Skip to content

Posts from the Freight Rail Category


More Lanes on the 710 Means More Trucks: More Trucks Means More Pollution, Get it Caltrans?

L.A.'s Pacific Electric trains delivered freight in their days. Photo via Metro Library

L.A.’s Pacific Electric trains delivered freight in their day.  Photo via Metro Library

The Arts District of downtown Los Angeles is now a vibrant residential community. But the signs of its warehouse past are everywhere. Abandoned railroad spurs, peeking up from the asphalt and running down old brick streets, speak volumes about bad public policies and metrics that, even as LA struggles to rebuild its once-great transit system, persist in too much of its bureaucracy. That’s exemplified in two 710 freeway studies released by Caltrans and Metro.

The study for the northern section came out in March and looked at the “gap closure” from Alhambra to Pasadena, where the 710 would join the 210. The study for the southern section was released in June 2012 and looks at widening and double-decking the segment that runs 20 miles from the ports to the Pomona Freeway south of downtown. This chunk is mostly about freight and would cost around $8 billion. Together, the environmental studies cost millions and number 2300 pages, with over 26,000 pages of supporting documents.

The Interstate Highway System changed the economics of trucks vs. trains for local delivery. Truck trailers now park on abandoned rail spurs in downtown L.A. Photo: Roger Ruddick

The Interstate Highway System changed the economics of trucks vs. trains for local delivery. Truck trailers now park on abandoned rail spurs in downtown L.A. Photo: Roger Rudick

Most people know that Los Angeles had a comprehensive mass transit system, the Pacific Electric. But the Pacific Electric, along with other railroads of Southern California, also delivered freight. All the building materials and manufactured goods that made the economy of Los Angeles was once delivered on local rail spurs directly to warehouses, many of them in downtown LA.

So what killed local rail freight delivery? “It was the Interstate Highway System,” explained Don Norton, a spokesman for the Pacific Harbor Line, a railroad that assembles long-distance freight trains full of containers offloaded from cargo ships. “But railroads still compete on cargo that’s heavy, bulky, and traveling extremely long distances.”

Railroads have to maintain their own infrastructure—meaning thousands of miles of tracks, switches, spurs, bridges, signals, yards, etc. So they focus on their long-distance mainlines where they get the most bang for the buck. Trucking companies, on the other hand, get an all-but free ride on roads built by state and local governments. They also cause a disproportionate amount of damage.

As a result, when cargo comes off a ship in Los Angeles, if it’s staying in the region or going no farther than Nevada or Arizona, trucks cost less. If it’s going to Memphis, Chicago or anyplace east of the Rockies, or around 550 miles or more, it’s more cost-effective to combine the shipments onto a single freight train—often more than a mile in length—rather than paying some 300 truck drivers to do the same job. Some long distance trains are put together right on the docks. Others are assembled in what’s called “near dock” yards—trucks scoot containers from ships to rail yards a few miles away, where they are transferred onto those giant freight trains.

Read more…


SCIG Rail Yard Protestors to Go on Hunger Strike; Protest in Front of Villaraigosa’s Home

Exemplifying a non-violent path to protest the proposed Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) project, The Los Angeles Port Working Group–a collaborative of community health and environment organizations– decided to go on a 24-hour hunger strike and  all-day vigil in front Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s home.

Flier advertising hunger strike. Photo courtesy of the East Yards Community for Environment Justice. Click on the image for a larger version.

After the controversial project’s FEIR was unanimously approved by the Port of L.A.’s Board of Harbor Commissioners–and subsequently formally appealed by the city of Long Beach and multiple community groups–many within the Long Beach communities near the project felt dejected. For despite thousands of comments raising concerns about air quality, noise pollution, increased traffic, and a decrease in living standards, along with a host of evidence from opposing groups pointing out multiple holes in the EIR, it still sailed through with flying colors.

It now faces the Los Angeles City Council for a final vote–and the hundred -plus people slated to partake in the hunger strike hope it will command Villaraigosa to stop what they call an “environmentally racist land-use project that threatens [our] health and well-being.”

