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General railway discussions

You realize that all of the railways already offer this exact service and have been doing so for a long time, right? There is a reason why CN and CP have purchased lines deep into the US in the past 30 years, and why the ports on the West Coast are considerably busier than those on the East.

Dan

Question Dan,

I know several of the west coast ports are at, or close to capacity.

One reason cited, is the inability to get railway cars moved out fast enough (backlog) precluding further offloading of ships (there are other issues as well, of course)

We also know that CN and other railways have capacity constraints as well, bottlenecks, though they run far fewer trains than they once did, train length with limited siding/passing tracks constrains capacity.

Premamble done........here's the question; if our railways wanted to or 'had to' take on 20% of Panama's traffic could they? Assuming upgrades were required (additional track, more/longer sidings, more yard capacity), how long would they need to be ready?
 
Throughput at BC ports has been a concern for the past few years. The issue is not solely berth capacity - wildfires, blockades, mudslides, and labour disputes have all caused stoppages and backlogs

Shipments thru the Port of Vancouver are actually down 15% this year, so at the margin there may be capacity right now. Last year Ottawa announced a major investment to increase its capacity by 50%

When I went looking for data, I was amazed at how much the Port of Vancouver traffic dwarfs the likes of Port Rupert in tonnage - five times as much bulk tonnage, and three times as many container TEU's.

Atlantic Canadian ports are said to be competing fiercely for tonnage, so they likely have excess capacity at the moment.

There are indeed bottlenecks reported across the rail system - Toronto being one. (Maybe this might enlighten people as to why the railways aren't crazy about projects that would add passenger trains to their lines) So while the containers might be able to unload and reload at each end, the system might need investment to add capacity to.absorb a greater volume of Pamama traffic.
'
- Paul
 
Throughput at BC ports has been a concern for the past few years. The issue is not solely berth capacity - wildfires, blockades, mudslides, and labour disputes have all caused stoppages and backlogs

Shipments thru the Port of Vancouver are actually down 15% this year, so at the margin there may be capacity right now. Last year Ottawa announced a major investment to increase its capacity by 50%

When I went looking for data, I was amazed at how much the Port of Vancouver traffic dwarfs the likes of Port Rupert in tonnage - five times as much bulk tonnage, and three times as many container TEU's.

Atlantic Canadian ports are said to be competing fiercely for tonnage, so they likely have excess capacity at the moment.

There are indeed bottlenecks reported across the rail system - Toronto being one. (Maybe this might enlighten people as to why the railways aren't crazy about projects that would add passenger trains to their lines) So while the containers might be able to unload and reload at each end, the system might need investment to add capacity to.absorb a greater volume of Pamama traffic.
'
- Paul
We had a corporate experience, now pre COVID days, where the company ended up trucking containers from eastern and western ports vs using rail, as the rail experience was not a happy one. This may have changed, but the Hunter Harrison influence seemed to be all pervasive vs the idea of business that did not quite fit existing ‘precision’ scheduling.

So I was or am going to do some further research, have not had the time, but I see some information coming from other sources.

I guess the question could be the time frame to unload at a Western port, unit train to an Eastern port and load, and would that time frame be competitive to divert traffic from a 20 day or more, delay crossing the Panama? Time wise and cost wise, of course, and measuring cost would entail a variety of inputs.

And the follow up question to the above could be whether a potential gain in traffic could lead to improvements in existing bottlenecks?

I think the point made that this could also be an illustration as to why the Class Ones are not so eager to share lines with other users is well taken.

Thanks for the input.
 
I guess the question could be the time frame to unload at a Western port, unit train to an Eastern port and load, and would that time frame be competitive to divert traffic from a 20 day or more, delay crossing the Panama? Time wise and cost wise, of course, and measuring cost would entail a variety of inputs.

The interesting point in this is that a complete port to port container train shipment is just about the dream load for a railway..... unload an entire shipload of containers, place on railcars, run in bulk to Halifax or Saint John, offload and load on boat.... what could be simpler? No switching, no local roadswitcher, no interchange.....

