By Alfredo Santana
LOS ANGELES — Two presentations on how trains along the Alameda Corridor help make container transportation cleaner and supply chain mechanics at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles took center stage at the latest Long Beach (710) Freeway task force meeting.
They unfolded amid a backdrop of projects being evaluated to reduce carbon emissions, improve movement of people and goods in the 19-mile corridor and be equitable to low-income residents within the corridor.
“We’ve been asked how cargo can be shifted to railroad where the corridor has some capacity,” said Michael Leue, CEO of the Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority and a task force member. “It connects the ports to the nation, and it’s also a local impact corridor that removes antiquated traffic and helps move cargo replacing trucks.”
The 20-mile Alameda Corridor, he said, reduces truck traffic on highways, community road congestion, improves air quality, community aesthetics and connectivity, safety and emergency response, and port efficiency.
Leue said the twin ports, also known as the San Pedro Bay Ports, are seven times larger than average competing ports in the nation, capture about 40% of all incoming water-borne containers to the United States, and support 1 million jobs in five counties.
“Trains are three to five times more efficient than trucks, and every train that’s called at the port removes 750 trucks from local freeways and streets,” he said.
Also, 70% of all cargo in the East Coast comes from Los Angeles, a major gateway that has in place efficient operations, good weather throughout the year and a skilled and established labor force, Leue told the audience.
“All these components in place are assets to the ports,” he said.
Starting in 2015, more freight began to move by trains than on trucks. Now there is talk of a potential railroad expansion to the Inland Empire that would require subsidies and expensive access to a myriad of warehouses dotting the area.
“The concept has some significant hurdles to it. I see it significantly unlikely,” Leue said.
However, more feasible railroad expansions are being explored in Bakersfield and Arizona, with storage warehouses alongside the tracks to better connect the western regions.
Kerry Cartwright, director of goods movement for the Port of Los Angeles, said that the Alameda Corridor has three railroads, trains carry 53-feet containers to the intermodal railroad station in Vernon, and thousands are sorted and shipped daily to their final destinations across the nation.
He said manufacturers and buyers can improve the supply chain if they would agree to switch the type of transportation.
“It’s really the shipping engaging with railroads and saying ‘Hey, that is the way we want to move this cargo,’” Cartwright said. “That will impact costs and make it more efficient.”
For his part, Tom O’Brien, executive director of the Center for International Trade and Transportation at Cal State Long Beach, said that the center’s outmost function is to ensure economic opportunities at local and regional levels by transporting merchandise arriving at and departing from the ports.
For example, a basic supply chain from Shenzhen, China, starts with the manufacturer loading goods at trucks that move them to the docks, are loaded on ships, arrive at Long Beach entry ports controlled by Customs and Border Patrol, and are transported by trucks, trains or airplanes to warehouses.
Then they are distributed to fulfill orders and are delivered via parcel or other trucking to customers.
“Southern California is in the lead of commercial transportation networks,” O’Brien said. “It makes us a national entry port from Asia. We are the nation’s first port of entry for manufactured goods from Asia. It makes sense they stop here.”
During the two-hour online gathering, O’Brien explained that when World War II ended, a global trend to reduce trade tariffs emerged, preferential duty programs were phased in, and free trade agreements followed accelerating global use of cargo ships.
Nowadays, the main drivers behind globalization are outsourcing that encompasses manufacturing, information technology management and logistics, followed by technology driven by transportation, telecom, hardware and software and the internet.
“Also, we are making sure that we are connected to a really good set of transportation providers,” that are consistent and reliable so imported goods can reach other parts of the nation, O’Brien added.
Due to economies of scale and growth projections, global trade continued despite delays, lockdowns and other challenges caused by COVID-19.
Stakeholders at the ports are cargo movers and transporters at terminals, unionized labor, related manufacturing industries, beneficial cargo owners in charge of low transport costs, reliability and damage control, and nongovernment organizations that prevent excessive negative impact such as noise, pollution and air quality.
The three remaining stakeholders are local residents who monitor job creation in line with local markets, limit traffic bottlenecks, and upkeep of quality of life; local and regional governments that check contributions to regional economy, tax income and effective transformation of port and cities; and the federal government, with policies to conduct low transport costs for residents and firms, costs recovery of infrastructure and investment, national commerce and economic competitiveness.
Chris Chavez with the Coalition for Clean Air asked O’Brien what the ports are doing to make locomotives cleaner. In response, O’Brien said that the Environmental Protection Agency is working on new regulations, and little else can be done beyond that.
Attorney Natalia Ospina with the National Resources Defense Council, said communities in Salt Lake City, Utah, are pushing back to proposals to expand rail yards to shield wetlands from erosion, and asked if the “dirtiest locomotives” can pollute more than zero emission trucks.
Leue replied that the comparison is unfair, because both have goals to attenuate air pollution “they have to meet,” and trucks have high-friction brakes and tires compared to steel wheels on trains that can last up to 700,000 miles.
In a related matter, Irma Lopez was unanimously approved to become the new Cudahy representative with the Community Leadership Committee.