Friday, December 30, 2011

Inland Waterway Looks for Container Cargo to Boost Freight Trade

Ice Slow to Descend This Year as Maintenance Commences
Shipping News Feature

US – CANADA – When any inland waterway system closes it usually causes chaos to those freight transport outfits trying to ply their trade with cargo caught up in a system from which there is no escape. Whether it be lock or political problems on canals like Suez or Panama or low water levels in rivers like the Rhine the results of an unscheduled closure can be devastating for logistics operators.

Not so apparently when the waterway in question is the St Lawrence Seaway, the watery corridor that threads its way between the Atlantic and the North American Great Lakes which has closed since time immemorial as the weather in Canada and the Northern US deteriorates with the onset of Winter giving companies and staff the opportunity to upgrade infrastructure and make repairs.

This year is no exception as the system of locks, canals and feeder streams officially finally closed yesterday for its winter season overhaul. The complex route closes by stages which are detailed lock by lock and by individual stretches of water. One thing which is different this year however is the late onset of really cold weather which makes passage impassable as ice closes part, or all of the waterway as can be seen on the annual graphs HERE. In the past couple of years temperatures have fallen below average as the year turns but as 2011 transforms into 2012 it looks like the waters will remain unseasonably temperate.

During the closure work is undertaken to improve and service the infrastructure of a route which started life, as with most inland routes, mainly for the transferral of bulk cargoes but which grew to encompass project freight forwarding and abnormal cargo movements and which now has the expansion of container shipments firmly in its sights. The Seaway authorities under the H20 Highway banner are keen to promote the canal route as a greener alternative to traditional transport methods. October saw the release of a comprehensive study into ‘the Economic Impacts of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System 2010’ which underlined the economic importance of the route to both the US and Canada with over 225,000 jobs and several billion dollars dependent on it.

Many readers will know of the inherent problems we have written about due to the invasion of invasive species which are introduced via the ballast tanks of incoming vessels as they pump out water to compensate for loading. Often the Americans are criticised by other nations for being over zealous when protecting elements of the environment but the results of such casual pollution can be horrifying by any standard. The good news is the results so far of the ballast water management program detailed in a new report issued this year by the SLSDC, the Canadian St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation, the U.S. Coast Guard’s Ninth District, and Transport Canada revealed no invasions by any alien aquatic invasive species in the Great Lakes since 2006 which is the longest period without such an incident since records began.

Tolls for the waterway will remain at 2011 levels and reopening times are dependent on climatic conditions as the cold weather recedes with March scheduled to see full working conditions return. Yesterday Secretary of Transport Ray LaHood paid tribute to all the professionals associated with the seaway and wished them another safe and successful navigation year.