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Canadian west coast ports close box volume gap with slowing SeaTac

Seattle's new Terminal 5 modernisation project has a lot riding on it, as the port continues to see strong competition from Canada's Vancouver and Prince Rupert, reports Port Strategy, of Fareham, Hampshire, England

02 November 2020 - 19:00

Seattle's new Terminal 5 modernisation project has a lot riding on it, as the port continues to see strong competition from Canada's Vancouver and Prince Rupert, reports Port Strategy, of Fareham, Hampshire, England.

'Today we begin the modernisation of Seattle's Terminal 5, the best container handling terminal in the Pacific Northwest. When complete, it will be a cornerstone of our region's economic activity for decades to come,' said Stephanie Bowman, Port of Seattle, Commission president and co-chair of the Northwest Seaport Alliance.



Terminal 5 is a US$500 million project to modernise a facility unused since 2014. The project is providing a one million TEU per annum terminal that will be able to receive two 18,000-TEU ships when it opens in January. Before construction, Terminal 5 could not handle vessels larger than 6,000 TEU.



Container volume growth over the past 10 years has grown 2.4 per cent through the SeattleTacoma port complex. But this compares Vancouver's 4.8 per cent growth and Prince Rupert's 16.3 per cent.



In terms of historic volumes, while SeaTac has the highest volumes, Vancouver has continued to close the gap. In 2000, the Sea-Tac complex (the ports operated separately at the time, so the individual total container volumes have been combined) handled almost 2.86 million TEU and Vancouver saw 1.16 million TEU.



At the end of 2019, Sea-Tac recorded just under 3.78 million TEU and Vancouver experienced 3.4 million TEU, a considerably smaller gap. In addition, the emergence of Prince Rupert and its continued very strong growth taking the new port to 1.2 million TEU, has added another competitive dimension in the competitive region.



The completion of Terminal 5 in Seattle will certainly improve the port's ability to receive ships up to 18,000 TEU. However, that is only part of the process. Prince Rupert, for example, has excellent intermodal rail capabilities to ensure containers are onto the rails quickly.



The Canadian Pacific Railway and Maersk Line have just confirmed that a new transload and distribution facility is to be built in Vancouver, to further boost the competitiveness of this Canadian port.



The CP transload facility will be an expansion of CP's existing Vancouver Intermodal Facility and thereby be able to benefit from excellent rail infrastructure, when it opens in 2021.



Omar Shamsie, president of Maersk Canada explained the value of the facility. 'This agreement installs more agile supply chain options and capacity to and from Vancouver for our North American customers. Marketplace fluctuations, e-commerce demands and omnichannel fulfilment are testing every company - so this integrated logistics solution with CP will clearly elevate supply chain performance.'



The competitiveness of the Canadian Pacific gateway ports means that the pressure is on Seattle-Tacoma for inland activities. The FAST (Freight Action Strategy for Seattle-Tacoma) represents up to 25 projects aimed at improving cargo flow (faster trains and raising intermodal train capacity) and linking the ports with rail networks, to aid container flows from the Seattle-Tacoma region.



Terminal 5 is a needed, largescale investment project that will allow bigger ships to call to Seattle, while FAST initiatives will smooth container flows on the rail network. Ultimately, though, the desire of the US railways to help win intermodal traffic for discretionary markets will be the key driver of the future success of Terminal 5.


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