....except......car supply, timing of the second ship and its loading, differences in how one might need containers loaded (and hence requirement for laydown space and/or train loading), slack action and damage claims, crew availability at any number of intermediate terminals.... rate setting/revenue potential, backhaul, etc

- Paul
 
CN has public list of drop-off dates for different cities to get containers to different vessels: (Vancouver Terminal being the destination in this one)


This one is to St. John:


This is Halifax:


Doubtless @crs1026 could better interpret these than I.....

I do find it curious though, there doesn't appear to be any HFX or St. John to the west coast connection; That route is Mtrl to Van only for CN.
 
I do find it curious though, there doesn't appear to be any HFX or St. John to the west coast connection; That route is Mtrl to Van only for CN.

That only means that CN hasn't chosen to put that information out there in the same place. Different audience.

Different dynamics, too. An incoming Atlantic ship will have variables different from a shipper in Montreal - CN may have higher ground to say to a group of domestic shippers "get your goods to us by cutoff or your container won't make the ship". How it handles relations with a shipping line about a late arrival of cargo that is being relayed on to Vancouver may be different.

What I found really curious was CN having a protocol for shipments through St John. That's poking in CP's lunch bag.

- Paul
 
From the moment a train shoves into the yard, then for us to strip all the inbound off and reload the entire train with outbound containers, then having the yard crew assemble the train back together. The whole process takes at the quickest, maybe 12 hours. I can only speak for the yards in Toronto, but at this moment CN has a shortage of container cranes. We just got 3 brand new ones in a week ago and they're being assembled right now. CN is encouraging all the shunters to get trained and qualified to operate the cranes.
A lot of times as a crane operator you get slowed down working on the trains because the truck drivers are constantly getting in your way. Begging you to take their delivery from them or for you to give them their pickup. Because they're paid by the move, not by the hour. They get really irritated when you ignore them and focus on the train. Night shifts and Sundays when there are fewer truck drivers to contend with, we typically get the trains done faster. But this is also why we need more cranes. During the day we assign crane operators to focus on serving the drivers so the rest of us can focus on stripping and loading the trains.
We could shove more rail cars into the yard, but we don't have enough cranes to work on those pads. So they'll just sit there not being touched. All the other crane operators are busy working on trains that are a higher priority. During the day shift every crane in the yard is being used.

Those containers full of GTA stolen cars won't ship themselves to the Middle East!
It's gotten really crazy the last couple months. PEEL police requested a bunch of containers we set aside for them to investigate. It's a lot of containers. Most destined for the Montreal ports. They're all full of stolen cars, we suspect. In the last year I've seen so many Lexus SUVs and Land Rovers getting towed out of the yard.
 
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Interesting. Thanks.

A lot of times as a crane operator you get slowed down working on the trains because the truck drivers are constantly getting in your way. Begging you to take their delivery from them or for you to give them their pickup. Because they're paid by the move, not by the hour. They get really irritated when you ignore them and focus on the train.
Seeing as it's private property, this sounds like a fairly easily solvable problem by management. A few drivers/companies banned or suspended I think would have quick results. 'Drive in - stay in line - stay in your truck'.
 
Question Dan,

I know several of the west coast ports are at, or close to capacity.

One reason cited, is the inability to get railway cars moved out fast enough (backlog) precluding further offloading of ships (there are other issues as well, of course)

We also know that CN and other railways have capacity constraints as well, bottlenecks, though they run far fewer trains than they once did, train length with limited siding/passing tracks constrains capacity.

Premamble done........here's the question; if our railways wanted to or 'had to' take on 20% of Panama's traffic could they? Assuming upgrades were required (additional track, more/longer sidings, more yard capacity), how long would they need to be ready?
Most of the ports up and down the West Coast are at or beyond capacity, yes.

But I don't think that the ability or lack there of to move rail cars in and out of them is the problem. At least, it isn't in the Canadian ports as per my experience. Both Prince Rupert and Vancouver are undergoing programs to expand their daily container capacity, but most of that capacity is focused on getting more dock wall and crane capacity, versus rail capacity. In fact, to the best of my knowledge there is no plan to increase the railway capacity into Deltaport (as an example) as there is already enough there to handle the 3 railways that service it, along with the hundreds of trucks that enter and exit every day.

