West Side Modernization Project positions Port Saint John for global growth

West Side Modernization Project positions Port Saint John for global growth
Port Saint John’s container terminal, operated by DP World

Port Saint John has always been alive with the sounds of industry. Now is no exception. In fact, with the West Side Modernization Project fully underway, now is exactly the time when those sounds herald the dawning of a new and even more competitive age for this world-class centre of marine traffic.

“Historically, Port Saint John has always been very important to commerce on the eastern side of North America,” says Jim Quinn, President and CEO. “The question was always whether to stay where we were or invest and become an even more significant player. We chose to do the latter.”

He’s not kidding. Since 2011, the Port has been, in Quinn’s words, “preparing today for what’s coming tomorrow” in convincing and innovative fashion. In partnership with the Government of Canada and the Province of New Brunswick, the $205 million West Side Modernization Project, scheduled for completion in 2022, will vastly expand and upgrade the terminal’s pier, berth, rail links, and channel access. The result, Quinn says, “will ensure both Port prosperity and regional growth for years to come.”

Not that there aren’t hurdles to overcome. The challenges to an engineering project of this type are enormous, especially here.

“One of our biggest challenges is that this is the Bay of Fundy with some of the highest tides in the world,” explains Alex Calvin, Port Engineer, Port Saint John. “The tides here can exceed eight-and-a-half metres, and that has really driven the design. We’re also building a whole new structure within an active marine terminal; it’s not a greenfield. As well, we’re basically building what is a very, very large retaining structure. It will be 27 meters high, which is right up there with some of the highest structures for marine terminals anywhere in the world.”

The details are, indeed, impressive. Once completed, the project will nearly double the berth length (to 775 from 435 meters); deepen the main channel to 9.5 meters from 8.4 at low tide (18 meters from 16.9 at high tide); widen the channel to 190 meters from 150; increase the terminal’s load-bearing capacity to 2,000 pounds/square-foot from 250; and increase the railyard’s capacity to 8,000 feet from 3,060.

Combined, these enhancements will double the annual throughput capacity from 150,000 TEUs today to 300,000 TEUs at project completion (2023). Why is that important?

Between 2020 and 2021, the global container market was projected to increase by 4.8 per cent. The global market volume reached some 146.4 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) in 2018. That surge is being reflected at Port Saint John, which has attracted some of the world’s top container shipping lines – including Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) and CMA CGM offering weekly service to global markets through Saint John – in recent years.

“To compete and grow on the world stage a terminal upgrade is required to accommodate larger vessels and to have the handling capacity to service modern fleets,” Quinn says. “Port Saint John’s container traffic has already almost doubled since 2012. With U.S. ports becoming more and more congested, we are ideally situated with some of the deepest ice-free tidal waters in Canada. Plus, we’re only an hour from the border and the US Northeast, with an excellent rail and road network.”

It goes even beyond that. Although it is estimated that more than 1,400 person years of direct and indirect jobs are being created during the design and construction phase of the modernization project, activity from container growth alone will double direct and indirect jobs across the region, from 500 to more than 1,000, not including economic growth spin-offs. In fact, thousands of people in Saint John and the province are working in port-related industries, including petroleum, forestry, aquaculture, and import and export trade.

The bottom line, says Quinn, “The future growth of our province is dependent on a modern and efficient port that will provide Atlantic Canadian companies with competitive exporting and importing facilities.” •

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