In today's global economy, it has become increasingly important to make logistics a central part of a company's business strategy. An efficient supply chain can have a profound impact on a company's competitiveness and profitability. No location is better prepared to take on these modern challenges than Canada.
In the area of logistics, Canada truly has become a leading gateway to the world. Outstanding water ports, expansive railway systems, and top-quality highway and road infrastructure result in the country's ability to deliver complete and efficient international logistics capabilities. And due to its excellent trade relationship with the United States, Canada has positioned itself to support international logistics for Europe, North America, and Asia.
Infrastructure Advantages: Water
A significant global advantage for Canada lies in its numerous water ports. Ocean ports on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts open up the Asian and European markets, respectively. In addition, the St. Lawrence Seaway provides expanded port service to several Canadian and U.S. locations in the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes offer outstanding intermodal logistics services to the central provinces of Canada and to the United States.
A simple geography lesson tells us that Canada has distinct logistical capabilities that can be leveraged. For importing and exporting, Canada is a leader in port availability, infrastructure, and accessibility. Location, natural assets, and logistics support have created an environment to provide product distribution to global locations.
Vancouver - The North American gateway for Asia-Pacific trade, the Port Metro Vancouver is the top foreign export location in North America. The cargo moving through the port is valued at over $75 billion a year. In 2011 alone, the port moved over 110 million metric tons (122 million tons) of cargo. Port Metro Vancouver is the largest and busiest port in Canada and the fourth-largest tonnage port in North America.
With significant highway access and three major railways servicing this port, goods can be moved in and out of Canada and North America expeditiously. The U.S. border is one hour away, and most of North America's consumer markets are within a four-day drive. "Just-in time" needs are met via this extensive system of water, highway, and rail infrastructure that seamlessly works together to create a strong logistics system.
Halifax - An ice-free port on the Atlantic Ocean, the Port of Halifax is the only port on the East Coast that can handle fully loaded super tankers and post-Panamax vessels. The Port of Halifax handles more than 1,500 ships annually and has invested deeply in infrastructure and security over the last five years.
Improvements to several container terminals for cargo-handling efficiencies, as well as vessel turnaround and security upgrades in the Halifax Port Authority Command and Control System (HPACCS), are some of the features the Port Authority and federal government of Canada have invested in to ensure that Halifax remains at the forefront of the logistics capabilities on the Eastern Seaboard.
Grain elevators, cargo terminals, direct on-dock rail service with the Canadian National (CN) Railway, and one of North America's largest vehicle processing and trans-shipment facilities keep the Port of Halifax extremely busy. Through on-dock, double-stacked rail service, shipments can reach 75 percent of the population of the United States and Canada within one day.
The port's relevance in the global trade market is even more evident when taking into consideration that Halifax is 1,500 nautical miles closer to India than any ports on North America's East Coast (via the Suez Canal) and a full day closer to Southeast Asia and Europe than any other East Coast port. The Port of Halifax can also effectively serve northern Africa, Russia, and Brazil.
Quebec - Rail connections to all terminals and deep water at the Port of Quebec make it the perfect gateway into the Great Lakes. The first lock leading into the lakes is less than 305 kilometers (190 miles) from the Port of Quebec, and this proximity to the remainder of North America lends itself to efficient linkage from the United States to Europe. Super vessels, such as post-Panamax, can bring large volumes of product in and out of North America and serve 60 countries.
The Port of Quebec, located on the St. Lawrence River, also has direct access to rail and highway systems leading to Montreal as well as to most major cities in the eastern and midwestern United States, including Detroit, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia. Being nearly 1,448 kilometers (900 miles) inland from the Atlantic Ocean, this port is a perfectly situated midway between the heavily industrialized Great Lakes region of North America and critical European markets.
Montreal - Via the world's largest navigable channel, the St. Lawrence River, the Port of Montreal is a direct route from the Atlantic Ocean to Canada. This international year-round port services over 100 countries from Europe, the Mediterranean, central Canada, and the Midwest and Northeast regions of the United States. The port handles over 18 million metric tons (20 million tons) of cargo annually.
The Port of Montreal also provides the shortest route between North America and Europe, and is the largest port in eastern Canada in terms of moving cargo into consumer markets. The port owns its own rail line that connects to Canada's two largest railroads, the Canadian National (CN) Railway and Canadian Pacific (CP) Railway. This connectivity gives it direct logistical access throughout North America.
St. Lawrence Seaway Ports - Originating in Montreal, the St. Lawrence Seaway opened in 1959, giving sea-bearing container ships from the Atlantic Ocean access to Lake Ontario and the upper Great Lakes. This series of locks, canals, and channels extends from Montreal to Lake Erie, and a series of approximately 40 on/off ramps along the way provide ample connectivity to the highways and railways of North America. The St. Lawrence Seaway Traffic Report states that more than 33 million metric tons (36.5 million tons) of cargo came through the seaway in 2011.