I think that the bigger issue is with the facilities in the interior of the continent. Take CN's Brampton Intermodal Terminal for instance - the facility, as it currently sits, is designed to handle about 2400 containers per day. It averages almost double that - thus the requirement to build another facility for the GTA. CP's Vaughan Terminal was built much bigger and so isn't in danger of being so overcapacity, but that's also a function of how agressive CN has been on capturing that business for the past 20 years - CP has a lot of catching up to do (and in fact, in the past 5 years, they have started to claw back some of that business).

The mainline capacity constraints are there, but they aren't insurmountable or problematic - yet. There are much more serious constraints when dealing with VIA Rail and the Canadian, but that's due to the mixing of very different kinds of trains with very different performance abilities. In large part, a lot of the freight trains are operating in very similar manners and with similar performance figures, and so putting them all together isn't a big deal. And in the case of CN, they've optimized this even futher by operating multiple high-priority trains in one direction together as a fleet.

But ultimately - could the railways handle 20% of Panama's current container traffic? I think so, yes. On the whole, they're already handling a very large proportion of the container traffic headed from places like China, Indonesia and Japan to places on the East Coast.

Of course, all of this has been about containers specifically. Bulk cargo is a whole different ball of wax, and much, much harder to handle as a transload. And I don't think that the ports on either side of the continent are particularly well suited to dealing with it.

Dan
 
Most of the ports up and down the West Coast are at or beyond capacity, yes.

But I don't think that the ability or lack there of to move rail cars in and out of them is the problem. At least, it isn't in the Canadian ports as per my experience. Both Prince Rupert and Vancouver are undergoing programs to expand their daily container capacity, but most of that capacity is focused on getting more dock wall and crane capacity, versus rail capacity. In fact, to the best of my knowledge there is no plan to increase the railway capacity into Deltaport (as an example) as there is already enough there to handle the 3 railways that service it, along with the hundreds of trucks that enter and exit every day.

I think that the bigger issue is with the facilities in the interior of the continent. Take CN's Brampton Intermodal Terminal for instance - the facility, as it currently sits, is designed to handle about 2400 containers per day. It averages almost double that - thus the requirement to build another facility for the GTA. CP's Vaughan Terminal was built much bigger and so isn't in danger of being so overcapacity, but that's also a function of how agressive CN has been on capturing that business for the past 20 years - CP has a lot of catching up to do (and in fact, in the past 5 years, they have started to claw back some of that business).

The mainline capacity constraints are there, but they aren't insurmountable or problematic - yet. There are much more serious constraints when dealing with VIA Rail and the Canadian, but that's due to the mixing of very different kinds of trains with very different performance abilities. In large part, a lot of the freight trains are operating in very similar manners and with similar performance figures, and so putting them all together isn't a big deal. And in the case of CN, they've optimized this even futher by operating multiple high-priority trains in one direction together as a fleet.

But ultimately - could the railways handle 20% of Panama's current container traffic? I think so, yes. On the whole, they're already handling a very large proportion of the container traffic headed from places like China, Indonesia and Japan to places on the East Coast.

Of course, all of this has been about containers specifically. Bulk cargo is a whole different ball of wax, and much, much harder to handle as a transload. And I don't think that the ports on either side of the continent are particularly well suited to dealing with it.

Dan

Very thorough answer; much appreciated Dan!
 
Most of the ports up and down the West Coast are at or beyond capacity, yes.

But I don't think that the ability or lack there of to move rail cars in and out of them is the problem. At least, it isn't in the Canadian ports as per my experience. Both Prince Rupert and Vancouver are undergoing programs to expand their daily container capacity, but most of that capacity is focused on getting more dock wall and crane capacity, versus rail capacity. In fact, to the best of my knowledge there is no plan to increase the railway capacity into Deltaport (as an example) as there is already enough there to handle the 3 railways that service it, along with the hundreds of trucks that enter and exit every day.

I think that the bigger issue is with the facilities in the interior of the continent. Take CN's Brampton Intermodal Terminal for instance - the facility, as it currently sits, is designed to handle about 2400 containers per day. It averages almost double that - thus the requirement to build another facility for the GTA. CP's Vaughan Terminal was built much bigger and so isn't in danger of being so overcapacity, but that's also a function of how agressive CN has been on capturing that business for the past 20 years - CP has a lot of catching up to do (and in fact, in the past 5 years, they have started to claw back some of that business).

