Port of Long Beach okays $870 million on-dock rail site to take containers off drayage carriers.

Port of Long Beach (Photo: Shutterstock)

Port aims for new on-dock rail facility to handle increased container throughput and meet clean-air goals.

The Port of Long Beach approved an $870 million budget for a new on-dock rail facility that officials hope could eventually put up to half of the port’s container volumes on rails.

This month, the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners okayed the preliminary spending plan for its Pier B On-Dock Rail Support Facility. The Port says the new facility “will result in a more efficient and sustainable transfer of cargo” through shifting containers from trucks to rail.

Harbor Commissioners President Tracy Egoscue says the project will not only move containers more efficiently, it will help the Port of Long Beach meet increasingly stringent environmental goals.

“Moving more cargo by train helps our marine terminals transfer cargo faster. At the same time, it helps us make progress toward the environmental goals the Commission set in the Clean Air Action Plan and continue to lead the industry on sustainable operations,” Egoscue said.

Currently, the ability to build long trains is limited due to the lack of adequate yard tracks and the configuration of mainline tracks, the Port said. The Pier B facility would provide track space to join together sections of trains assembled at terminals.

A 1-mile-long train can take as many as 750 trucks off the roadways.

The Port of Long Beach aims to use state and federal grants to fund part of the new facility.

The first arrival, departure and storage tracks are expected to be completed in 2024, with additional tracks coming online in 2030, followed by project completion in 2032.

Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero says the development will “deliver several key improvements within the next six years” to the port’s existing on-dock rail network.

Port of Long Beach already has on-dock rail at five of its six terminals. On-dock rail currently handles about 25% of the container volume coming through the port. Year-to-date, the Port’s container volumes are up 9% this calendar year to 5.3 million twenty foot equivalent (teu).

Once completed, the Pier B On-Dock rail facility will take at least 35% to 50% of the teu volume coming out of Long Beach, according to a port spokesperson. Container volumes for both Long Beach and Los Angeles are expected to reach 30 million teu by 2032, double the amount seen in 2015.

The facility will eventually mean more freight for Berkshire Hathaway’s (NYSE: BRK.A) BNSF and Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP), the two incumbent rail providers in the region.

The Port of Long Beach’s project comes soon after the Port of Los Angeles had to put on hold plans to develop a near-dock facility, the Southern California International Gateway, which would have been operated by BNSF.

The Port of Long Beach does not expect the same community opposition the Gateway faced as the Pier B facility would be entirely on port property and will not involve truck movements.

“We’re not going to have trucks coming in and out of it,” said the spokesperson.


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Michael Angell, Bulk and Intermodal Editor

Michael Angell covers maritime, intermodal and related topics for FreightWaves. His interest in transportation stretches back several generations. One great-grandfather was a dray horseman along the New York waterfront and another was a railway engineer in Texas. More recently, Michael has written about the shipping industry for TradeWinds, energy markets for Oil Price Information Service, and general business topics for FactSet Mergerstat and Investor's Business Daily. When he is not stuck in the office, he enjoys tours of ports, terminals, and railyards.