Rail project to reduce heavy truck traffic through downtown Halifax now under construction
Shuttle line expected to be finished by 2026
After years of planning, construction is underway for a new rail project that will take most transport truck traffic out of downtown Halifax.
The Port of Halifax recently began building a new yard shed at the south-end container terminal. This will allow for an existing shed to be torn down, making room for new sections of rail in both the south-end and Fairview Cove terminals.
Lane Farguson, spokesperson for the Halifax Port Authority, said a new short-haul shuttle will then be able to travel along the city's one rail line to carry regional cargo between both terminals — cutting the number of freight trucks moving through downtown by 75 per cent.
"The reality is, it is disruptive. We've got a beautiful historic downtown. and the truck traffic is not ideal for people trying to enjoy that aspect of it," Farguson said Thursday.
"The trucking community would rather not have to be in the downtown as well. And for the port, you know, we want to continue to grow in a way that fits with the community."
The port is still figuring out what the cargo shuttle itself will look like, but Farguson said they are considering hydrogen- or electric-powered options to cut down on noise and carbon dioxide emissions.
The $48-million project was approved in 2019, and is largely funded by the federal government, Halifax municipality and the port. The rail and terminal improvements are also connected to upcoming work to redesign the Windsor Street Exchange for better traffic flow.
Farguson said despite labour and supply-chain issues, they are currently on budget and on time to finish in 2026.
Although container volumes have been growing in recent years — hitting 600,000 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) for the first time last year — Farguson said the port can comfortably handle nearly double that amount so there's room to grow.
But more yard space and equipment will be needed to handle increasing cargo, Farguson said, so the port is always working with terminal operator PSA Halifax and CN Rail, which owns the Halifax line, "to make sure that everybody is aware of what needs to be in place as those cargo volumes continue to rise."
There's already been a slight reduction in downtown truck traffic since the smaller cargo ships started unloading at the Fairview terminal, Farguson said, to make room for the growing number of 10,000- to 16,000-TEU "mega ships" at the south-end terminal.
Much of those goods are bound for provinces beyond the Maritimes or into the United States, so the cargo is directly taken out by rail with no need for trucks.
CN has already added a second daily cargo train from the port to keep up with demand.
CBC reached out to CN for information on any plans for increasing rail capacity out of Halifax, and will update this story with any response.
The Halifax Port Authority said in 2022 there was $4.87 billion in economic benefit from Port of Halifax operations including N.S. exporters, up from $2.45 billion in 2019.
In 2022 there were also more than 25,300 jobs connected to port activities, as well as direct and spin-off impacts of $2.47 billion in GDP