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What's on those freight trains, and where are they going?

What's with all those the colourful, Lego-like containers that have been chugging through Strathcona on the Burrard Inlet Line since the beginning of 2017? You might imagine, "It's for the good of Canada, it's for the Canadian economy." That's true to some extent, but probably less than you'd think. Here's what we know:

  • Christian Wetherbee, a transportation stock analyst with Citigroup Global Markets, told the Globe and Mail in April 2017, "Currently, 50 per cent of the inbound containers CN moves from Canadian ports are destined for the U.S., which is up from [about] 30 per cent a few years ago."
  • In an email to CBC News in January 2017, CN said its trains on the BI Line were carrying "household consumer goods" to and from the waterfront.
  • This rail line probably has very little to do with the crisis Canadian farmers or other commodity producers are experiencing in getting their products to the coast. The trains going through Strathcona have not carried grain or lumber cars in over a decade. Trains moving towards the Port often pull empty cars.  

In 2008, a City-commissioned document said the vast majority of freight coming into Vancouver's port was destined for Toronto and Montreal, with a "small percentage" going to the United States. If Vancouver's port is following the pattern of Canadian ports in general, most of the increase in freight traffic we've seen in the past decade is traffic that provides no benefit to the Canadian economy outside the transportation industry itself.