A Prairie inland port stands to offer Canadians a larger share of the global transportation industry at a more effective cost, while putting Saskatchewan on the map in the Prairie-to-ports gateway that would connect global markets to North America.
An inland railway port is a more cost effective and less congested avenue that exporters in Saskatchewan need to make a reality, according to Doug Campbell, CEO of Prairie-to-Gateway and Inland Port, who spoke in Regina on Wednesday.
According to Campbell, who was hosted by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a Prairie gateway won’t come to fruition by having people dream about it or talk about it.
“It will take more than just wishing,” said Campbell. “(The province has) got to get to work. We need all the export shippers to band together.”
Campbell said there is great potential for many of Saskatchewan’s exportable goods — including grain, machinery and pork — in today’s hot market of Asia. The Asia Pacific gateway is currently the hottest market and many companies from all over the world are currently building ports in order to be a part of it.
In Canada, Vancouver is home to Canada’s busiest port, but Campbell said that due to congestion in areas like Vancouver and Los Angeles, an inland port is the best alternative to having new ports built in those areas. A Prairie port would be built on land that is far less expensive compared with land near sea ports, and would also create a better line to Chicago, North America’s current main hub. Before this can happen, only one thing is needed.
“We need critical mass,” said Campbell. “We need volume. This is not wheelbarrow loads. It’s got to be, I would say, about 500,000 tons of product. That would be adequate to get the proper and positive attention of private-sector carriers.”
Campbell said public support is required from all three levels of government in term of things like infrastructure — roads, cloverleafs, weigh scales, security clearance — or what Campbell refers to as “soft stuff on the edge.” He said, without that support, premium products will be unable to be maintained.
Shipments have to be considered from production to destination, Campbell said. If, for example, there is no infrastructure at the destination point for large shipment containers, this has to be taken into consideration to minimize the amount of times the product is handled en route.
The window of opportunity to create a Prairie gateway is small. Campbell said businesses across the world are trying to get a piece of the pie by building ports. This includes many different shipping types, from deep sea to short sea shipping. While the pie is growing, according to Campbell, the hope that it will happen on our terms and time frame is not realistic.
“We don’t have time to wait,” said Campbell. “There is no specific time, but if (Saskatchewan doesn’t) do it, then Vancouver will build another crowded, congested warehouse five miles from the existing one and they’ll choke.”
Regina’s proposed Canadian Pacific (CP) inter-modal facility has potential to be a large player in a Prairie gateway, but according to Campbell, having the facility located at the airport isn’t much help as there is not much elbow room to grow beside the airport.
“If you’re in the railway business and you want to grow, you need tracks that are two to two-and-a-half miles long,” said Campbell. “Train links used to be 60 cars … they are now 126 car links. If it’s anywhere near residential district, you’re going to have lights on at a 24-hour basis, trains crashing into each other and cranes lifting and dumping stuff. You don’t want Mosaic Stadium to be your next door neighbour.
“The logical place for it is either Moose Jaw, where the junction is, or Belle Plaine where you’ve already got both railways having access. (Regina’s inter-model plan) is just a CP deal.
“ As a matter of public policy, almost every shipper, every manufacturer would say ‘I want access to both railways, not just one.’”