business because it’s important to attract exports to ensure balanced trade,” Mr. Friesen added.

“A lot of containers (are) moving through the gateway and we want to continue growing on the export side, just to keep up with the growth on imports that we’re seeing.” Those containers will carry agricultural products, plastic pellets, resins, pulp, lumber and, potentially, potash, for example. “This facility is specifically designed to accommodate bulk and breakbulk rail cars, and then to unload them and then put that product into containers,” Mr. Friesen explained. Those exports would be destined for China, Japan, Korea, and beyond. “Canadian exporters will benefit from this capacity coming online and servicing new and existing markets in Asia,” Mr. Friesen said.

Mr. Veldman said the export logistics project is “really about providing more flexibility, more capabilities, and developing a unique model that Canadian exporters can gain more value from, and at the end of the day more competitiveness in global markets.”

The third NTFC grant will provide $43.3 million toward the $89 million Metlakatla Import Logistics Park project on a 25-hectare site on south Kaien Island, about 10 kilometres from the City of Prince Rupert. The import facility, which will complement the Export Logistics Platform, will enable transload and warehouse operations that promise to add value to import supply chains and increase their flexibility.

“Today’s announcement is a significant step toward realizing our vision of a Logistics Park on Metlakatla lands to improve the efficiency of Fairview Terminal and help enhance the Prince Rupert Gateway,” said Harold Leighton, CEO of the Metlakatla Development Corporation and the elected Chief of the Metlakatla First Nation. “This project will benefit all who live in Coast Tsimshian Territory by creating new jobs related to both the construction and long-term operations of the facility. The Metlakatla Development Corporation is proud to be a part of this and other economic development projects to the benefit of the people who call this area home and to our shareholders, the members of the Metlakatla First Nation.”

The project is still in its preliminary stages, so the Metlakatla First Nation wasn’t able to discuss specific details about “construction, operation, facilities, partnerships, revenues and such,” said communications manager Shaun Thomas. The business arm of the first nation, the Metlakatla Development Corporation already operates several enterprises, including a ferry service that connects the village of Metlakatla to Prince Rupert, a Petro Canada service station, and Gat Leedm Logistics, which has a 4,000 square foot warehouse and a fleet of 15 tractors.

“What this investment represents is an investment into a Metlakala project on Metlakatla land,” Mr. Veldman said. “We’re also working closely with the Metlakatla in terms of ensuring that its development works well into the Port’s intermodal ecosystem. That strategic alignment speaks volumes in terms of the overall alignment that we’ve had with Metlakatla and other First Nations to ensure that our most important partner is fully engaged in this industry.”

Construction and ongoing operation of the Import Logistics Park will be a big source of employment, as will the trucking associated with that, Mr. Friesen said. While the CN mainline passes nearby, the park itself won’t have a rail yard. “It will essentially be linked to the container terminal, by truck and by dedicated road, and will move containers back and forth, as needed,” Mr. Friesen said.

Mr. Friesen said there’s high demand for import transloading all along the west coast, adding that it’s “an important service capability for importers to move ocean containers into domestic 53-foot containers.”

All three of the NTCF supported projects will ensure that the port of Prince Rupert continues to grow while utilizing the most efficient use of infrastructure, Mr. Veldman said. For example, the projects aim to maximize the intensity of cargo operations on small parcels of land. That minimizes their footprints, which reduces carbon and other emissions associated with transportation supply chains. “We’re developing an intermodal ecosystem, a closed loop, that’s going to be unmatched on the west coast,” Mr. Veldman said. For any port, though, the ultimate metric is “tonnage across the dock,” he pointed out. “Essentially these infrastructure investments enable us to keep growing,  and will ensure that we’ve got the right infrastructure in the right place at the right time so that we’re avoiding congestion and fluidity issues that often occur as you grow.”