The Port of Montreal’s advantages

Ever-changing markets. More and more inland ports. An increase in the number of post-Panamax ships. How will the Port of Montreal stay ahead of the competition in this new business environment? PortInfo spoke with professors Claude Comtois of the University of Montreal, Peter Raimondo of Champlain College, Jean-Paul Rodrigue of Hofstra University, and Brian Slack of Concordia University to discuss the subject.

Situated 1,600 km from the Atlantic Ocean, the Port of Montreal is one of the world’s major inland ports. It is located on the doorstep of a huge market of more than 100 million consumers that can be reached by train in less than 36 hours. This significant advantage will continue to benefit the port for years to come. The experts that PortInfo spoke with agree that the Port of Montreal is in an excellent position to face the challenges related to the transformation of the container shipping industry.

Thanks to its strategic geographic location, the Port of Montreal is a point of origin or destination. “It’s generally the only port in North America where ships sail on one direct route,” said Peter Raimondo, a logistics and supply chain management instructor at Champlain College in Longueuil, Quebec, and a former chairman of freight conferences supplying container services between Europe and Canada. On one of these routes, for example, ships call Hamburg, Antwerp, Le Havre, Liverpool and Montreal. From Montreal, these vessels sail directly back to Europe. In Montreal, ships completely unload and then reload cargo. Shippers benefit from fast and direct delivery of their goods between the North American Northeast and Midwest and Europe, and carriers decrease the number of vessels on their port rotation.

Connected by train

One of the Port of Montreal’s major advantages is that it serves and is in close proximity to a huge and densely populated inland market. Furthermore, when it comes to the efficient movement of goods, its intermodal transportation system is unmatched. Containers are transferred directly from ships to trains that are assembled right on the port’s berths. Congestion is not an issue. “You don’t see that in Hong Kong or in Shanghai,” said Brian Slack, a professor at Concordia University whose research areas are maritime transport and intermodality.

Thanks to these advantages, the Port of Montreal is not directly threatened by an increase in the number of inland ports, by the expansion of the Panama Canal, or by the introduction of ships that are too large to call Montreal. The Port of Montreal does not have many competitors. While the Port of New York serves the Midwest just like Montreal, farther south the ports of Savannah, in Georgia, and Charleston, in South Carolina, are linked to markets in the South and through the Panama Canal. The Port of Montreal’s main markets, on the other hand, are in Europe and the Mediterranean. Because the Port of Montreal cannot accommodate ships of more than 6,000 TEUs (20-foot equivalent unit containers), which require too much water depth, and because it is situated so far inland, it will always remain a final destination and not a transshipment port. Its location so far inland is another advantage. With increasing fuel costs, shippers want to maximize the amount of time that their containers travel via the fuel-efficient marine mode before moving to train or truck in order to minimize their transportation costs.

“Montreal is unique among world ports because of its strategic geographic location and its intermodal system with direct links to rail,” said Claude Comtois, a professor at the University of Montreal and member of the Interuniversity Research Centre on Enterprise Networks, Logistics and Transportation.

Nevertheless, the Montreal Port Authority is not taking anything for granted. For example, its president and CEO, Sylvie Vachon, headed a committee that helped launch a new logistics and transportation industrial cluster in 2012. Its goal is to bring together all of the players in the logistics and transportation sector in the Greater Montreal region to address issues and encourage the development of projects related to the industry’s development and competitiveness. “We want to create an environment that is conducive to operational efficiency and we want to provide a strong voice for Greater Montreal’s multimodal capabilities,” Ms. Vachon said. “We want the transportation industry to be an integral part of Montreal and Quebec’s economic development strategy. In today’s context of international competition, players from the same region need to stand united.”

 

The Port of Montreal would like to thank the following people for their contributions to this report:

Claude Comtois, a professor at the University of Montreal and member of the Interuniversity Research Centre on Enterprise Networks, Logistics and Transportation. Jean-Paul Rodrigue, who has a PhD in transport geography and is a professor at Hofstra University in Hempstead in the State of New York.
  Peter Raimondo, a logistics and supply chain management instructor at Champlain College in Longueuil, Quebec, and a former chairman of freight conferences supplying container services between Europe and Canada.
 
Brian Slack, a geography, planning and environment professor at Concordia University in Montreal.