National Newswatch

Thanks to rising grain exports, traffic has increased almost 4 per cent so far this year.


OTTAWA—The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. has announced its usual plan to close the waterway’s locks between Christmas and New Years as long as the weather permits it to stay open to then.

As the clock ticks down to shutting and draining the locks to begin maintenance work that has to be done in time for the late March reopening, Seaway officials at least have a year of positive traffic growth to savour as well as announcements of port expansions.

To the end of October, overall traffic was up 3.99 per cent driven by a 16.3 per cent rise in grain shipments to 8.3 million tonnes, which accounted for about one-quarter of the freight passing through the system.

Other positive categories included dry bulk, which at 7.95 million tonnes, was the second biggest freight category followed by liquid bulk and coal. Iron ore was down 10.9 per cent to just over 6 million tonnes and general cargo slipped 7 per cent to 2.5 million tonnes.

The locks on the Montreal-Lake Ontario and Welland Canal sections will close by New Year’s Eve.

The American locks at Sault Ste. Marie Locks will be in operation until Jan. 15.

The Seaway’s traffic outlook for 2019 depends on both the North American economy but announcements of improvements to the Ports of Hamilton and Thunder Bay should help.

In November, Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced a $17.7 million investment to expand and diversify the Port of Hamilton’s capacity, and to increase its multi-modal transportation options. During the summer, the government announced $7 million in assistance to the Port of Thunder Bay to in part increase its capacity for handling rail cars.

Hamilton will use the federal funding to add docking space and upgrade rail infrastructure to increase capacity and allow more rail access to the port. As well, roadways will be improved so trucks can access a new container positioning depot.

Garneau said the port’s expansion should “strengthen trade connections to European, African and South American markets while promoting a greater flow of cargo through the port to the local region and its Canadian and U.S. supply chains.”

The Port of Hamilton is southern Ontario’s largest gateway for overseas exports of Ontario-grown corn, wheat and soybeans, handling more than a million tons of exports per year, and the largest gateway for imports of crop inputs used in southern Ontario agricultural production (urea ammonium nitrate, potash).

Close to 10 million tonnes of marine cargo transits the port each year, more than all other southern Ontario ports combined. This cargo has a value of $1.9 billion, with internationally-traded products representing more than half of that value total. In addition to marine cargo, the Port of Hamilton handles an increasing amount of rail traffic. In 2016, more than 6,000 rail cars transited the port, a number that has doubled in the last five years.

The federal investment will be matched by Hamilton Port Authority to expand rail service to all parts of the port. In the long term, the port hopes to attract $80 million to $90 million in new business attraction.

Ian Hamilton, President and CEO of the Hamilton Port Authority, said the expansion project is needed because it “is virtually out of room to grow, yet has unmet demand from users who want to invest in trade-oriented business in Ontario.”

Barry Senft, CEO, Grain Farmers of Ontario, said the port “has become a pivotal port for the export of Ontario grains. This announcement is a recognition of that importance.”

In Thunder Bay, the federal funding will help reduce bottlenecks and congestion in the system, according to a written release issued on Tuesday in conjunction with the funding announcement. Garneau said improving the ease with which goods are transported helps Canada stay competitive in the global market.

“The movement of goods across the country … how effectively we do that is literally counted almost down to the hour.

“There are ships waiting, and when ships don’t get the goods that need to arrive and to be transported very efficiently, they lose money, their customers get annoyed, and we potentially lose business.”

The port plans to construct a 50,000 square foot heated storage facility to house a variety of cargo while en route through the port and expand its rail yard to increase the port’s capacity to load and unload rail cars.

The total cost of the project is about $15 million. The province committed $1 million toward it and the port will pay for the rest.

“More car spots, it means you can load more cars in one day more efficiently,” he said. “It takes a lot of room, a lot of rail lay-down area, so that’s what we’re shooting for in the future.”

Alex Binkley is a freelance journalist and writes for domestic and international publications about agriculture, food and transportation issues. He’s also the author of two science fiction novels with more in the works.

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