The Hamilton Spectator March 25, 2004 - Mark McNeil
Larry Crandall, the Hamilton Spectator
Proponents say a cross-lake truck-ferry route would save
fuel and driver time, improve highways.
Taking trucks off road and putting them
on barges touted as a boost for Hamilton Harbour, relief for
Hamilton Port Authority officials want to establish a cross-lake
ferry service to carry cargo trailers from Oswego, N.Y. into
The service would remove trucks from 400 kilometres of highways
in New York state and Ontario. And tractor-trailers would avoid
heavy congestion at Niagara border crossings.
Proponents of the plan say trucking companies would save fuel
and driver time. Highways would be safer, by diverting some
truck traffic onto Lake Ontario.
The Hamilton Port Authority (HPA) would gain fees that would
come from the increased cargo tonnage and vessels using the
The concept is called short-sea shipping. Representatives of
the province's marine and port community met with MPPs and senior
bureaucrats at Queen Park yesterday to discuss that idea and
other marine issues.
Hamilton West MPP Judy Marsales says taking trucks off the
road and putting them onto barges is an idea that "seems to
have a lot of merit.It makes a lot of logical sense to me."
Marsales is a former board member of the Hamilton Port Authority
and was among the MPPs to meet with port representatives during
an annual event deemed Marine Day.
In Europe, short-sea shipping is used extensively as a way
to lower truck traffic on highways. But there are few examples
on the Great Lakes -- a waterway that would seem suited for
greater cargo transportation.
The most well-known example is a barge service that carries
trucks between Windsor and Detroit. That one-mile ferry operation
is primarily intended for oversized trucks and vehicles with
hazardous materials that are not allowed on the bridge. Both
the tractor and trailer are moved together.
The HPA proposal would transport only the trailers -- 90 to
110 at a time -- and each excursion would take about 12 hours
Western Ontario-bound trucks from the U.S. would drive to Oswego
port rather than heading west along the I-90 on the southern
side of Lake Ontario through Buffalo and up into Canada.
The trailers would be loaded onto a barge at Oswego, and the
truck and driver would turn around to return home. The barge
would travel the 265 kilometres along the shore of Lake Ontario,
passing through the Burlington Ship Canal to Hamilton Harbour.
There, the trailers would be removed from the barge and connected
to other tractors to continue the journey.
"We're saying that instead of having one long haul truck journey,
let's have a medium-sized haul, a water portion, and then a
short haul for distribution around the area," says Bob Matthews,
manager of marketing and trade development for the HPA.
Talks are still at an early stage. The HPA believes the service
could be financed entirely from the fees charged to trucking
Oswego port officials are interested. The port there could
handle two to three runs per week. If the service became a daily
one, some upgrades to the U.S. port - not necessarily costly
ones - would be needed, said Tom McAuslan, executive director
of the Port of Oswego. Hamilton would need some minor upgrades
If the idea flies, HPA officials will look at starting a second
ferry service between Prescott, Ont. - on the St. Lawrence River
in eastern Ontario - and Hamilton Harbour. The incentive for
truckers there is avoiding traffic congestion around Toronto.
Matthews says they opted for the American-side ferry first
because the border hassle faced by truck drivers is such a strong
incentive for trucking companies to consider inter-modal transportation
Gregg Ward, vice-president of the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry,
says he feels the time has come to better use the Great Lakes.
"Short sea shipping would certainly work on Lake Ontario. There
is so much tonnage moving between Canada and the U.S. on trucks
that we should be able to put some of it onto the lake."
Ron Foxcroft, CEO of Fluke Transport in Hamilton, said "a barge
service makes a lot of sense. It's a very interesting concept.
"I would think it would be cheaper to send a trailer by barge
than it would tying up a tractor, trailer and a driver at the
Foxcroft also noted new rules that limit the number of hours
truck drivers can drive will encourage trucking companies to
use ferry services.
By using a ferry, the cargo on a truck keeps moving without
a driver who has limitations on the number of hours he or she
can spend behind the wheel.
Matthews says port authority officials have been talking to
barge companies about handling the service. But he would not
identify those companies because talks are at such an early
"There used to be packaged freight all over the lakes but that
was many, many years ago," said Matthews.
Today, barges carry freight but usually only on a project basis.
Marine transportation is used when the cargo is particularly
big or heavy.
"To actually run a dedicated scheduled service,that's what
makes this interesting," he said.