April 2024 Intermodal container volume through Vancouver on CN and CPKC Total Container Volume and Average Daily Volume

Import Boom Continues In Early April

Intermodal volumes have been on a steady increase since the beginning of 2023, only interrupted by a dockworkers’ strike in July and a stretch of extreme cold in January. March capped off a booming quarter, which saw total intermodal performance 50% higher than Q1 of 2023. April continues that trend. 

Container volume moving eastbound through the western Canada ports is on pace to top 100,000 containers in April. Combined daily container volume through the Port of Vancouver and Port of Prince Rupert is 63% higher than April 2023


The vast majority of that volume comes through the Port of Vancouver, where daily container volume is up 12.4% from March and up 66.7% from a year ago. 

Intermodal train volume out of the Port of Vancouver averaged 8.33 trains per day in the first half of April. This is an 11.4% increase (+.85 trains per day) over March, and 24% above the average daily train volume throughout 2023. This is the highest daily train volume in more than two years. Since the beginning of RailState’s network tracking in 2021, no month has exceeded an average of 7.7 trains per day.

Last month, CPKC moved slightly more containers than CN, accounting for 51.3% of total container movements out of Vancouver. Through the first half of April, this has reversed, with CN moving 51.6% of container volume. 

Please note: Monthly totals for April are extrapolated from train movements measured by RailState from April 1-15. 

 

Current Status

In our last update we noted Hapag-Lloyd’s guidance to customers in late March:

“All marine terminals in Vancouver continue to manage through heavy congestion, resulting from an inadequate supply of rail cars from major Class 1 railways . . . We expect this situation to continue into early April.”

This situation has not yet been resolved halfway through the month. For CN, the congestion at the port is increasing.  

CN’s on-dock footage has nearly doubled in the past month. At Vanterm, CN’s footage increased more than 50,000 feet in the past week according to the Port of Vancouver’s April 17 update. CN’s footage at Deltaport has also increased in the past week and now is more than 150,000, with dwell times greater than 7 days.

CPKC, on the other hand, has steadily reduced their on-dock footage at Vancouver. CPKC has moved significantly more platforms eastbound out of the port, which has helped reduce their on-dock footage.

CN has consistently moved more platforms westbound into the port but it has not been enough to clear the container growth at the terminals. 

Recent Surplus of Westbound Platforms v. Eastbound

Week

CN 

CPKC

4/08/24 – 4/14/24

52

(321)

4/01/24 – 4/07/24

(310)

(26)

3/25/24 – 3/31/24

88

161

3/18/24 – 3/24/24

303

(45)

3/11/24 – 3/17/24

(184)

(174)

3/04/24 – 3/10/24

597

276

6-month weekly average

65

(5)

Platform surplus to port of vancouver September 2023 to April 14 2024 CN and CPKC

Train Volumes Increase 

In March, there were more significant changes in train length and containers per train. The story in April is about increases in train volume, with daily train volumes up 11.4% from March and 25% higher than a year ago

Intermodal train volume from Port of Vancouver Eastbound october 2022 to april 2024

Canadian National

In the first half of April CN has increased train volume by 16.4% compared to March and made moderate increases in train length (+1.8%) and containers per train (+2.4%).

Compared to April 2023, daily train volume is up 30%, trains are 5.2% longer, and total containers per train are up 33.3%. Total container volume is 73.4% higher than April 2023.

Containers per train october 2022 to april 2024 CN compared to 2023 average

Travel times on CN have steadily increased over the past six weeks through the directional running zone. RailState’s network measures the 220-mile journey from Mission City, BC to Heffley, BC. In early March, CN trains completed the stretch in an average of 12.5 hours. In April, the average travel time is 38.6% longer, with travel last week averaging 17.3 hours.

Note: The spike in travel times seen in mid-January was due to extreme cold throughout western Canada that significantly reduced train volume, train size, and average speed for more than a week.

Travel time for Intermodal trains through directional running zone on CN

Canadian Pacific – Kansas City

CPKC maintained heavily loaded trains into April. Daily train volume is up 6.1% from March with train length and containers per train unchanged from March. These trains are as full as CPKC ever runs, so the only way to increase overall container volume is with additional trains. 

Compared to last year, train volume is up 19.6%, train length is up 9.8%, and containers per train is up 34%, leading to overall container movements on CPKC that are 60.1% higher than April 2023.

Containers per train october 2022 to april 2024 CPKC compared to 2023 average

Travel times on CPKC have remained steady over the past six weeks on the 243-mile journey from Mission City, BC to Chase, BC. CPKC intermodal trains have consistently completed this stretch in about 10 hours.

In February, CPKC experienced some short-lived operational issues that delayed trains during that period, but has since performed well.

Travel time for Intermodal trains through directional running zone on CPKC

Overall Train Mix 

Intermodal trains as a share of total train volumes through the Port of Vancouver area accounted for 31.4% of traffic in March. In the first half of April, that ratio has not changed (31.7%). 

Overall train volume has increased from the growth in intermodal and a 10.7% increase in grain train volume.

All Train volume by train type through port of vancouver october 2022 to april 2024

Prince Rupert

Intermodal performance through Prince Rupert is also booming. Total container volume is on pace to hit nearly 19,000 containers. In the past year, the most volume through Prince Rupert was just under 17,000 containers (December 2023). In 2023, the monthly average was 12,500 containers. 


Daily train volume is up 13.7% in April compared to March and up 34.7% compared to April 2023.

Train volume increases tell much of the story through Prince Rupert where train length is slightly down from last year (-5.3%) and containers per train is up 10.4%. Overall container volume, however, is 48.7% higher than last year.

April 2024 Intermodal container volume through Prince Rupert on CN Total Container Volume and Average Daily Train Volume

For additional information about this report or to receive other updates from RailState, please reach out to contact@railstate.com or subscribe to our blog.

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