Aug 17/17 – Part 2: Fairview proof of concept

On the cusp of a great recession, timing was critical for Fairview Terminal.

“Had we lost six months, and we hadn’t gotten the announcement or the commitment when we did Fairview Terminal would not exist today,” said Don Krusel, president and CEO of the Port of Prince Rupert.

Funding from government, Maher Terminals and CN Rail came in the nick of time and allowed for the construction of the new terminal to be on time and within the budget.

“Just as we were cutting the ribbon, container traffic had already peaked and was falling as we were opening,” Krusel said.

But despite the downturn in container traffic and weakening market conditions, CN Rail sealed an agreement in May with COSCO Container Lines. The international shipping service based in Shanghai stated it would make Prince Rupert its first port of call on the way to Vancouver and Puget Sound.

Then on August 20, 2007, the Prince Rupert skyline changed forever when three 80-metre super post-panamax cranes arrived at the new berth in Fairview. At 25 storeys tall and weighing 1,800 tonnes each, the cranes were the candles on the cake for the new terminal.

Dignitaries and delegations travelled to the North Coast for the grand opening celebration on September 12, 2007. The $170 million project was designed to be a 500,000 TEUs (20-foot equivalent units) facility and a unique port business model special only to Prince Rupert.

“The Port of Prince Rupert is the closest port to the fastest growing economies in the world. This single expansion will create thousands of jobs in this region alone, and shift the focus of North American economies to the Pacific. I want to thank all the partners involved in this project for showing tremendous leadership and vision for our province and all of Canada,” said British Columbia’s premier at the time, Gordon Campbell.

He cited then that fifty years ago Canada opened its trade to the Atlantic with investments in the St. Lawrence Seaway and now the government is investing in trade corridors linking the Pacific with Asian markets.

While everyone held their breath to see how the new business model would fare, it didn’t take long to prove that Prince Rupert had a niche in the container port industry.

“What made it all the more painful for our competitors, in an environment where they were actually losing traffic year after year in 2008-2009, we were growing double digit numbers,” Krusel said with pride, adding his gratitude for COSCO taking a chance on their experiment and becoming a crucial piece in pulling the project off.

The first vessel arrived on October 30, 2007. The COSCO Antwerp unloaded more than 1,000 containers and the next morning a train carried 600 TEUs to Chicago arriving 92 hours later.

Optimistic with the project’s future, Krusel estimated an expansion into Phase II of Fairview would be underway and built by 2011. However, Phase II North didn’t begin until 2015 and the success of its completion will be celebrated on August 29.

Phase II will expand the wharf from 380 metres to 800 metres in length, enabling two container vessels to berth the terminal. On May 13, three Malacca-max gantry cranes were added to the south side of Fairview Container Terminal after travelling 1.5 months from China. The terminal now operates with seven cranes in total.

As a purely intermodal container terminal with no local traffic, the Rupert model has had greater efficiency.

The project was expected to handle 500,000 TEUs annually, however, even before Phase II was complete that number has increased over the years.

“We’re already up well over 700,000 TEUs and now with two berths we’re thinking it’s going to 1.3 or 1.4 million but it could be more,” Krusel said.

To compare the growth from 2016 to 2017, last June Fairview handled 587,068 tonnes of cargo and this June it had a record month with 14 vessel calls and 918,423 tonnes of cargo.

With the expansion also came more work. Port authority staff has gone from 14 people to 80, and DP World, which took over the terminal operations from Maher Terminals in August 2015, added another 250 positions to work at the terminal, swelling the numbers to 750 workers.

“We always have to be better than our competition, or we could lose it all tomorrow,” Krusel said.