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Vancouver rail delays ahead of winter worry shippers

Dwell times at Vancouver rail facilities are approaching last winter’s levels, when port congestion was the worst in years, but terminal operators say the factors driving the current delays are not a harbinger.

Container dwell times at port of Vancouver rail facilities exceeded five days this week and have been higher than the normal three-day dwell time since mid-September. That’s sending a chill through shippers in Canada and the US who fear that a repeat of the port congestion and deteriorating rail service of last winter might be approaching.

However, DP World Canada says the doubling of dwell times is due mostly to a bunching of vessels arriving from Asia, and unusually strong cargo volumes, rather than an indicator of worse times ahead during Canada’s challenging winter weather. Vancouver’s container volume in the first half of 2018 was up 5 percent to a record 1.64 million TEU, according to the port.

Delays caused by full ships

“We don’t see it as a precursor of winter. It’s just that the vessels are all full now,” said Maksim Mihic, general manager of DP World Canada, which operates the Centerm container terminal in Vancouver. He said Centerm intends to be back to normal dwell times in four to six weeks.

The dwell times at GCT Canada’s Vanterm and Deltaport terminals were in the five-day to seven-day range, and Centerm’s dwell time was more than seven days, according to the Oct. 2 gateway terminal rail dwell performance report published by the port authority. This is troubling to beneficial cargo owners and freight forwarders because dwell times were at those levels from December 2017 through March 2018, when port congestion was the worst it had been in years.

September rail metrics provided by the port show that dwell times at rail facilities — which have an impact on total port productivity — began to lengthen in mid-September. The September 14 report showed all three container terminals with dwell times in the three-day to five-day range, and they have nudged up a notch since then. Vancouver promotes its efficiency by advertising that its dwell times are normally three days or slightly lower.

Gemini Shippers Association tracks dwell times at Prince Rupert, Vancouver, Seattle-Tacoma and Los Angeles-Long Beach, and Vancouver’s dwell so far this year “has been on average 37 percent longer than the average of the West Coast group,” Kenneth O’Brien, chief operating officer, said Friday. Commenting on the increasing container volumes being handled by all North American ports, O’Brien said, “Pushing these higher volumes through a generally constrained network has taxed shippers and alike. We continue to see challenges with terminal dwell, terminal-to-rail transfers, chassis shortages and drayage capacity as all being significant levers that need to be monitored and proactively managed.”



This article was originally published by the Journal of Commerce. To continue reading, visit

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