New terminal will help grain shipping…… ….. but other shortcomings remain

A recent announcement by a new player in the grain business has received positive response from industry stakeholders.

A recent announcement by a new player in the grain business has received positive response from industry stakeholders. The consensus seems to be that more competition and more handling facilities is always welcome to improve grain shipping. A new coast terminal is being proposed by G3 which is a partnership between grain giant Bunge and the Saudi Agricultural and Livestock Investment Company. The company has acquired land along the north shore of Burrard Inlet in the port of Vancouver. The new terminal would be the first significant grain terminal to be built in Vancouver for over 50 years. Lack of storage has been a constant complaint at the port and sees ocean ships shuttled between terminals to get a full load and waiting by the dozens at anchorage. It was one of those waiting ships that caused the much reported oil spill in the English Bay area of Vancouver. The plan is that the new facility could also handle ever larger ocean cargo ships.

 

Proponents note that the terminal will include a 130 car rail loop which means unit trains could be continuously unloaded, speeding up the process significantly. Apparently that would be a first among the five existing grain terminals. Which causes one to ponder why hasn’t such a rail loop been incorporated into one or more of the existing terminals if it is that much more efficient. At present grain car unit trains are broken up into fives and then shunted back and forth and then reassembled for the return trip. No doubt there may be engineering difficulties to build similar loops at other terminals but there does seem to be some inertia at the port and terminal facilities to make grain shipping more efficient. One hears a story that grain can’t be shipped when it is raining because of fears that rain will cause spoilage. That’s a real problem in rainy Vancouver where it can rain for days on end, couldn’t a covered grain loading facility be constructed to at least speed up the process.

 

One of the problems at Vancouver is that it is congested and space for everything is at a premium. That would make it difficult for rail lines to be expanded or relocated never mind building new bridges or tunnels.  Even the thought of doing that would cause the usual cabal of green lobby groups to rise up in revolt and fight any changes or development. In green obsessed politically-correct Vancouver that would cause duplicitous politicians to capitulate to their demands. Many years ago the lack of efficient rail access and port space caused coal shipping to be relocated to the out-of-town Roberts Bank ship loading area.  That relocation idea may be something oil shippers should have considered for their terminal which is also located in congested Burrard Inlet. Their planned expansion is now being opposed by a green lobby holy war. They are predicting an environmental apocalypse if the oil terminal is expanded.

 

One ponders if consideration was given to locating the new grain terminal at Roberts Bank which has the needed space to unload unit trains. That location would also make it easier for American railroads to deliver Canadian grain shipped over their rails. The idea of using US railways to ship Canadian grain continues to be discussed as a possible way to increase grain shipments to the coast and give the Canadian railways some needed competition. Some skeptics of the new terminal point out that rail shipping bottlenecks will not be improved just because a new terminal has been built. Apologists for the railways claim that rail shipments and turnaround times have been improving steadily. As is usual with these cases that involve multiple players its hard to determine where the truth lies. One thing that is for sure, the G3 group building the new terminal will have to compete for grains and oilseeds to fill their new facility. They recently bought the grain buying and handling assets of the Canadian Wheat Board, which will give them a solid basis to buy grain. It’s expected they will construct more inland terminals to feed their new west coast terminal.

 

 

Regardless of any misgivings about the location of the new terminal and further rail shipping logistical concerns, this is a signal to grain and oilseed growers that their increasing production will be met by newly increased handling facilities and a new and active buyer. That’s good news for the grain industry. The next shipping crisis will be the impending retirement of hundreds of grain hopper rail cars.