“The decision to do this hunger strike was to show the seriousness of this project,” said Kat Madrigal of the East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice. “We can go days without eating, but cannot survive more than a few minutes without breathing.”

And Villaraigosa is, at least over the individual councilmembers, a particular target for the group since they feel he had a staunchly clear role in moving the project forward via his appointment of the harbor commissioners–who cast their supportive votes under his direction. Read more…


Long Beach City Council, Three Community Groups Formally File Appeal Against SCIG

With a vote of 8-0, the Long Beach City Council voted to undertake an appeal to the L.A. City Council in regards to the building of the Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) project. Council Woman Suja Lowenthal was absent.

In addition, three of the largest community and environmental groups associated with criticizing the project–the East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, the Coalition for Clean Air, and the Natural Resources Defense Council–are appealing the certification by the Port of LA Board of Harbor Commissioner’s approval of the FEIR submitted for the projected.

“This is a terrible project premised on the misconception that minority communities can shoulder the pollution burden of our region,” said David Petitt, the Senior Attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, who headed the letter directed towards the LA City Council.

According to many critics of the project, many false charges fill the FEIR, including the property being adjacent to multiple neighborhood resources such as schools, senior housing, and cultural enclaves.

The letter goes on to charge that the Board of Harbor Commissioners violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA); that the EIR was falsely represented; there is a lack of substantiation regarding the problems this area will face with the building of SCIG; and that the EIR failed to comply with CEQA standards by properly responding to concerns generated within the public comment period. Read more…


Harbor Board Unanimously Approves SCIG Freight Rail Yard Project; Community Groups Outraged

In what is undoubtedly a controversial decision–not to mention an utterly disheartening one as well for the multitude of community groups and leaders who opposed the project–the Harbor Board of Commissioners for the Port of Los Angeles voted unanimously to approve the building of the $500 million Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) rail yard. It will now go before the Los Angeles City Council for final approval.

The project has been years in the making (it was proposed in 2005) and the reasoning for the opposition is clear–ultimately unproven and outright disregarded aspects of the final EIR distributed discovered by respected researchers throughout the L.A. region–and makes the vote rather egregious in nature.

For example, BNSF–the rail giant responsible for creating and managing the yard–praised the decision. Matthew Rose, Chairman and CEO of BNSF, stated that the vote “validates that building SCIG is the right choice for green growth in Los Angeles and will be a new model for the rest of the country.”

However, a multitude of groups and people–including Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, Long Beach 7th District Councilmember James Johnson (whose district is most affected by the project), the East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, Communities for a Better Environment, Legal Aid Foundation of L.A., Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma, Natural Resources Defense Council, Long Beach Community Action Partnership, Coalition for Clean Air, and Physicians for Social Responsibility–claim otherwise. And came to the meeting packed with documentation.

Mayor Foster was blunt in his language, insinuating that the issue had little to do with the fact that it affected a community, but it affected a non-Angelino community: “If you understand California law and the politics surrounding the EIR report process, [what the EIR really says is] we’re gonna wait ’til you sue us until we pay any attention to you… It is very hard for me intellectually to accept that you value the life of a kid on this side of the city border more than you do a kid in my city.” Read more…


Hundreds come out for DIY Public Hearing on Proposed Long Beach Railyard

Another packed house...Photo: Brian Addison

The Silverado Park Community Center was packed wall-to-wall for 7th District Councilmember James Johnson’s Do-It-Yourself public hearing regarding the proposed Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) railyard project. The hearing followed a denial from the Port of Los Angeles to include a meeting in Long Beach for Long Beachers.

The first and only formal public hearing was held in Wilmington much to the chagrin of West Long Beach residents, the largest group to be affected by the 150 acre project.

There was little to distinguish those representing BNSF and the Port of Los Angeles and those from the community given the high attendance, with standing room only for most of the meeting. Port staff–along with translators and a court reporter to record–were on hand to present the project itself as well as explain the differences between the first Draft Environmental Impact Report and the current recirculated version of the document.

