Just a few years short of celebrating its 100th anniversary, Alliance Grain Terminal (AGT) has once again undergone modifications to match the growing Canadian grain export industry.
“The terminal opened in 1923 with 20 bins,” said CEO David Kushnier. “Today, we’re targeting throughput of about 3.5 million tonnes per annum.” Meeting — and exceeding — that target has been made possible with the latest modernization project completed last fall.
In 2007, Parrish & Heimbecker Ltd. (P&H), Paterson Grain (a division of Paterson Global Foods) and Northwest Terminal acquired AGT (previously called United Grain Growers Terminal) from Agricore United. At that time, the facility was putting through about 1,200,000 tonnes. Along with the acquisition, Kushnier was appointed to the CEO position and has been leading operations ever since. “The first year we did about two million tonnes. By 2017, we had increased that to 2.8 Mt/a and now, with our latest round of upgrades, we expect to put through 3.5 Mt/ta,” he said, adding that additional operational efficiencies could see that rise to 4 Mt/a.
“All of the partners of AGT have built new facilities and expanded others across Canada,” Kushnier said. “The terminal played a large part in allowing them to do that, giving them additional access to international markets and maintaining a leading position in the grain export market.”
The $55-million modernization project which took one year to complete involved replacing the existing shipping gallery; new piles and new foundations; a new conveyor gallery which is about 10 metres higher and 46 metres longer; a new conveyor and mobile tripper system on rails equipped with two high-capacity loading spouts; an enclosed conveyor and enclosed chute; and modification to bollards on the north end of the pier. Speed of loading, increased capacity, dust control and overall functionality were key priorities for the extensive remodel.
In describing some of the efficiencies gained, Kushnier said that prior to the upgrade AGT’s load rate was about 600 tonnes per hour. “We’re now loading at a rate three times faster than that,” he said, “and can now achieve a rate of 2,000 tonnes per hour.”
In addition to dredging the west berth, the longer conveyor gallery means that not only do ships no longer need to be repositioned mid-way through the load,
larger ships can be accommodated — up to 55,000 tonnes for the west berth and over 70,000 tonnes for the east berth.
Kushnier noted additional benefits, including improved safety, cleaner operations and better dust control through a new integrated dust suppression system which has reduced waste and improved local air quality. Another initiative currently being developed by the BC Maritime Employers Association and the International Longshore Workers Union is a method to load in the rain. Once implemented, the new method promises to increase efficiencies even further.
When asked if rail capacity will be able to keep up, Kushnier was confident it was. “There were no major changes done to the rail configuration but we purchased a second diesel engine for repositioning railcars which has effectively allowed us to operate much faster, he said and further noted that changes within the Port —the new overpass, track changes and similar initiatives — have greatly helped improve rail efficiency. “We’re serviced by CP but we do also receive cars from CN and we’re seeing great improvements to service this year over last.”
Kushnier praised staff at the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority for their assistance on a challenging permitting process. “The people we worked with were an excellent resource and while the process took 18 months to gain approval, that was mostly a result of getting caught on the same timeline as other projects where unrelated issues would generate new questions about our project.”
Kushnier expects to reach a throughput of 4 Mt/a over the next two years and believes that, with improved logistics and rail service, even higher numbers will be reached beyond that. “The investment in AGT and the investments the partners have made across the country on inland terminals and crop input centres, prove there are more opportunities out there. By working together in partnership with the railways, the Port and other stakeholders, we’re confident the growth is there.”