Long Beach OKs $870 million for on-dock rail work

Date: Thursday, September 27, 2018
Source: American Shipper

An $870 million project at the Port of Long Beach aims to help the port move more of its containerized cargo to and from inland locations using on-dock rail.
   The project is aimed at helping shippers who today pay truckers to dray their containers to off-dock rail facilities.
   Mark Erickson, senior program manager, said about 11 percent of the port’s cargo is drayed to off-dock rail yards — at a cost of hundreds of dollars per container.
   “Customers can save that drayage cost if we have a robust on-dock rail system that can accommodate that cargo at the port,” he said. 
   The port’s Board of Harbor Commissioners approved the budget for the Pier B On-Dock Rail Support Facility at its Sept. 10 meeting. An environmental impact statement for the project was certified by the board in January.
   The facility is being built on a 180-acre site that includes a current rail yard plus part of the port’s North Harbor area, which is a network of local streets and lots. A spokesman for the port said, “Some of the lots are owned by the port and leased out, and some are owned by other parties. It’s a light industrial area with various businesses.”
   Today about 28 percent of the port’s containerized cargo moves through on-dock rail facilities.
   The new project aims to increase that share to 35 percent.
   Mario Cordero, the ports executive director, said the project “gets us well on our way” toward the port’s long-term goal of someday moving half the port’s cargo in and out of port facilities by rail.
   The project will enhance the port’s connectivity to inland distribution centers and will increase traffic moving through the Alameda Corridor, the 20-mile rail express line that connects the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to the transcontinental rail network east of downtown Los Angeles.
   The port said the project also will help reduce pollution by reducing truck traffic. 
   Sean Gamette, managing director of engineering services at the port, said the goal is to complete the project — the “capstone” of several rail improvements being made at the port — by 2032.
   After several years of design and engineering, construction is expected to start in 2024.
   The project will be built in stages, with the first phase completed in 2024, the second in 2030 and third in 2032.
   A complicating factor in the project is that it is built on an oil field requiring relocation of streets and utilities, including the wells and pipelines that carry oil to refineries.
   Five of the port’s six container terminals have on-dock rail (the Pier C facility that serves Matson is the exception), and the port says the new facility will benefit all five as well as the neighboring Port of Los Angeles by increasing rail capacity.
   Erickson explained that “today the port lacks long tracks to stage trains as they arrive or are being prepared to depart. So the railroads have to use mainlines to stage these trains.”
   The project involves building five new 10,000-foot arrival/departure tracks, which he said will keep the main line tracks clear and increase the lengths of trains moving through the harbor.
   Railroads will be able to increase the length of their trains from 8,000 to 10,000 feet, which will reduce the per-container operating cost.
   The Pacific Harbor Line is the shortline railroad which operates trains within the Port of Long Beach and Port of Los Angeles.
   When complete, the facility will serve up to 17 trains per day, he said. Each train can eliminate 750 truck trips to the port.
   Storage tracks at Pier B will be increased from 20,000 feet to 93,000 feet. Those tracks are used for sorting cars by origin and destination.
   He said terminals will benefit because when ordering labor for the next day, they will know a train is waiting for them in the yard. Today they rely on a just-in-time system that is subject to delays.
   The increased storage capacity at the rail yard also will reduce the amount of dwell time for containers at terminals, Erickson said.
   Annual rail capacity at the port will increase from 2 million to 4.7 million TEUs.
   There also will be a facility for “light servicing” of up to 24 locomotives where tasks such as refueling locomotives or swapping crews can be done instead of on main lines where they would contribute to congestion.
   He said the project also would result in improvements or eliminations of some road/rail crossings. For example, an at-grade road crossing at Ninth Street will be closed this year, eliminating a rail bottleneck. Erickson said this will result in a 50 percent increase in main line rail capacity on the east side of the harbor.
   Increasing rail traffic through the Alameda Corridor and revenue to the Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority will benefit both the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. (Waterborne containers are levied a $24.51-per-TEU charge to pass though the corridor) 
   The bond rating company Fitch noted in a March report that “backstop commitments from the ports provide some revenue stability and mitigate against the authority’s exposure to throughput volatility and rate adjustment limitations.”
   Michele Grubbs, a vice president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, which represents marine terminals and shipping companies, praised the project, saying it was “critical for our competiveness.”
   Several members of the harbor commission urged the staff to find ways to accelerate the project.
   “I just know we will not be able to be the port we want to be unless this project gets done,” said Lou Anne Bynum, one of the commissioners. “I agree there is an urgency.”

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