Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Water ‘highway’ could take trucks off Metro’s roads

with 3 comments

Vancouver Sun

I did not go to the Metro Vancouver sustainable growth and the economy public dialogue yesterday. The panel was different to the one I did go to at West Vancouver. But what really surprises me is that Randy Shore did go to Surrey. The press has not been at many of these meetings in that past, so far as I am aware. And so was Brian Lewis of the Province who has this wonderful quote from Gordon Price

“Can someone give me an example where this kind of road has worked elsewhere?” he said.

“We’re spending a billion dollars on a road without any working examples of success [elsewhere], yet when we’ve made commitments to build rail systems we have seen the benefits.”

He quipped: “It’s curious that when we know it doesn’t work, we do it, but when we know it does work, then we don’t do it.”

Darn, wish I’d said that.

The road he was referring to is the South Fraser Perimeter Road, and the idea is that if the containers were moved by barge instead of truck, then we would not need this road.

The plan to load containers on to barges is not of course new and has been discussed here before – though the mention of Hope is new. Up until now I had expected that the ecological significance of the gravel reach would have been a block to navigation by large barges this far upstream.

“Most of what we need to make this happen is there already,” Badger told The Sun. The highway — in this case the Fraser River — and the railroad tracks run side by side all the way to Hope.

The Fraser River at Hope BC

What isn’t there of course are the terminal facilities. And proposals by the port to buy up land along the river front for terminals are already a cause for concern among the local communities.

The cost of transferring containers more than once — from deep-sea vessels to short-haul vessels and then to trucks or rail — in their trip from port to market has been prohibitive until now.

As the cost of transport goes up “it makes this kind of operation much more viable,” Badger said.

But it still does not make any sense at all. The container terminals all have rail access. And the plan for the expansion of Deltaport is to add even more rail. So for long distance shipments across North America, most of the containers taken off ships go onto trains at the marine terminal. This can also happen at Surrey Fraser Docks where the container cranes have now been standing idle for some time. In fact at Deltaport I have never seen all the cranes in use at once. This is not, of course, a scientific study but casual observation suggests that at the moment there is a lot of spare capacity. The Burrard inlet terminals are all rail connected too, of course – though a sneaky suspicion lurks in my mind that they could be very desirable redevelopment sites.

Zim Atlantic Deltaport Vancouver BC 2007_1221

Now I have heard it said that CN Intermodal does operate trucks between Deltaport, Vanterm and its Thornton yard. Quite why that would be cheaper than running trains I have no idea. Perhaps it is something to do with the CN/CP agreements on track use.

Stacks and Mountains Delta BC 2006_0325

The big deal that generates truck movement is the volume of traffic that gets resorted here. Imported containers are stripped of their contents, and the goods reloaded onto other containers or trailers for onward transmission by companies like Hudson’s Bay and Canadian Tire. Very few stores need an entire container full of rubber duckies, so the trailers carry a variety of goods from various sources. It is this activity that generates so many truck movements as it is very poorly co-ordinated, with a lot of movement of empty equipment. If that could be combined at one site with packing containers for export there is a real potential for savings. But double handling full containers, to load them onto trains up the valley just adds cost and delay to what can be done now – putting them on to trains at the port.

Many of the approximately 50 attendees were exasperated by the expansion of the car and truck based road system when the region is trying to encourage denser residential growth and promote transit.

More highway capacity without tolls will encourage more sprawl, more driving and more pollution, speakers complained.

Well at least he did report it, even if it was buried at the bottom of the article.

David Fields on the Livable Region blog has these observations

Environment Canada has requested that an alternative scenario on the same scale as the current Gateway scheme be developed that would meet the same goals of moving people and goods but could possibly have a lesser impact on our environment. We here at the LRC have been clamouring for the same. The Minister of Highways has so far refused to do so, claiming that his Gateway is the only option that will work. It is interesting that highway schemes everywhere else have failed. Even after these few years when we have seen the public switch on climate change and the Premier’s response with the Carbon Tax and promised future action, the details of Gateway have not changed in kind. Well, not entirely true- the price has gone up.

A re-think of Gateway is long overdue. There is an incredible amount of expertise and determination in this region that would enable us to realize a vision of moving people and goods while lessening our impact on the natural environment and enhancing our communities. A process of developing a full scale Greenway to replace Gateway could be undertaken swiftly and would be cost effective. The obstacle, of course, is the extreme arrogance of this current government.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 6, 2008 at 9:24 am

3 Responses

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  1. Hi Stephen,

    Apparently there’s another transportation dialogue soon:

    SFU Wosk Centre for Dialogue in Vancouver
    Role of the Region – Economy and Transportation
    March 19, 2008, 11:30 am – 2 pm (lunch from 11:30 am – 12:00 pm)
    SFU Wosk Centre for Dialogue, Simon Fraser University, 580 West Hastings Street, Vancouver, BC

    The rapidly expanding global economy is forcing us to make decisions. How do we balance the requirements of a regional transportation network, environmental improvement and livability while supporting the demand for goods movement for the continent? How do we ensure a robust economy for the future? What’s Metro Vancouver’s role?

    I might actually go to this one. And I reviewed two of the four environmental events you kindly helped me promote. Reviews are on my blog (I’m switching to WordPress slowly, so if you don’t find it in the WP one, you’ll find it on Blogger)



    March 6, 2008 at 12:53 pm

  2. Yes I saw that – the panel is almost the same as the WestVan one so I will not bother.

    You are not putting in a link to your blog when you post here. You may get more traffic if you do because the name on the comment header will become a link – and I have fixed that now

    Stephen Rees

    March 6, 2008 at 1:07 pm

  3. I am always surprised that more use of the Fraser for moving goods, is not contemplated. Certainly, moving goods by water is quite cheap and even in the UK, some companies are moving goods by ‘narrow’ canal boat, in long unused (for freight) canals.

    Malcolm J.

    March 7, 2008 at 9:25 am

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