Approximately 60 percent of the cargo was bulk product; 25 percent, grains; 10 percent, coal; and the remaining 5 percent was made up of miscellaneous cargo.
Not all cargo moving through the St. Lawrence Seaway is North American bound. Nearly 25 percent of this cargo travels between the overseas ports in Europe, South America, the Middle East, and Africa via the "salties" or ocean ships that come in and out of Canada through the major Atlantic Ocean ports.
The ability to bring goods in and ship goods out via the ports would not be possible without the solid land logistics infrastructure that is in place. Canada has made excellent use of strong rail lines and highway routes to support the transportation of goods in and out of North America. From the St. Lawrence Seaway, cargo can be moved through a series of 40 different highways and 30 rail lines that link the Seaway's ports with consumers all over North America and the world.
Infrastructure Advantages: Rail
The strong rail system, built out of necessity to navigate Canada's rugged terrain, has proven to be an economically sound method of shipping logistics. The CN Railway and CP Railway are the dominant providers.
CP Railway is headquartered in Calgary, Alberta - a strong distribution city - and owns over 122,500 km (14,000 miles) of track running from Montreal to Vancouver and north to Edmonton. This line serves Chicago and Minneapolis in the United States, as well as New York City. CP Railway also has rail lines in the United States in Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and short stretches in Missouri and Illinois.
Although CP was the first transcontinental rail system in Canada, the largest system is CN Railway. CN Railway owns more than 32,831 km of track (20,400 route miles) and is the northernmost rail line in North America, with routes running as far north as Anchorage, Alaska. The acquisition of the Illinois Central Railroad in the late 1990s created a continental railroad from Halifax in the east to Prince Rupert Port in the west, along the Mississippi River Valley to New Orleans in the United States, and up into Canada's Northwest Territories. This provides for a multitude of logistics services throughout Canada, the United States, Mexico, Europe, and Asia. When combined with Canada's water ports, it is very desirable for many U.S. companies to ship via Canadian logistics routes.
Infrastructure Advantages: Road
Canada's Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative has created investment opportunities and policy measures focused on transportation-related assets and pathways across western Canada in order to better serve the Asian markets. This Canadian government initiative seeks to develop a unified transportation infrastructure, with the objective of creating excellent global supply chains between North America and Asia, in order to strengthen Canada's position as the fastest, most reliable, and most cost-effective route for international trade. By investing in the infrastructure of railway and highway routes, Canada cleared a path between Vancouver and Prince Rupert across the nation's center and into the ports servicing the Asian-Pacific markets.
Major corridors include the Trans-Canada highway, Yellowhead, Highway 401, and the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW). The Trans-Canada highway is made up of many routes across the nation bearing different names; it is marked by a green sign with a white maple leaf. It is called Highway 1 in four western provinces - beginning in Victoria, B.C., and continuing on through Vancouver, Banff, Calgary, and Winnipeg. When Highway 1 crosses into Ontario, it becomes Highway 17 and proceeds along the eastern coast of Lake Superior to Ottawa. From Ottawa, the route proceeds to Montreal, where it assumes the name "Autoroute Metropolitain" or "The Met."
Becoming Route 2 and Route 16 along the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border and Highway 106 once it crosses into Nova Scotia, the route continues on to its end in St. John, N.B., where it has unofficially been designated as the origin of the route or "Mile One."
Also considered part of the Trans-Canada system in the four western provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba is the Yellowhead Highway. It is the major east-west corridor to the north and has been designated Highway 16 since 1977. The highway was named for Yellowhead pass, the route chosen to cross the Canadian Rockies. This road begins at Masset, B.C., passes through Edmonton and ends in Winnipeg. Farther east of Yellowhead, the QEW links Buffalo, N.Y., in the United States with Niagara, Toronto, and the rest of southern Ontario. Some 200,000 vehicles travel daily on the QEW, making it the busiest highway in Ontario and one of the busiest in Canada.
Access to the North American Market and Beyond
Canada's vast and well-structured transportation system has propelled the nation forward as a leading gateway to serve most major markets around the globe. Friendly trade agreements with the United States, secure and efficient ports, on-dock rail, and a transcontinental, direct-access highway system position Canada to be a leader in global logistics.
Additionally, the governmental commitments and investments into this outstanding infrastructure network have attracted a boom in new distribution centers, including those of Amazon, Carquest, UPS, and Wal-Mart, as well third-party logistics providers (3PLs). The ability to create an efficient supply chain, reduce operating costs, and increase the ability to service "just in time" orders are some of the key drivers of this growth. But the well-placed infrastructure and public and private commitment to continuous improvements are what will keep Canada moving ahead as a vital distribution gateway to the world.