Canadian Consulting Engineer

Prince Rupert container terminal opens up Pacific trade

A new container terminal at Prince Rupert in northern British Columbia had its grand opening last Wednesday, Septem...

September 17, 2007   Canadian Consulting Engineer

A new container terminal at Prince Rupert in northern British Columbia had its grand opening last Wednesday, September 12.<br>
The new intermodal hub is part of the Canadian government’s Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative that was launched in 2005 as a way to strengthen Pacific trade routes between Asia and North America, especially in order to capitalize on China’s burgeoning markets.<br
The existing Fairview wharf at Prince Rupert has been extended into the water by 20 metres and is about 400 metres long. Michael Graham, P.Eng., port engineer and director of project development, explains that the construction involved a new pile and deck structure with precast elements. It required 99 piles about 40 metres long to be drilled into the bedrock. With a depth of 16 metres, the wharf has three berths capable of handling the largest (11,000 TEU) container ships.<br>
Graham explains that the port expansion also involved installing a new 69 kV transmission line and substations. The power is necessary to service three new giant cranes and high mast lighting. There is also a state-of-the-art fibre-optic communication network, which supports the critical three-dimensional logistic computer system that tracks the location of each container at all times. <br>
Westmar Engineering Consultants of Vancouver are the main design engineers on the $170-million port expansion, which includes a container storage yard, intermodal yard, and the new marine wharf. Subconsultants included Levelton Engineering for geotechnical work and Omni for civil engineering. Peer review of the marine design was by CH2M Hill, and peer review of the electrical design was by Sandwell. Moffatt & Nichol were the project managers and they did the capacity analysis. Other engineering companies involved were Keystone Environmental (environmental) and Port Plan (berthing movement).<br>
Maher Terminals, which will operate the terminal, has invested $60 million in the terminal, including three massive “super post-Panamax” cranes which were shipped from Shanghai on a single vessel and arrived at Prince Rupert on August 26. The cranes are as tall as a 25-storey building and can lift 65 metric tonnes each. <br>
Located on the B.C. mainland coast, west of the Queen Charlotte Islands and close to the border with Alaska. the port of Prince Rupert is being boosted on the basis that it is the shortest North-America-Asia sailing route, shorter by two days’ sailing than the trip to Vancouver. <br>
Prince Rupert is also the deepest natural deep water harbour in North America and it is ice-free. Perhaps the main advantage of Prince Rupert, though, say some involved with the project, is that the CN rail lines going east are currently vastly underused — running about 5% capacity — which means that the new container traffic can be shipped on uncongested lines, in contrast to other ports where the rail lines are overburdened. CN has invested $30 million in upgrading its rail tracks and facilities serving the port. Its network will provide connections over the Rockies into eastern Canadian cities such as Toronto and Montreal, as well as to U.S cities like Chicago and Memphis and the eastern seaboard.<br>
Prince Rupert’s fortunes declined after trade in bulk exports fell. While it moved 800,000 tonnes of forest products in 1988, this number had dwindled to 20,000 tonnes in 2005. Now the port sees its future in containers and when the first ship arrives for loading in October, it will have a capacity of 500,000 TEUs — 20-foot equivalent units, which is the standard measure for containers. By 2010, the plan is for the container port to be able to handle 2 million TEUs.<br>
An article by Don Whitely in the July issue of BC Business magazine, said “Today, in a dramatic change in fortune, Prince Rupert’s port expansion is looking like the most important piece of infrastructure in northern B.C. since the railway came through almost a century ago.”<br>


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