The night was not without its political theater: signs were abound and a comic book created by children about air pollution was passed around. There were tense moments where voices were raised, speakers wept, and crowds cheered and howled.  After the Port of Los Angeles Environmental Management Director and his staff presented the SCIG proposal, the Councilmember opened the comment period with his own with concerns about pollution, the lack of zero emissions technology for trucks, and the potential for mitigation, including the removal of the Terminal Island Freeway north of Pacific Coast Highway. He stated that what was currently being offered was simple: nothing. Read more…


Ignoring Port, Councilmember Johnson to Hold Own Hearing Regarding SCIG Railyard

The proposed SCIG via LA 15th

Following the public hearing organized by the Port of Los Angeles (POLA) nearly two weeks ago regarding the proposed Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) railyard by BNSF, Long Beach Councilmember James Johnson has decided to take matters into his own hands–literally.

The SCIG Railyard is a proposed 12-track rail yard intended to expand the Port’s capacity for goods movement. The 153 acres are already mostly owned by the Port in unincorporated East Wilmington. Residents of West Long Beach fear the impact such a yard would have on local air quality and road conditions as trucks and trains access, idle and leave the port area. The project would cost $500 million dollars.

After a rare show of vitriol towards the POLA after the port refused to hold a public hearing in West Long Beach Johnson has decided to host his own public hearing . While  POLA opted for Wilmington for its hearing, Johnson will host his in West Long Beach, the region he represents and the one POLA’s documents show will be most impacted by the rail yard. By holding a hearing Johnson is not just giving residents a chance to speak up, but also gets their opinions on record. The move, at least within the eyes of detractors of the project as it stands, was a bold move to be both applauded and respected.

“A core part of the democratic process is the right of residents to be heard on projects that may affect them,” said Johnson, who also said that the recorded responses will be transcribed and sent to POLA as a formal response to the matter. Read more…


Is a Reduction of 1.5 Million New Trucks Worth Building a Rail Yard Near Residential West Long Beach?

The SCIG would certainly improve air quality for the region, but those living near the proposed yard worry the impacts on their lives would be disastrous.

New environmental documents for a freight rail project near the Port of Los Angeles known as the Southern California International Gateway could reduce truck traffic on the Long Beach to Los Angeles portion of the 710 Freeway.  But the SCIG Project faces strong opposition from the communities that will live adjacent to the 153 acre SCIG rail yard who fear the new rail yard endangers their very lives.

The Port of Los Angeles paid for an environmental study of SCIG, a freight rail depot and project that would allow containers to be loaded onto rail just four miles from the docks, rather than traveling 24 miles on local roads and the 710 freeway to rail facilities near Downtown Los Angeles.  If fully utilized, the SCIG project would reduce truck trips by 1.5 million trips per year, a reduction in 300 million truck miles traveled.

While that 300 million miles per year number sounds staggering, the cost to Long Beach residents can be staggering as well.  Communities in West Long Beach literally abut the gigantic rail compound without any real buffer.  The local Long Beach City Councilman is pitching a plan for 100% emissions free trucks to be the only ones that can access the port, while community groups are wondering how the benefits to the air county-wide can come at the expense of the air of the residents near the project.

A letter by East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice that was circulated last April calls for the expansion of on-dock rail facilities instead of opening a new facility near a residential area.

For its part, the DEIR claims the SCIG yard would actually make air quality better.  Much of the land just west of West Long Beach is already industrial and replacing the truck-based repair depots and other mixed industrial with a “green” rail transfer yard could improve the air quality in the area and reduce the cancer risk to even those people living near the SCIG transfer yard.  To better understand how the Port’s study claims how a rail yard will provide clean air benefits, take a moment to watch this video.

The recently released Draft Environmental Impact Report for the project concludes that “The truck trips (to SCIG) would replace truck trips that would otherwise go to the  Hobart Yard in East Los Angeles, a journey of 24 miles each way.  The contracts would specify that all trucks would be powered by engines that meet or exceed the 2007 EPA on-road standards, thereby ensuring compliance with the ports’ 2010 Clean Air Action Plan’s engine emissions requirements.”

Trade unions, construction unions, and the shipping industry is backing the SCIG.

