Container Supply

Container supply has been a perennial problem in the interior, while plenty of containers return empty from the West Coast -- enough capacity to double if not triple existing containerized grain exports. Shippers in the Prairies cannot understand why containers cannot be pulled further inland to meet their export needs to Asia. The tendency is to lean on railways for containers, but they are mere carriers -- they get what shipping-lines send their way and if cleared load empties to return across the Pacific. The solutions lie with closer cooperation and planning with shipping-lines.


Though often seen as vessel-operations, at the core of the shipping-line business is slot-capacity and container-flow alignment -- to fill every slot on vessels, sailing head-haul or back-haul, with containers, empty or loaded. If containers have to go inland at either end, journeys become longer, requiring more containers on that route. Containers are cheap, but the critical factor in container-allocation is predictability of return times to ports. If grain export-flows could be planned and managed from the Prairies, shipping-lines would gladly add more containers to earn more revenue.

There are no mysteries behind large numbers of containers returning empty from the West Coast. The head-haul in Pacific-trades is eastbound; container-ships come full, with every slot taken up by loaded-containers. Those ships have to return right away with the same number of containers, empty or loaded, to sustain the flow on the eastbound head-haul. To pull those containers into the Prairies to load with grains, more containers would be needed, and even more if those containers have to go further inland at destination to deliver the grains they are carrying to end-users.

The key to increasing container-supply in the Prairies is working with the shipping-lines to plan and manage grain-export-flows to fit into their vessel-movement and container-circulation patterns. Working with the shipping-lines and generating sustainable grain-flows may not be as easy as we outline here, but not an impossible mission either. We have a more detailed paper coming out on this topic, but in a nutshell if our trade-facilitation mission is successful in generating steady export-volumes, we are confident of overcoming the perennial container supply constraints.

Inland Container-Supply:
A perennial problem that won't go away

Despite all the promises and efforts, there has been little progress in improving container-supply across the Prairies.  For many of us involved in this domain there are no mysteries, and in this report we will layout our plans to improve this situation to pull more containers inland to serve export-trades -- mainly by working with major shipping-lines now serving our West Coast export-gateways.

A Crane Lifting a Container
Financial Report

Container Supply Updates:
Reporting on our shipping-line discussions

Once we finalize our trade-facilitation strategy, we will engage with the shipping-lines to workout practical container-supply solutions -- following an incremental and staged supply-improvement plan.  We will be posting regular updates on this portal on the progress we make, with container-supply-targets at each of the major Prairie-centers that can be routed to specific Asia-Pacific destinations.