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Canada Infrastructure Bank backs Port of Prince Rupert’s $750-million plan to boost exports

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The port authority serves as the landlord for tenants such as DP World PLC at the Fairview container terminal in Prince Rupert.Brent Jang/The Globe and Mail

The Canada Infrastructure Bank is backing a $750-million project designed to bolster exports from the Port of Prince Rupert and reduce shipments of empty containers heading to Asia.

CIB has agreed to lend $150-million to the Prince Rupert Port Authority to help finance construction of the first phase of the B.C. logistics project called Canxport.

There are significantly more imports than exports of cargo-filled containers, but Canxport will spur increased exports and help attain a better balance of trade for Canada, said CIB chief executive officer Ehren Cory.

“For every load that comes into the Port of Prince Rupert, more than half of those go back out empty,” Mr. Cory said in an interview. “Reducing the number of empty containers that are moving back through the supply chain is an additional way to create value.”

The loan by CIB, a federal Crown corporation, marks its first investment in a port in Canada.

The port authority serves as the landlord for tenants such as DP World PLC at the Fairview container terminal in Prince Rupert.

Ray-Mont Logistics, which specializes in freight forwarding, will be the operator of Canxport, formerly known as the Ridley Island export logistics project.

Ray-Mont and Canadian National Railway Co. CNR-T will make capital investments in the $750-million project, which has estimated costs of $338-million for the first phase. The goal is to have the logistics hub completed by the fall of 2026.

CN chief executive officer Tracy Robinson said she is excited that the railway’s customers will be able to access new export markets.

A wide range of Canadian goods, from wood pulp to specialty crops, will be taken off lengthy CN trains and put into containers at the Canxport site. Those containers would then be trucked along a private five-kilometre road to the Fairview terminal for loading onto ships.

“A lot of the value in the facility will be in enabling trade,” port authority president Shaun Stevenson said in an interview. “It’s better market access for the export sectors that contribute to Canada’s economic vitality.”

The port authority, which reports to federal Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez, believes Canxport will improve the flow of cargo. The federal government is pitching in about $65-million toward Canxport while the B.C. government is contributing $25-million.

“This investment in the Canxport project marks a significant step in enhancing marine shipping efficiency and reliability, ensuring smoother transportation of goods,” Mr. Rodriguez said in a statement.

The main development contract for the logistics hub has been awarded to an Indigenous joint venture that includes the Lax Kw’alaams Band, the Metlakatla First Nation, Gitxaala Nation and IDL Projects Inc.

The shipping industry deploys large vessels to carry containers, which are reusable steel boxes measured as 20-foot equivalent units or TEUs.

Canxport’s initial annual capacity will be 400,000 TEUs, including handling bulk commodities from the agricultural and forestry sectors, as well as plastic resin products.

More than 704,000 TEUs of exports and imports went through the Port of Prince Rupert last year. Imports, including consumer goods from Asia, accounted for 52 per cent of the total. Empty export containers accounted for nearly 30 per cent of the total and 18 per cent were loaded export containers.

The number of empty containers exported from Prince Rupert fell 42 per cent to 209,526 last year, after peaking at 363,139 in 2022. The port’s handling of a record number of empty containers in 2022 occurred when consumers stuck at home under pandemic lockdowns were ordering goods online in droves.

Rather than waiting for the containers to be loaded with Canadian goods, shipping companies paid for them to be sent to Asia empty, so they could be filled faster for the trip back to Canada.

After expansions over the years, Fairview’s annual capacity has reached 1.6 million TEUs, with further improvements planned to boost the total capacity to 1.8 million TEUs.

Mr. Stevenson said Canxport will play an important role in speeding up the transfer of freight that arrives by train on CN tracks and loading those goods into the standardized containers in preparation for exporting.

The port authority has plans for a second container terminal, to be operated by DP World, that would add another two million TEUs a year, potentially by the early 2030s.

In 2007, the Fairview container terminal opened with an annual capacity of 500,000 TEUs. Eight years later, DP World acquired the facility, operated at the time by Maher Terminals Inc.

In staking out territory as a North American gateway to the U.S. Midwest, Prince Rupert initially promoted itself as a novel port that would rely on CN tracks to move Asian goods primarily south of the border.

That continental strategy distinguishes Prince Rupert from the Port of Vancouver, where the overwhelming majority of goods from Asia are transported by truck and train eastward and stay in Canada.

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