Closed highways, washed out railways threaten to choke BC supply chains

Nov 17 2021, 1:20 am

There are challenges transporting goods in British Columbia after a record-breaking storm dumped a month’s worth of rain in a single weekend.

All rail service coming to and from the Port of Vancouver is currently halted because of flooding in the Interior, port spokesperson Matti Polychronis told Daily Hive. Both CN and CP rail say no traffic can travel between Kamloops and Vancouver because of damage to the rail lines, and there’s no timeframe yet for reopening.

In addition, all highways connecting the Lower Mainland to the Fraser Valley and the Interior are currently closed.

All of this is leading to a backup of goods at Canada’s largest port.

“Vessel delays and heightened anchorage demand are expected due to disruptions to terminal operations,” Polychronis said. “We are working closely with our terminal operators, railways, and all levels of government to understand the impacts of these delays on terminal operations and to develop a recovery plan.”

At the same time, supplies are running out in BC towns hosting stranded travellers. The 6,000-person community of Hope has taken in approximately 1,200 stranded drivers, many of whom are sleeping on cots in the local high school or in their cars.

Stephanie Martin, general manager of Ricky’s All-Day Grill, shared photos of the empty shelves at the Esso gas station next to the restaurant. The eatery also ran out of food after serving stuck travellers, and can only offer a limited selection of breakfast items.

Esso no groceries

Empty shelves at the Esso gas station attached at Ricky’s Grill in Hope.(Stephanie Martin/Submitted)

Kamloops-based architect Joanna Hammond shared similar images of empty store shelves further northeast.

“The next shortage will be fuel,” Hope Mayor Peter Robb told Daily Hive.

Helicopters and airplanes can bring in food and other supplies, but gasoline generally comes in on trucks.

Dave Earle, president and CEO of the BC Trucking Association, said that 100,000 transport trucks are operating on BC highways on any given day, and that hundreds of drivers are still stuck far from where they’re supposed to be.

Some have self-contained units in their highway trucks, but day cabs don’t have those same amenities.

“Yesterday was all about saving lives … Today it’s all about assessment,” Earle said. “Those aerial shots we’ve seen from the ministry. They’re extraordinary. There’s big infrastructure damage. When will it reopen, this week? Five weeks? Nobody knows.”

Earle was referring to images showing entire sections of the Trans Canada and Coquihalla highways washed away by mudslides.

trans canada highway washed away

BC Transportation/Twitter

But Earle assured British Columbians that logistics and supply chain companies will find a way to transport goods into cut off communities.

“Either it’s going to take longer or it’s going to cost a little more. But we will find a way.”

In the meantime, he encouraged people not to panic-buy from stores and only take what they need.

The Canada Border Services Agency has said Canadians travelling home can drive through the States without showing a negative COVID-19 test when returning to Canada.

Earle, however, said going through the US may not be a practical option for many truckers. Going through the US involves a whole slew of new rules, including registering, having a valid passport, and a criminal record check.

Megan DevlinMegan Devlin

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