B.C. flooding highlights Edmonton's advantage as shipping hub

· The Pulse
By Paul Cashman

Disastrous flooding in British Columbia that has blocked rail and road shipments has also highlighted Edmonton's potential as a transportation and distribution hub, with its 1,100-kilometre rail link to Canada's fastest-growing port.

In "Edmonton Could Help Save Christmas As Supply Chain Chaos Continues," published by commercial real estate broker CBRE, Edmonton managing director Dave Young talks about Edmonton as being Canada's best-positioned inland port to bypass blockages in the Lower Mainland.

The B.C. flooding, which has closed sections of the Trans-Canada and Coquihalla highways for up to two months and caused havoc along key rail corridors, has exacerbated pandemic-triggered supply chain disruptions in the Edmonton marketplace. Suppliers are warning shoppers to expect shortages of Christmas trees, turkeys, Asian foods, and alcohol imports.

The only undamaged rail route from B.C.'s west coast to Edmonton and markets across North America starts with CN Rail's line at the Port of Prince Rupert.

The Prince Rupert route cuts a full day off shipping time from Edmonton compared to Canada's busiest port at Vancouver. Access to the port is expected to overtake Montreal in five years as the country's second-largest, Edmonton Global said in a blog post on Edmonton's global connectivity advantage.

The port in Prince Rupert, B.C.

The Port of Prince Rupert connects CN Rail to Edmonton and North American markets. Prince Rupert Port Authority

More than $2.5 billion in capital projects at the Prince Rupert port — which is the closest North American port to Asia — include quadrupling its capacity for handling container exports.

Earlier this year, CN announced it will spend $445 million in Alberta in 2021 as part of a $3-billion capital investment across its network. In Edmonton, this connects with Port Alberta's rail, pipelines and road capacity.

The Edmonton market also boasts available industrial space and development land that has been all but exhausted in most Canadian cities, CBRE said.

"Sometimes it takes a crisis to make you realize you could be doing things differently," said Kevin Hughes, an Edmonton-based industrial broker and CBRE senior vice-president.

"In this case, it has become clear that Edmonton's industrial market has the connections and capacity to take on a substantial amount of Western Canada-focused logistics and fulfilment traffic."

Large bay industrial space rents for $8.75-per-square-foot in Edmonton, compared to $15 in Vancouver.

One of the big industrial developments underway is the 2.9-million-square-foot robotic warehouse for Amazon being built in Acheson's Highland Business Park.