Charles Hays, the entrepreneur who planned to create this jewel of the north, was returning from Britain with a commitment for new funding to make it happen. He headed home on the Titanic, but was among the 1,517 victims when the vessel struck an iceberg off Newfoundland and sank on April 14, 1912. Hays was president of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad and the driving force stretching that line across Canada from New Brunswick to its main western depot in Prince Rupert, which he planned to grow into one of Canada’s principal cities.
Today Prince Rupert is seeing $1 billion worth of new development and infrastructure construction and huge ships are arriving weekly, as the port is growing into a major gateway for trade between North America and Asia.
Prince Rupert’s new $120-million container port welcomed its first vessel 18 months ago. Its current capacity is 500,000 containers per year, but a second phase of construction, expected to start in mid 2010, will boost that number to 2 million TEUs (20-foot equivalent units) a year. The port is making plans to handle 4 million units by 2015. Montreal, the world’s busiest inland container port, handles 1.4 million TEUs each shipping season.
CN Rail, Maher Terminals, the governments of Canada and B.C., plus Prince Rupert Port Authority have committed $1 billion to build new freight handling and transportation infrastructure. Those partners have recognized what Hays saw 100 years ago.
First of all, the harbor is the deepest and most weather-protected in North America. The rail line connecting it to the rest of the North America enjoys the continent’s easiest climb over the Rocky Mountains. Trains pulling out of Prince Rupert see no rail congestion or urban densities until they roll into the U.S. But its biggest asset in these days of high fuel costs is that the port is 30 hours sailing time closer to Asia than any port in the Western Hemisphere.
After Hays’ death on the Titanic, followed by the First World War, his Grand Trunk Pacific Railway was facing bankruptcy soon after its tracks made it to Prince Rupert. The railway was absorbed by Canadian National and operated as a secondary line.
Certainly, CN didn’t share Hays’ vision for Prince Rupert, thus his plans for a grand city were locked away in a long-term storage cabinet.
Pennecon Ltd. of Newfoundland, joint ventured with Vancouver’s BA Blacktop to be the principal contractor in building the 60-acre container terminal. Moffat & Nichol are the design engineers and project managers. Barry Bartlett, head of corporate communications for Prince Rupert Port Authority, said nearly 500 local jobs were created with the construction of the container terminal and there are 350 permanent jobs in operating the terminal, including hiring locals to be trained as customs and immigration officers.
“We have hundreds of acres of land on the harbor zoned for industrial development and we believe there is going to be great growth up here with the rebounding economy because of the opportunities and features offered by our port,” said Bartlett
About 40 per cent of the TEUs coming into Prince Rupert from Asia are bound for a major mid-America distribution centre in Memphis, Tenn. serviced by CN, according to Mark Schepp, vice-president and general manager of Maher’s operations in Prince Rupert. CN’s double-stacked container rail cars sit on the dock directly beside the ships.
There are no trucks involved in the movement of the containers. CN spent more than $5 million upgrading Hay’s original Grand Trunk line to accommodate the double-stacked containers, including higher railway tunnels and bridges.