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Port of Vancouver ship queue tops 50 as rail woes persist

Canadian supply chain in ‘crisis situation’

Ships at anchor near the Port of Vancouver in 2019. (Photo: Ken Lund/Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

The number of vessels waiting for a berth at the Port of Vancouver stood at over 50 on Monday as CN reported a major setback in efforts to restore rail service on a key portion of its network.

The rail briefly reopened its Vancouver-Kamloops line over the weekend but quickly shut it down as more heavy rain hit southern British Columbia, the company said in a statement to American Shipper. 

“After moving seven trains during the weekend, CN took the decision to proactively close its network as the large amounts of precipitation into British Columbia were causing increased debris, washout and landslide activity,” CN (NYSE:CNI) said.  

Northbound and eastbound traffic remained shut down as “crews work to find safe and effective ways of managing the water flow, stabilizing the infrastructure and monitoring the overall state of the network,” CN said. The railway is continuing to divert some traffic to the Port of Prince Rupert and is also sharing Canadian Pacific’s Vancouver-Kamloops line.

The setback came as congestion at the port worsened over the weekend, with the number of vessels at anchor reaching 54 on Sunday. As of late Monday, that had dropped to 51, including eight container, 16 grain and 13 coal vessels. 

The impacts are continuing to ripple across the Canadian supply chain more than two weeks after floods and landslides cut off CN and CP’s lines serving the port, as well as key truck routes. CP resumed service on its mainline last week and some highways have reopened. 

“It really is a crisis situation,” Julia Kuzeljevich, spokesperson for the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association, told American Shipper. 

Freight forwarders are scrambling to get shipments out of Vancouver, Kuzeljevich said, turning to planes, including charter flights, and trucks.

“Everyone is helping where they can, but stuff is still coming to a standstill,” Kuzeljevich said.

The port had already been contending with a record volume of containers and an abundance of empty ones. Some relief may be coming after the Canadian government agreed to contribute up to CA$4.1 million ($3.2 million) for the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority to develop a 40-acre site to store empty containers.

Meanwhile, the port may be in for more disruption. Unionized container truckers at two carriers serving Vancouver, Aheer and Prudential, issued a 72-hour strike notice on Monday. If the strike goes forward on Friday, it would mean the loss of about 200 of the roughly 1,700 truckers who serve the port.

“With the supply chain issues and the flooding and everything that we’ve had, you can’t afford to take 200 trucks out of the system,” Unifor Western Regional Director Gavin McGarrigle told American Shipper last week.

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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].