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Rail Is Key to Port of the Future

Infrastructure improvements include just-completed Green Port Gateway project

August 28, 2015


The Port of Long Beach has been working on the railroad.

Strategic improvements – including the recently completed Green Port Gateway project – are adding up to a more efficient rail network for moving $180 billion in cargo annually swiftly and safely to market.

“Every project is important,” said Anthony Otto, President of Long Beach Container Terminal Inc., the operator of the new $1.3 billion Middle Harbor container terminal. “Each supports the larger rail system so cargo can flow through the Port.”

Completed in May, Green Port Gateway is one in a series of rail infrastructure projects the Port is working its way through to improve the speed, reliability and safety of on-dock rail operations. The $92 million project upgraded the Pier F support yard and added more than 29,000 linear feet of track that serves the Port’s southeast terminals.

“We now have two dedicated lines serving Middle Harbor and Pier G Metro,” said Marlon Taylor, Director of Operations at Pacific Harbor Line Inc., the short-line railroad that manages rail traffic throughout the port complex. “Taking that traffic off the main lines allows us to better serve International Transportation Service at Pier G and Pacific Container Terminal at Pier J.”

The project also added retaining walls and rebuilt Pier F Avenue and part of Harbor Scenic Drive. The Port secured state and federal funding to pay for more than half the construction costs.

“Green Port Gateway is a great example of the brick-and-mortar investments this Port is making to remain competitive into the future,” said Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners President Lori Ann Guzmán. “By defraying the costs with available grant funding from other sources, it exemplifies our commitment to fiscal prudence that is also a pillar of our world-class seaport.”

The Big Picture

Rail improvements are a major component of the Port’s $4 billion 10-year capital improvement program: About one-fourth of the total budget is slated for rail projects. All are designed to enhance on-dock rail capacity, velocity and safety and boost the rate of containers shipped directly to and from the waterfront by on-dock rail to 35 percent, up from the current average of 28 percent. In combination with near-dock activity, Port officials recently set a 50 percent target for all cargo entering and leaving the port by rail.

In addition to increasing productivity, on-dock rail is a healthier, more fuel-efficient way of moving cargo that reduces traffic congestion, particularly on busy Southern California freeways. With one double-stacked train eliminating up to 750 truck trips, trains are up to four times more fuel efficient and up to three times cleaner.

“Making full use of on-dock rail capability maximizes our rail infrastructure throughout the Port,” said Carlo Luzzi, the Port’s Manager of Rail Transportation. “It's also a key clean-air strategy under the Green Port Policy.”

The Port’s signature project for increasing on-dock rail activity is the proposed On-Dock Support Facility at Pier B Rail Yard. The project would create a centralized area with up to 10,000 linear feet of tracks for staging inbound and outbound trains nearly 2 miles long. It would also realign Pier B Street, provide storage tracks for destination-specific rail cars, upgrade utilities and remove the existing Ninth Street at-grade crossing.

The proposal and three alternatives are currently under environmental study, with a draft environmental impact report due to be released in 2016 for public review and comment. If approved, the on-dock rail support yard would be built in three phases over 10 years at a cost of $560 million, according to preliminary estimates.

“The Pier B rail improvements are critical to handling future container volumes,” Otto said. “That project ties all the others together.”

Supply Chain Optimization

Maximizing rail operations has always been a priority for the Port. In 2006, it established a Rail Action Planning Committee with representation from marine terminals, shipping lines, railroads, the Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority and the Port of Los Angeles.

Today, rail operations play a central role in San Pedro Bay supply chain optimization efforts. Several of the seven industry working groups developing strategies for strengthening the competitiveness of the port complex are focused on rail.

“We’re building on our existing advantages,” said Port of Long Beach Chief Executive Officer Jon Slangerup. “With a dedicated short line, two Class I railroads and an unparalleled network connecting us to the entire nation, our gateway is already the fastest, most cost-effective route between Asia and inland markets across the country. Enhancing our rail system is vital to protecting and growing our position as the leading gateway to the U.S.”

Home-court advantages include the Alameda Corridor, which has the capacity to handle about 150 trains a day. Built with room to grow, the dedicated rail corridor currently averages 41 trains daily based on year-to-date activity.

To reach the goal of moving 50 percent of all cargo by rail, the San Pedro Bay ports are exploring a short-haul train that would shuttle containers between a near-dock rail facility and an inland port serving regional markets in San Bernardino and Riverside counties. “The concept also presents an opportunity to deploy zero-emissions drayage trucks to haul containers between the terminal and the near-dock shuttle,” Slangerup said.

Rail Projects On Track

Meanwhile, the Port is moving forward with rail improvement projects that have cleared the environmental review process. They are:

  • Pier G Metro Track Improvements: This $11 million project will increase rail efficiencies at the Pier G bulk cargo terminal. The work involves laying 8,500 linear feet of track and making related utility and wharf modifications. Construction is due to begin before the year’s end and be completed by late 2016.
  • Middle Harbor: The first phase of this $110 million three-stage rail project is nearing completion, with testing of the terminal’s new rail-mounted gantry cranes due to begin any day. The full project will expand the terminal’s on-dock rail network from 10,000 to 75,000 linear feet of track. Construction is expected to be completed in 2019.
  • Terminal Island: Construction to reconfigure the Control Point Mole railroad tracks near New Dock Street is expected to begin in 2016. The yearlong project is estimated at $25 million.
  • Pier G: Proposed rehabilitation of the existing ITS South Rail Yard is another potential project. The Port completed the ITS North Rail Yard Redevelopment project in 2012.

The Port’s list includes the Wye Track Realignment project, also on Terminal Island. Estimated at $15 million, the project is currently in the conceptual design stage and has yet to undergo environmental review.

As the Port works through its list of projects to improve and expand the Port’s rail network, officials plan to take a moment to mark completion of the Green Port Gateway with a dedication ceremony Sept. 16.

“The work done to date reflects the planning and foresight that has always been part of the culture of this Port,” Slangerup said. “We look forward to reaching many more of these milestones.”

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