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ROGER TAYLOR: Plans for container shuttle along Halifax rail cut nearly complete

Halifax Port Authority president and CEO Allan Gray poses for a photo on the new South End Container Terminal extension on Friday, October 23, 2020. The Zim Tarragona was the first vessel to use the extension.
Ryan Taplin - The Chronicle Herald
Halifax Port Authority president and CEO Allan Gray poses for a photo on the new South End Container Terminal extension on Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. The Zim Tarragona was the first vessel to use the extension. Ryan Taplin - The Chronicle Herald

The long-proposed movement of shipping containers along the railway cut that connects the two cargo terminals at either end of the Halifax peninsula has become more than the pipedream some believed it was.

Capt. Allan Gray, CEO of the Halifax Port Authority, told me Monday that planning for the project has been proceeding throughout this year among CN, PSA and the authority.

The design for a new rail connection is being finalized and how it’s going to work is nearing completion, he says.

The connection had been touted as a route for truck movement of containers as a means of reducing traffic that causes a great deal of congestion in downtown Halifax.

In June 2019, the federal government announced it would increase storage capacity at the port by connecting the south-end terminal to the Fairview Cove terminal by rail. Under that plan, rail tracks will be added within the existing rail-cut footprint.

“All the parties are comfortable with what we have to do,” Gray says.

“So, we’ll be proceeding to a contribution agreement with government within the next month and work will commence on the gate access arrangements up at Fairview (terminal) next year and some realignment of roads and gates down at the southern end to start with, and then we’ll be moving on to the rail components in the further years.”

There have been rumours that PSA Halifax, operator of the former Halterm container terminal in the city’s south end, is interested in taking control of the Fairview Cove container terminal, which is managed by Ceres/NYK. Gray says, however, that management at the port’s container terminals is unchanged.

PSA International acquired the south-end terminal in 2017, and Ceres/NYK signed a 20-year contract to operate the Fairview Cove terminal with the Halifax Port Authority effective Jan. 1, 2003.

“At the moment, the two terminals are operating under separate management,” says Gray, but he points out that the port authority has an agreement with both operators that there must be some form of collaboration that has to be worked out. There obviously has to be some when you move containers between two terminals.

According to the current schedule, Grays says, the rail-cut project will take until 2024-25 to complete.

“It may be sooner than that. A lot depends sometimes, when you’ve got operational berths, getting access to the components of the berth to do construction work.”

In the meantime, Gray says, there has been some activity in an effort to reduce vehicle emissions associated with the container business.

“CN and PSA have already been doing some work with Moncton and arrangements with some of their customers and that has resulted in a reduction in truck traffic already, and there’s talk about repositioning vessels as we move forward, as well, which of course will result in a further reduction,” he says.

“So, we will see a reduced truck volume as the time goes on. It’s not like tomorrow it’s full volume and in 2024-25 it is completely (gone). It will be gradually reduced down as we go.”

Although there are no immediate plans to use robots or autonomous vehicles to move containers between the terminals, he says, there have been talks about finding a low-emission solution.

“So, with the shuttle service, the size of it is such that you could probably use electrical-powered locomotives or LNG-powered locomotives as alternatives.”

Gray’s first anniversary at the helm of the authority will be Nov. 25.

“A bit of a whirlwind first year,” he says.

“It’s been eventful and I’ve said to the board, ‘You know, most people go through a probation, but you guys have thrown just about everything at me to test me in the first year.’

“I’m still smiling and getting on with things. So, we’re still moving with a lot of our strategies on things like innovation and digitalization and . . . obviously there’s always a little bit of organizational change you go through when you join an organization, just to change it to the way you feel it needs to be to move into being an ultra-gateway port.”

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