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Port of Vancouver congestion mounts despite resumed rail service

39 ships at anchor while CP, CN share reopened tracks in British Columbia

The Port of Vancouver is contending with impacts of a disruption of CN and CP rail service. (Photo: Roy Luck/Flickr CC BY 2.0)

The Port of Vancouver is continuing to feel the domino effect from the disruption caused by wildfires in British Columbia even as CN and Canadian Pacific rail service resumes. As of Wednesday morning, 39 ships were at anchor at Canada’s largest port.

Trains began running again on Sunday via a CP (NYSE:CP) rail line that has been shut down because of the fires. CN (NYSE:CNI) is also using CP’s tracks through an agreement since its line remains out of service, according to an operations update from the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority. 

Rail backlog at the port remains substantial, with CN rail-bound imports spending over a week on-dock at all of Vancouver’s terminals, according to port data. Trains running through the area of British Columbia affected by the wildfires have been subject to a Transport Canada slowdown order since Sunday.

Meanwhile, the congestion of vessels at the port has mounted because of the rail disruption. The vessels at anchor Wednesday included six container ships.  

“Anchorage demand continues to be high and nearing full capacity,” the port authority said on Tuesday. “Demand for large vessel anchorages presently exceeds supply. Anchorages are assigned in a manner that ensures fluidity across all ship types and maintains essential services.”

A spokesperson for the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority declined to comment further. 

While the port authority hasn’t said when it expects normal operations to resume, a Tuesday advisory from Maersk warned customers that the situation likely won’t improve for at least a week. 

The disruption stems from a fire in Lytton, British Columbia in late June, which killed two people. It came as the unusually hot and dry summer sparked a wave of wildfires. 

Canadian authorities are probing whether a train sparked the blaze in Lytton. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has sent two teams to investigate.

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Nate Tabak

Nate Tabak is a Toronto-based journalist and producer who covers cybersecurity and cross-border trucking and logistics for FreightWaves. He spent seven years reporting stories in the Balkans and Eastern Europe as a reporter, producer and editor based in Kosovo. He previously worked at newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area, including the San Jose Mercury News. He graduated from UC Berkeley, where he studied the history of American policing. Contact Nate at [email protected].