Monday, July 14, 2008

CN Cuts Back on Port Calls to Halifax

(Tom Peters — Chronicle Herald)

Declining container cargo at the Port of Halifax has prompted CN to cut back on the number of trains calling the Port of Halifax.

The lone rail operator into the port said Friday it will only have one train a day serving Halifax instead of two.

CN spokeswoman Julie Senecal said the decision takes effect immediately.

“CN is eliminating one train in both directions between Halifax and Central Canada,” she said. But the serving train will have adequate capacity for the cargo that is moving daily and will have space available if volumes increase, she said.

Because of the port’s declining volumes, the two trains were operating at less than half capacity.

“We will move the same footage (train length) in and out of Halifax but we will do it with one train,” Ms. Senecal said. “It will have minimal impact on transit times.”

The Halifax Port Authority released its six-month container cargo figures this week and TEUs (20-foot equivalent units) are down 16.3 per cent from the same period last year.

The port authority said there were several factors contributing to the decline: the 2007 loss of two weekly services, the high Canadian dollar, the weakening U.S. economy impacting both imports and exports, the high cost of bunker fuel and continued consolidation of international shipping lines.

Karen Oldfield, port authority president and CEO, said Friday that when it comes to rail service, the authority’s priority is its customers.

“We understand that CN has spoken directly to port customers and has advised there will be absolutely no impact or change or effect to customer service,” she said. “Our job is to be very vigilant and monitor that assurance and to make sure that the rail service is seamless.”

Ms. Oldfield said the next step will be for CN to explain to terminal operators and some key stakeholders next week how it plans to alter its service without negative impact.

She said the key to this move by CN is service and reliability “and CN is telling customers there will be no change in service and that is what we have to focus on.”