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Exporters face logistical nightmare as CN yet to restore service to Vancouver port

·3 min read

Flooding in southern B.C. continues to present logistical challenges for exporters as Canadian National Railway Co. shut its service along the key freight corridor because of heavy precipitation and traffic is moving slowly through the Port of Vancouver.

"The recovery of the manufacturing sector in general has slowed down and the crisis in B.C. is just going to make it worse," said Dennis Darby, the president of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters.

He said trains were running at very low rates even before the Montreal-based railway pulled the plug on its reopening efforts.

"We hope ... that this gets back to normal as soon as possible, but it's going to take weeks at least, months probably."

CN said it moved seven trains during the weekend but decided to "proactively close its network" because rain was causing increased debris, washout and landslide activity.

"Our crews are working to find safe and effective ways of managing the waterflow, stabilizing the infrastructure and monitoring the overall state of the network," railway spokesman Mathieu Gaudreault wrote in an email.

CN has been able to divert some rail traffic to the Port of Prince Rupert, which remains fully operational and is not impacted by the severe weather.

But CN said northbound and eastbound traffic to and from Vancouver are still affected by this situation.

Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. cars loaded with Prairie grain and fuel entered Vancouver last Wednesday for the first time in days after its rail corridor sustained heavy damage in some 30 locations between Vancouver and Kamloops, B.C.

However, the Calgary railway says it needs access to CN tracks on its busiest corridor where they share rail infrastructure in order to maximize capacity.

"As CP resumes operations and moves from restoration to recovery, CP will closely co-ordinate with customers and terminals to clear the backlogs as safely and efficiently as possible," spokeswoman Salem Woodrow wrote in an email.

"As a railway, we recognize how the service we provide impacts people’s lives and businesses, moving fuels we depend on, the food we eat, the vehicles we drive and the clothing we wear."

At the country's busiest port, a high number of cargo ships are anchored and hampered from unloading their loads while empty ship containers are rushed back to Asia empty.

The number of empty containers through October was up 72 per cent from a year ago while exports were down 11 per cent, says GCT Global Container Terminals Inc.

Port of Vancouver president Robin Silvester says insufficient land for container storage and transloading is accentuating the problem with shipping carriers unwilling to wait for containers to be filled in Canada.

"Without land close to the port to do this quickly and efficiently, shipping lines are simply rushing containers back, empty, to Asia, leaving Canada’s exporters empty-handed," he recently said in a speech to the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade.

The situation is especially difficult for exporters and is causing companies to lay off staff or shut down production since 32 per cent of Canada's GDP is exports and three-quarters of manufactured goods are exported, Darby said in an interview.

"So yes, this is real, and pretty soon it'll start to be measurable, I'm sure," he said. "It's a tragic situation.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 29, 2021.

Companies in this story: (TSX:CNR, TSX:CP)

Ross Marowits, The Canadian Press

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