All Routes Lead to the 'Peg: City has high hopes for port
Source: Today's Trucking
Published: March 23rd 2009

WINNIPEG -- Manitoba is pressing hard to become the center of the shipping universe, but the necessary steps to build one, unfortunately, do not read like a Hollywood script.

Unlike Kevin Costner and his baseball diamond carved out of an Iowa cornfield in the 1980s movie Field of Dreams, the "if you build it, they will come" rule does not apply to the creation of an inland port.

There are several medium-sized cities in Canada vying to become the next great shipping hub, including Edmonton and Regina. But perhaps the furthest along in their plans is Winnipeg.

In September 2008, the Manitoba government introduced the CentrePort Canada Act in an effort to support private-sector investment and growth of the inland port vision in Winnipeg.

The inland port needs private sector investment to continue putting the infrastructure in place, but it's established infrastructure that will partly lure the private sector to Manitoba's capital city.

"To say we're not an inland port now is not accurate; to say we have some gaps and spaces to fill would be accurate," notes Greg Dandewich, chairman of North American Inland Port Network & vice-president and director Economic Development, Destination Winnipeg.

"It's not a 5-year project; it's a 50-year project," he adds. "We have to advance it in a way to meet future challenges."

By Any Means Necessary:

In Europe, inland ports litter the continent and according to Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue there's probably not enough business to go around.

"In North America it's the opposite and they don't make themselves visible enough," explains Rodrigue, associate professor of global studies and geography at Hofstra University.

Stateside there are about 19 inland ports and although they all try to bring the same concept to their regions, no two are really the same. "There's not one solution that fits all," notes Dandewich. "You can't look at one in Texas or Kansas City and say, 'we're going to do that.'"

There are a number of factors however, working in Winnipeg's favor and many are homegrown.

The land put aside for CentrePort's development spans 20,000 acres and sits adjacent to a 24-hour airport. Both Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway maintain extensive marshalling yards with major service facilities, including intermodal terminals where trailers and containers are transferred between road and rail; and the province has more than 1000 for-hire trucking companies that operate either interprovincially or internationally.

Another positive for CentrePort is a global shift in container usage. Basically, it's become the common means to get goods from Point A to Point B. Even traditional bulk goods like coffee are making the shift to containers -- to the tune of about 99 percent.

One glitch in the plan however, is the unwillingness of maritime shippers to send containers deep into the continent. Not only is it expensive to ship an empty container back, it's been historically difficult to get them back in a timely manner.

But there are solutions and mainly because there's not a lot of excess storage space (better known as land) at the coastal ports. There is the option of utilizing RFID tracking to monitor container moves, or create a burgeoning manufacturing market to fill the return loads.

As Dr. Rodrigue points out, an inland port needs efficient repositioning, cargo rotation, and an export market to truly be efficient.

There's also the option of offering cheap storage rates, something the coastal ports can't afford to do. One thing Rodrigue is certain of however, is that involvement from maritime shippers will be a big key in any inland port's success.

"You could provide ample dwell time here," he says. "Right now there is too much storage at the gateways. Do you want to talk to a Maritime shipping company who needs space inland?

"Infrastructure can be built anywhere, you have to have value-added service from the community."

-- (The entire article can be read in the upcoming May issue of Today's Trucking)