Published originally in Canadian Sailings, September 2017 Written by by R. Bruce Striegler
Kleo Landucci, Managing Director of Ashcroft Terminal explains that history plays a part in the formation of the 320 acre, privately-owned inland terminal in the Thompson Okanagan region of British Columbia. “The town is located along the Thompson River and when the Canadian Pacific Railway arrived in the late 1800’s, Ashcroft became a transportation centre for goods and people travelling north to the goldfields. Canadian Pacific built on what it felt was the easier side of the river, and then CN came along a few years later, which built on the other side of the Thompson River, but encountered difficult terrain just south of what’s now Ashcroft Terminal, forcing it to build a bridge from the north to the south side, putting both railways on the same side.”
Robert Landucci, a Vancouver businessman with a background in the forest industry as a mill owner, purchased the bench land in 2004. “He couldn’t believe that this piece of land had both railway mainlines on the same piece of property,” notes daughter Kleo. “He saw an opportunity to expand on the already established spur line into the site, associated with getting B.C.’s natural resources to market.” In 2010, the federal government believed sufficiently in the idea of an inland port to invest $5 million, which was matched by an equal investment of private funding. That money was sufficient to build an internal loop track, switches on a mainline track and crossings, to launch what is now one of five inland ports in Western Canada. Up to 57 trains from both railways travel through the site each day.
Ashcroft is located 340 kilometres east of Vancouver and 90 kilometres west of Kamloops. Ashcroft Terminal currently services all sectors of the natural resource industries which include agriculture, mining, forestry and oil and gas by providing transloading, fleet management, railcar storage and logistics solutions. The expectation at the time was that the Terminal would cut down on the increasing congestion and costs found in Metro Vancouver. Goods such as lumber, pulp, steel and other bulk commodities could be loaded into containers, or stored, before being hauled by rail or truck to their destination. It would apply to export materials coming from northern B.C. or Alberta heading for the coast, and cut down on the time and expense of sitting on docks in Vancouver, as well as inbound cargoes coming from the Port of Vancouver.
Although Kleo Landucci declined to name clients, she says, “As of today, we have 21 customers within the sectors we’ve talked about.” She adds, “We do bulk transloading, where we transload a variety of products from truck to rail or vice versa, and we handle liquid transloading. Ashcroft Terminal has 32,000 feet of siding track within its operations. “We’re operating at about 10 per cent of our geographic footprint. Our full build-out plan which we’re aggressively pursuing, is for a total of 45 kilometres of internal track, both CP and CN main lines on a piece of private property. For example, we’ll have a twinned 25,000 foot loop track for direct access to the mainlines for both west and east-bound unit trains.” She adds that it is important to remember that every single train, every piece of cargo that goes in and out of all Port of Vancouver terminals passes through Ashcroft Terminal.
Landucci says that the company is in final stages of launching an intermodal service. “We’ve done a pilot program and we’re now gearing up for a full launch, focused on the forest industry.” Ashcroft Terminals also handles railcar storage, and Landucci says, “Major companies in the oil and gas, agricultural, forestry, mining, drilling and manufacturing industries benefit daily from Ashcroft Terminal’s services. We facilitate a search supply solution for our customers to ease out their fleet flow of railcars, and our customers can choose to store their railcars indoors or outdoors on our 320-acre terminal.”
Land availability running out in the Metro Vancouver region
For the past several years, the subject of industrial land availability in the Metro Vancouver region has been a hot topic. In a speech to Vancouver’s Board of Trade in 2015, Robin Silvester, CEO of Port of Vancouver, sounded the alarm about a shortage of industrial land in the B.C.’s Lower Mainland. A point of contention for many is the use of existing agricultural land, removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve for industrial use. The port, which holds large parcels of agricultural land such as the former 200-acre Gilmore Farm in Richmond, maintains farmland is being held as a safety buffer because there’s no industrial land left.
In May of this year, a report from the commercial real estate firm CBRE showed that the region has the lowest availability of industrial land in North America. A 2015 Metro Vancouver report forecast the region could run out of industrial land by 2038. At 2.7 per cent, the availability rate is now well below the previous record low of 3.8 per cent for the region.
The issue is not the price of land, but being able to find land at any price that is close enough to existing transportation networks and the port to meet industry demands. Examples of the problem include Molson Coors, which was forced to relocate from its downtown Vancouver brewery/distribution center, after selling the site to a residential developer. The company is building a new facility in the Fraser Valley, 103 kilometres, or an hour and a quarter from Vancouver. The city has land zoned industrial, but it doesn’t meet the requirements businesses are looking for, such as being located close to major highways, railways or the port.
“We are in a robust supply cycle that came on in response to demand, but demand continues to outpace supply and continues to grow at an exponential pace and we can’t keep up,” Chris MacCauley, Senior Vice-President at CBRE in Vancouver, said in the company’s May news release. “Right now the large scale distribution companies are at a critical state. Any large distribution or industrial clients cannot find a home,” he says.
Inland Terminals one way to relieve congestion?
It seems a straight-forward proposition that one way to relieve some of this pressure and enable more efficient goods movement is to shift some port functions inland. Curiously, that option has, in the past, received a cold shoulder from Port of Vancouver. In a story published in Business In Vancouver in May 2016, Port CEO Silvester called inland ports an “oxymoron,” and the story goes on to report that Duncan Wilson, Vice-President, Corporate Social Responsibility at Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, told a Vancouver Board of Trade panel in 2012: “We do not support development of inland terminals.” Silvester has said that an inland port would increase truck traffic, but a study commissioned by the Corporation of Delta in 2014 found the opposite: under a conservative scenario, an inland port could eliminate 360 truck trips a day to and from Delta container terminals by 2031. If a “moderate” amount of transloading went inland, that number would jump to 1,080 trips a day, or 650,000 trips a year: one out of nine truck trips to and from Deltaport. Kleo Landucci is quoted in the same story, saying the region is missing out on the best solutions for railroads, shippers and producers. Her view was echoed by a Metro Vancouver report that stated: “The knowledge base on regional goods movement is fragmented with out-of-date and incomplete information.”
Today, Landucci says, “Both Peter Xotta (Vice-President, Planning and Operations, Vancouver Fraser Port Authority) and I work closely together, and I think the Port Authority has come to understand that there is perhaps some value in how we can work more closely together.” She says that Port of Vancouver has launched a study of inland ports with a report she expects will be released at the Inland Port Conference in Calgary. On October 4 and 5, Van Horne Institute will be hosting the 2017 Canadian Inland Ports Conference. The event will focus on the theme, “Canada’s Ports: Gateways to Enable Trade”, and will bring together leading experts from around the world to discuss Inland Ports and their importance to their local, provincial, and national economies. It will showcase five of Canada’s Inland Ports located across Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and B.C. as well as major Canadian deep-sea ports and their stakeholders.