The mainline capacity constraints are there, but they aren't insurmountable or problematic - yet. There are much more serious constraints when dealing with VIA Rail and the Canadian, but that's due to the mixing of very different kinds of trains with very different performance abilities. In large part, a lot of the freight trains are operating in very similar manners and with similar performance figures, and so putting them all together isn't a big deal. And in the case of CN, they've optimized this even futher by operating multiple high-priority trains in one direction together as a fleet.

But ultimately - could the railways handle 20% of Panama's current container traffic? I think so, yes. On the whole, they're already handling a very large proportion of the container traffic headed from places like China, Indonesia and Japan to places on the East Coast.

Of course, all of this has been about containers specifically. Bulk cargo is a whole different ball of wax, and much, much harder to handle as a transload. And I don't think that the ports on either side of the continent are particularly well suited to dealing with it.

Dan
Before CN got into Intermodal, back in the 80's/90's they were selling off pieces of land of the Brampton Intermodal Yard to the nearby businesses. The thinking back then was they would never need all that land. Now they're regretting having done that and are paving right up to the property edges to make more container space. Brampton/ PEEL environmental division got upset with CN for having done this and levied a fine against them. CN paid it and just kept paving. In fact they probably budgeted in the fines.
Malport used to be just a muddy pit used for chassis and trailer storage. Now stand on the Airport Rd. bridge going over CN's mainline, look west, and see what Malport looks like today.
 
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Seeing as it's private property, this sounds like a fairly easily solvable problem by management. A few drivers/companies banned or suspended I think would have quick results. 'Drive in - stay in line - stay in your truck'.
We have kicked drivers out and suspended some for 3-7 days for bad behaviour. We'll give a lifetime ban to a driver who cuts a train off or causes injury. But we can't just ban an entire trucking company. That trucking company is contracted out by the shipping lines (Maersk, MSC, Evergreen) to move their containers. Ban an entire trucking company, we delay a lot of containers, and we upset the Shipping line. Once the contract ends between CN and a shipping line, they'll then take their business to CP because we were causing them too many headaches. Constantly kicking out and banning all their drivers.
 
CN's new, under construction (400 acres or thereabouts) internodal terminal is then designed to alleviate pressures at the Brampton Terminal (?)

And the consensus from all of these postings would be that railways generally have the internal capacities to move intermodal units from coast to coast in a timely fashion. Western ports are undergoing capacity upgrades at the dock to handle greater volumes - there has been a lot of comment on dwell times with western ports.. Eastern ports can handle the volume as is (without discussing the proposed container port near Sydney?)

A logistics company told me that it should take six days to ship from Vancouver to Halifax. I am assuming that this does not include loading the train and unloading the train. We have an idea of the time it takes in Brampton (and I am assuming it is one of those 1 mile long unit trains) to load and unload but I am not sure that experience is transferable to either coast - different equipment etc?

Fee-wise I am still trying to work out some general rates. I may have to bribe a logistics guy with an enhanced Christmas offering to get this information. I am going to assume that a coast to coast unload/load shipment could be treated as in 'inbond' shipment and qualify for more cursory customs review prior to arrival and then also qualify for some sort of scaled unit costs for handling and transport depending on weight? And content classification? A further assumption would be that the container company would have a ship arriving in port as the unit train(s) arrived as well so that dwell time would be within the ports norms.
 
We have kicked drivers out and suspended some for 3-7 days for bad behaviour. We'll give a lifetime ban to a driver who cuts a train off or causes injury. But we can't just ban an entire trucking company. That trucking company is contracted out by the shipping lines (Maersk, MSC, Evergreen) to move their containers. Ban an entire trucking company, we delay a lot of containers, and we upset the Shipping line. Once the contract ends between CN and a shipping line, they'll then take their business to CP because we were causing them too many headaches. Constantly kicking out and banning all their drivers.
Ya, I suppose decisions affecting businesses seem easy from the outside. My quick comeback would be simply ban the drivers then and make trying to meet their contract w/o drivers their problem. Maybe a phone call to CP would create a blacklist but, as you say, a competitive world. I wonder if and how they deal with this in the US and Europe.
 

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