By IAN ROSS
A Canadian transportation industry leader says Sault Ste. Marie’s multimodal scheme holds good potential for shippers to avoid major freight bottlenecks in southern Ontario.
“I think it’s got lots of possibilities and is probably well worth investigating in some depth.” says Bob Ballantyne, president of the Canadian International Transportation Association (CITA).
His Ottawa-based group represents 130 shippers from the industrial and retail sectors, and lobbies on behalf of buyers of freight services.
Ballantyne says it is obvious border crossings at Windsor, Sarnia and the Niagara Falls area are “plugged badly” and pressure is building on senior levels of government to address congestion problems for just-in-time supply chains.
As well, he says, there are chronic delays at Canadian National’s Brampton intermodal terminal and Canadian Pacific’s facility in Vaughan.
He praises the Sault’s effort to lobby directly to government, shippers and manufacturers in promoting their concept.
“The shipper has the right to route it anyway they want,” he says. “It’s one thing to say that, but it’s another thing to negotiate a (freight) rate. If the railways want to discourage a routing, they can do it with the rates.
“But there are regulatory levers that shippers have to deal with those problems, including filing complaints with the Canadian Transportation Agency.”
Handling import traffic from Europe through the ports of Halifax and Montreal, and destined for the United States Midwest, might harbour the most potential for the Sault, he suggests.
“Even if the routing was a bit longer, the business of avoiding Detroit and Chicago for some kinds of traffic might make the Sault pretty attractive.”
Ballantyne says he has heard stories about eastbound traffic from the West Coast taking more than a week to clear Chicago freight transfer yards.
CN says there is not enough two-way freight traffic to warrant a Sault multimodal facility. But Ballantyne says there is nothing unusual for there to be traffic imbalances in loading, and nothing to prevent short hauls of empty rail cars and containers to be repositioned in a triangular routing.
He calls the Sault’s move to get Ford Motor Company’s logistics department on side “very sensible.” But with so many consumer goods coming from
China, and future plans in Prince Rupert, B.C. to increase container handling capacity, Ballantyne suggests the city also contact big southern Ontario retailers, such as Hudson’s Bay, Sears and Canadian Tire, which might be interested in a routing alternative through Northern Ontario.
“The issue of railing as far as Sault Ste. Marie and avoiding plugged container yards in the Toronto area might also have some attractiveness as well.”
If the Sault were to rail containers across the border, he says some examination might have to be done of the international railway bridge to determine whether it can accommodate the heavy-axle load freight cars currently in service.