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Port of Vancouver rail service could resume this week as 47 ships wait to dock

CN, CP continue repairs; Maersk warns impacts may last for weeks

The Port of Vancouver could feel the impacts of the rail stoppage for weeks. (Photo: Claude Robillard/Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Rail service at the Port of Vancouver could resume this week as CN and Canadian Pacific crews worked to repair sections of their networks hit by the devastating floods and landslides in British Columbia while impacts continued to strain the supply chain. 

CP (NYSE:CP) said it expects to resume service during the middle of the week. CN (NYSE:CNI) didn’t provide an estimate for restoring service, but said on Friday that repairs would “continue at least into next week.”

CN and CP’s rail lines serving the port between Kamloops and Vancouver have been out of service this week following a deadly storm that brought heavy rainfall, flooding and landslides. Forty-seven vessels were at anchor at the Port of Vancouver — Canada’s busiest — as of Monday morning, including 19 grain, 12 coal and 6 container ships.

“This is more than a standard hiccup,” said Barry Prentice, a professor of supply chain management at the University of Manitoba’s Asper School of Business. “I don’t know how long it’s going to take to fix this. But it’s not going to be quick, cheap or easy.”

Global shipping line Maersk warned customers that the impacts at the port could last for weeks.  

“We will see increased congestion at terminals and expect vessel delays,” Maersk wrote in an advisory Friday.

Meanwhile, the damage and flooding from the storm have closed roads throughout the province, limiting truck access to the port as well as to the rest of Canada. Trucks have been rerouted through the U.S. to reach the port and support relief efforts. 

Agreements between U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Canada Border Services Agency officials have allowed Canadian trucks to transit through the U.S. to reach British Columbia. 

CN also has been working with customers to utilize the Port of Prince Rupert, which remains accessible. 

The stoppage on CN and CP rail networks in British Columbia has hurt intermodal container volumes in Canada. To learn more about FreightWaves SONAR, click here.

The disruption has compounded the strains from the demands of record volumes of bulk cargo and containers. The port reported a 24% increase in container volumes and a 7% increase in overall cargo volumes for the first six months of 2021.

This is the second time in less than a year that the port has seen a significant disruption due to weather. Wildfires over the summer snarled CN and CP’s rail service.

“The supply chain will go back to normal, but climate change has its fingerprints all over this event in Vancouver,” Prentice said. “I guess now we should just start to expect some kind of a disruption happening at least every year.” 

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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]