An article in the Long Beach Press-Telegram announcing the DEIR’s availability notes that Diesel particulates near rail yards are traditionally dangerously high. Read more…

No Comments

Mica’s Goal: More Cars Off of the Highway

In a recent interview with the Journal of Commerce, Transportation Chair John Mica (R-FL) indicated that he shares many transportation goals with the Obama administration.

Mica speaks at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Auto Train terminal in Sanford. Photo courtesy of ## Mica's office##.

Mica speaks at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Auto Train terminal in Sanford. Photo courtesy of John Mica's office.

We mentioned the Journal’s report the other day that Mica has tried to reassure transportation supporters that new House rules won’t starve the highway trust fund.

Now the Journal is reporting that Mica is eager to shift more freight transportation to rail in order to “ease pressure on federal road and bridge spending out of the Highway Trust Fund, by reducing the pace of wear and tear.”

“My goal would be to get more trucks off of the highway, and more cars off of the highway,” Mica said.

Mica also refered to the vastly undersubscribed Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing loan program, which hasn’t shared the popularity of other federal funding programs like TIGER and TIFIA. He told the Journal would not try to use RRIF money for road projects, “but I can free that up for rail infrastructure … (and) enhancement of rail takes pressure off of my highways, if it’s properly applied, too.”

Read more…

1 Comment

LADOT Call for Projects Review: Freight Movement

(This is Part 3 of our Call for Projects review.  Part 1 explained why this series is importantPart 2 looked at the car capacity enhancement proposals.  Part 4 tomorrow.)

We don’t talk a lot about freight movement on Streetsblog, and we probably should.  After all, the number of trucks on our roads are used to justify some of the most expensive highway projects and cause a disproportionate amount of air pollution.

Trucks entering the Port of Los Angeles.  Photo: Port of Los Angeles/ENS

Trucks entering the Port of Los Angeles. Photo: Port of Los Angeles/Environmental News Service

There are other secondary costs to the amount of truck traffic moving through the port areas.  Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Times reported that local schools are installing filter systems to try and protect their students from particulates that could damage their lungs.

While the “clean trucks” program at both ports can reduce the pollution caused by each individual truck, the long-term plan to a sustainable port is to have less trucks and cleaner trucks together.  It’s not like the cleaner trucks are now spewing rainbows and sunshine in to the air.  Because the amount of freight coming in to the port is expected to grow in the coming years, it’s more important now than ever to reduce the amount of truck traffic using the port and increase the amount of freight rail.

Reviewing the 2011 Call for Projects applications in the freight movement category through that lens, the City of Los Angeles still has a lot to learn.  The city is applying for six projects and $30 million dollars from a fund that only has $20 million for the entire county. Read more…

No Comments

Environmental Group Offers Congress a Map to Cleaner Freight

The federal government can reap significant pollution-reduction
benefits by focusing on a national freight plan that replaces older
diesel equipment with newer, cleaner-burning train cars while building
out regional networks more efficiently, the Environmental Defense Fund
(EDF) said yesterday in a new report [PDF].

chicago.jpgFreight rail in Chicago, home of the stimulus-funded CREATE freight project. (Photo: NSTPRSC)

EDF report, aimed at lawmakers crafting the nation’s next long-term
transportation bill, uses freight’s growing share of U.S. carbon
emissions as a jumping-off point to call for broad reforms.

currently accounts for 25 percent of the transport sector’s annual
greenhouse gas production, according to EDF, but the government has
reported that freight’s share of total emissions is growing twice as
fast as that of passenger transport — thanks principally to the rise
of truck freight movement.

One of the report’s first examples of local freight reform is the CREATE project, a federally funded
effort to better align freight and passenger train movement in the
Chicago area. But the EDF’s policy agenda is not limited to rail;
efforts to retrofit and clean up diesel vehicles, such as California’s Carl Moyer program, get their due.

more auto-centric recommendations from EDF are increased use of
tolling, which the group believes could be a tool for reducing
emissions, and electrifying truck stops. How do idling truckers
contribute to freight’s greenhouse gas production? From the report:

Read more…