Montreal, November 15, 2004  /  No 148  
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Harry Valentine is a free-marketeer living in Eastern Ontario.
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by Harry Valentine
          Russian President Vladimir Putin recently made overtures to Canada about using Russian icebreaker technology to keep shipping into Hudson Bay open year-round. Strategists studying global warming have predicted that future climate change could curtail shipping operations on the St. Lawrence Seaway system west of Montreal, while southern Hudson Bay remains ice-free year round. Ships sailing year-round between the Russian port of Murmansk (also Baltic ports) and the Canadian Port of Churchill could turn Manitoba into a future gateway for Western Canadian and American trade, in turn requiring CN Rail to increase the freight-tonnage carrying capacity of its northern rail line to Churchill.
Gateway to America 
          Future port operations at Churchill could include evolving new research concepts in intermodal freight transportation technology, concepts able to increase the volume of freight that can be moved through congested ports. Such technology could raise the productivity of port operations, enabling such operations to become profitable, even at Churchill. The development of privately-funded, viable intermodal ports in Canada would require that restrictions on foreign investment and foreign ownership be lifted and a complete economic deregulation of Canadian marine and railway freight transportation be instituted. 
          One intermodal research concept that could see service at Churchill and other ports combines the existing international size of shipping containers with new concepts in marine technology and the common railway gauge operated in Canada, the USA, Britain, Western Europe, China and Australia. A 5,000-ft long supership being researched by the Freedom Ship Group of Florida could form the basis of a 250-ft wide ocean ferry able to carry intermodal trains of stacked shipping containers across oceans and between ports around the world. Such a system could transport more containers in less transit time, consume less energy and require less labour than present intermodal operations, thereby reducing overall system operating costs.  
          Trains would be rapidly transferred between land and sea, in port. Containers and trains would be sorted and arranged at remote railway yards/terminals, either prior to being rolled on to the superships, or after being rolled off. To pull foreign railway rolling stock having the identical design of coupler set at different heights above the track, each participating railway system would need to operate a few locomotives equipped with height-adjustable couplers. In Canada, trains being transferred on/off superships at Churchill would have to be arranged and containers sorted at southern terminals located closer to Winnipeg or Regina, where road/rail transfers of containers could also be undertaken. 
          Despite American intentions to deepen the shipping channel on the St. Lawrence Seaway system and enlarge the locks to give passage to large "panamax" size of ships, continually dropping water levels in the Great Lakes could curtail future shipping operations west of Montreal. The Port of Montreal could be overwhelmed with demand to service more ships. However, year-round operations at Churchill could provide much needed relief. Churchill could also serve as a transfer point for another foreign transportation research concept, one based on an ocean-going "mobile dry dock" ship technology that can partially submerge to allow another vessel to sail into its onboard dock, then raises itself so that it carries the onboard vessel well above the water line (in the "mobile dry dock"). 
     “Developments in international intermodal freight transportation technology that could serve China's import and export needs could also serve the trading needs of several other nations.”
          Scope exists to enlarge the "mobile dry dock" concept into a supership capable of carrying several smaller freight-laden barges in its mobile dry dock, on trans-oceanic voyages. Freight may be transferred among barges prior to boarding the supership, during ocean voyages on-board the ship, or after the ocean voyages. The unpowered barges would be transferred on/off the "mobile dry dock" superships at the mouths of navigable rivers (or upriver) and moved by local crews (operating pusher tugs) to/from inland ports located on navigable rivers in Canada, America, Western Russia, China, Northern India, Latin America and Western Europe. The powered pusher tugs would couple on to the stern ends of the non-powered barges, then push and steer them along navigable rivers. 
          If future climate change increases rainfall in Northern Canada, the Churchill, the North Saskatchewan and the Nelson Rivers could be made more navigable (on private funding) for seasonal barge traffic (to/from Winnipeg or Prince Albert). Likewise, the MacKenzie River and the Slave River going into Lake Athabasca could also be made more navigable (on private funding) for seasonal barge traffic being transferred at MacKenzie Bay. As future climate change warms the Beaufort Sea, an extended shipping season could operate at MacKenzie Bay, which may serve as an intermodal ship/barge transfer point for ocean-bound traffic to/from South Korea, Japan and China. 
China's growing demand 
          China has a growing economy with a growing demand for resources and raw materials that need to be acquired from abroad. Canada is able to supply China's growing need, as was recently evident with the offer to acquire of Canada's Noranda group by Chinese interests. Resources acquired from abroad would need to be transported to China in increasing volumes, just as China needs to transport increasing volumes of exports to major trading partners. China shares a common railway gauge with its main trading partners and like China, many of them also have navigable river systems. Developments in international intermodal freight transportation technology that could serve China's import and export needs could also serve the trading needs of several other nations.  
          Chinese interests could follow the precedent of Korean transportation interests, which built special intermodal port facilities on the American West coast to service a fleet of Korean intermodal container ships. China's central bank holds vast amounts of American government debt as well as US currency, enabling Chinese interests to offer US currency as payment for foreign acquisitions. Canadian and American interests would willingly accept such payment from Chinese interests investing in American and Canadian transportation and resource sectors. This would help the Chinese convert greater amounts of their increasing volume of American currency holdings into hard assets. Such investment done in America by Chinese interests and involving US dollars, would be welcomed due to new job creation opportunities that could be developed at home, for Americans.  
          Two prominent free-market economists who expressed concern over China's economy are Dr Frank Shostak and Dr Krassimir Petrov. Both have grave concerns about the amount of malinvestment that has occurred in China's economy as well as the high proportion of bad loans held by Chinese banks. This situation may precipitate a Chinese economic slowdown that could impact negatively on the American and Canadian economies. China may be able to gently cool its economy into a soft landing, although, present signals point to a possible hard landing, the fall-out from which may take several years to correct as it impacts negatively on the economies of several other nations. The result is that the advances in international freight transportation technology from which China could benefit may have to be delayed by a decade or more.