By R. Bruce Striegler

In September of this year, Ray-Mont Logistics’ transloading facility at Port of Prince Rupert welcomed its first unit train carrying canola meal pellets from Western Canada. The new facility, which officially opened for business on August 31, is the only unit train stuffing facility on Canada’s west coast. Total container traffic at Prince Rupert has been on the rise and increased five per cent year over year in the first six months of 2017. However, imports have outnumbered exports three to one. In the first six months, the port handled 242,711 loaded import TEUs versus 76,009 loaded export TEUs.

It is expected that with a new grain transload facility, growth will accelerate, and provide a better balance of export loads to imports, making the port more attractive to carriers. Exporters are also facing a number of new variables this year, notably a higher demand for containers in Asia and new Chinese regulations slowing container production, are tightening container supplies in North America. This has some worried this could be the start of a temporary container shortage. China has always been the dominant destination for overall containerized exports from the port of Prince Rupert, and was the destination for 71 per cent of containers in 2017. The remainder are other Asian destinations including South Korea, Indonesia, and Philippines.

As reported in an August story by the Journal of Commerce, the port has attracted three weekly container services, two operated by the Ocean Alliance, with Cosco Shipping as the lead carrier, and the third by the 2M Alliance of Maersk and Mediterranean Shipping Co. Growth has fueled a compound annual rate of growth of 48 per cent between 2008 and 2016, but the import-export ratio at the British Columbia gateway stands at 3:1. Balancing that ratio will help attract new services.

Tight construction schedule sees operation open for this season

Loui Stathatos, Vice-President and Chief Commercial Officer at Ray-Mont, explains the new facility is built on a 12-acre site on Ridley Island surrounded by a 100-car rail loop corridor, and includes a grain dumper pit, as well as a state-of-the-art conveyance system. Working to a difficult schedule, IDL Projects, on behalf of Coast Tsimshian Northern Contractor Alliance, began clearing the site in mid-March. Stathatos was enthusiastic about the spirit and energy that came from the City of Prince Rupert, First Nations, CN Rail and the Port to have the facility constructed in such a short period of time. “It was critical that we were operational in time to handle crops for the 2017-18 season,” he says.

The only other Westcoast agri-business transload facility is Ray-Mont’s operation in Vancouver and Stathatos says, “We weren’t able to meet the demand on the Pacific coast due to the capacity limitations in our existing trainload facility in Richmond, B.C., south of Vancouver.” That service has grown to 25 acres from about six acres just five years ago. Mr. Stathatos says the Prince Rupert facility handles grain and processed grain products which include pulses and cereal grains including lentils, peas, beans, soybeans, flax and wheat, as well as other specialty agricultural crops. The cargos are transported in hopper cars by CN Rail from Western and Central Canada and the U.S. Midwest in order to meet the increasing demand in international markets for containerized grain, and transferred into ocean containers by Ray-Mont for export via the Fairview Container Terminal.

When it came to staffing the new facility, Mr. Stathatos outlined Ray-Mont’s practices and policies, saying, “As a company, we are an equal-rights employer, our training is unique since there is no other company in North America like us. We look at sourcing local talent because know that you will get the best, and we promote from within.” Trainers from other Ray-Mont operations like Vancouver were sent to establish workflow at the start. “The program has a lot of training involved because we are a very unique company that deals with transloading. We believe in taking the time to train people properly, we know this business well and we want to make sure that everybody is comfortable with what they’re doing before they start,” Stathatos said.

Ray-Mont has been operating in Canada since the 1990s. It began with a transloading facility in Montreal but has established a presence on the west coast to meet the growing demand for Canadian products in the Asia-Pacific region. The Prince Rupert facility will expand Ray-Mont’s west coast transloading capacity significantly.