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Hub and Spoke


Calgary, Alberta, offers a range of transportation and logistics opportunities.

 By Alan Dorich

Some might recognize Calgary, Alberta, primarily for its architecture. But the city, which is an hour away from the Canadian Rockies, has become a major center for transportation and logistics operations.

Transportation & Logistics International recently had the opportunity to tour portions of the industry in Calgary, which included a visit to Canadian National (CN) Railway Co.’s Calgary Logistics Park. The $200 million location has four automated in-gates and three automated out-gates, which keep truck turnaround times in its terminal to under 45 minutes.

“Calgary’s a very unique marketplace,” declares Tony Bianco, the director of intermodal sales — domestic, for CN. “It is almost like the hub and spoke for Western Canada.”

Many large retailers — including Walmart, Costco and Canadian Tire — have set up large distribution centers in the area to not only support the Calgary marketplace, but also those in Vancouver and as far east as Winnipeg. “So Calgary is a very robust opportunity for a lot of these retailers that want to reach their common ground with their stores,” Bianco says.

CN, Bianco notes, has assembled a train package that complements the high-speed velocity that the retailers need to get products through their distribution centers to the store shelves. The company has marketed the Logistics Park towards the retailers to be co-located at the facility. 

This allows them “use of a shunt move … between terminal and their facility,” he says. “That allows them to essentially reduce significant amount of cost of each and every one of the containers that comes in and out their facility.

“For customers that have a significant amount of volume coming in and out of the Calgary marketplace, it poses a tremendous amount of value,” Bianco says, noting that the park is one of the busiest terminals in CN’s network. 

Center of Operations

We also visited Bison Transport’s Calgary terminal in Rocky View No. 44, Alberta. The company is one of the largest carriers in the country and its offerings include full truckload service, full-service logistics intermodal, dedicated fleet operations and yard management. Although Bison’s head office is in Winnipeg, it has found Calgary to be an important location.

“A lot of the regional operations occur here,” Vice President of the Western Region Doug Romanuk says, naming planning, dispatching, most of the fleet managing, almost all of the customer service, and HR functions for the western region as examples. “[It’s] a very, very major center for us in the western region.”

The area also has been strong for business, COO Trevor Fridfinnson says. “The distribution industry out here has grown in prominence, probably even under the radar for a period of time as energy took center stage,” he says.

But as the need for a more diversified economy has become more clear, there is a stronger appreciation for the amount of distribution and work that comes to the company, Fridfinnson says. “That’s been a good thing in terms of being located in Calgary,” he states.

“There’s activity and there’s need here [for] strong viable transportation partners to support,” he says, also highlighting the area’s labor pool. “There’s a lot of talented people, and to be able to tap into that group and grow a really strong team has been an advantage.”

In the Epicenter

The Calgary market also proves to be a good place for WestJet, Canada’s second-largest carrier. In addition to carrying passengers, the firm is a belly space cargo operator that carries pets, live animals and perishable products. 

Vice President of Communications and Community Relations Richard Bartem notes that Alberta’s economy has experienced a recession with the price of oil at $50 per barrel. But part of WestJet’s success is still based on its location in Calgary, he asserts.

“We had a terrific run where as the market for oil was climbing globally, WestJet certainly took advantage of that, and being in the epicenter of it here for Canada was terrifically beneficial to the company,” he recalls, but notes that the region still keeps the company busy.

“As oil started to come off, though, what we saw is 25 percent of the WestJet fleet originates in Alberta every day,” he says. “Forty-five percent of the fleet passes through Alberta over the day.”

Revolutionizing Delivery

We also took a trip to the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), a polytechnic institute in Calgary. As Director of Applied Research and Innovation Services Rick Tofani told us, one area of focus for the institute has been unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), sometimes known as drones.

Some have predicted drones will revolutionize the way we deliver packages. One vision, he notes, is that drones will be able to take goods to construction sites and drop off supplies for workers on a daily basis.

“It may only be a few years away before we start to see that,” he says. “We’ve just got to figure out what the aeronautics of that situation looks like, relative to an airport.”

But controlling and keeping track of drones will be a challenge, Tofani says. If Calgary citizens were to put 200 drones in the air to deliver packages, “You’re going to need a way to control those drones in the airspace, even if they just are flying over the canopy of the city,” he says. 

SAIT is working on various projects with the drones, which include a project with YYC Calgary International Airport, says Wade Hawkins, a faculty member with a bachelor of applied technology geographic information systems. The airport, he explains, is interested in how easily people can move through it to get from gate to home, as well as its retail space. “We were at the International terminal over two weeks ago, actually flying a drone inside of the airport,” he recalls.

So if you’re looking in Canada at places where you can set up operations, why not try Calgary? The area is thriving with opportunities to gain more business and take advantage of technology being developed.

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