A surge in goods through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach has boosted traffic and revenues for the Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority. But the increase also has meant that the 20-mile rail line is no closer to its goal of reducing truck traffic to and from the port complex by 50 percent.
An average of 5,035 containers per day moved along the Alameda Corridor in 2004, a 16.4 percent increase from the year-earlier daily average of 4,323 containers.
While the pace of growth in rail activity outpaced the 10.6 percent increase in containers handled by the port complex last year, the sheer increase in port volume continues to weigh heavily on nearby roadways.
The $2.4 billion transitway stretching from the ports to the rail yards east of downtown Los Angeles was intended to relieve the mass of traffic congestion on the Long Beach (710) Freeway and nearby surface streets. But even as its share of the inland shipping business has climbed, a spike in the volume coming into the ports has put even more trucks on the streets.
The Port of Long Beach moved 1.1 million more 20-foot equivalent containers in 2004 than 2003, while the Port of Los Angeles moved 100,000 more containers. But each 40-foot container not loaded onto trains is put on a single truck, and about 23,000 port-related truck trips per weekday are made on the 710.
"The railroads are being used more effectively," said John Doherty, ACTA's chief executive. "Our objective is to continually see a higher growth rate in containers using the corridor than the overall port growth rate. But more work needs to be done to shift, wherever possible, truck trips onto rail."
At its inception, the authority had set a goal of taking 50 percent of the freight away from the ports and delivering it to the freight yards. But by December 2002 it was clear that the 50 percent level could not be met under the initial operational structure.
An outside consultant determined the following spring that the project was losing potential revenues from the process of trans-loading, where cargo is hauled by truck from the ports to warehouse and distribution centers.
A further boost to the corridor came last week when the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners directed port staff to begin negotiations with Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. to lease port-owned land in Wilmington for a near-dock rail facility.
Upon completion in 2009, the facility would eliminate an estimated 1 million truck trips off the freeway per year. "The facility is extremely important not only to the region but the state of California," said Lena Kent, a Burlington Northern spokeswoman. "Now all of these containers on the 710 freeway will use the Alameda Corridor. It will allow us to significantly increase our capacity to serve the ports."
ACTA officials estimate that the near-dock facility, three miles north of the port and adjacent to an existing Union Pacific Corp. operation, would increase ACTA's market share to 37 percent of all container traffic.
Still, the increasing volume coming through L.A.'s ports makes it unlikely that the corridor will achieve its initial goal of a 50 percent market share.
Container traffic through the ports is expected to double by 2020, making the corridor in its current form incapable of solving the truck congestion problem. Unless more railways are built, the same form of gridlock that exists on the freeway will one day begin to appear in the rail yards.
"Next thing you know, it's going to start backing up at the rail head," said Guy Fox, executive vice president of customs services for Carson-based Stonepath Logistics Inc. "It's like a funnel and you can only get so much in there."
ACTA ultimately wants to achieve its 50 percent goal by running a shuttle train service from the ports to the warehouse and distribution centers in the Inland Empire, an area now served exclusively by truck.
"If the shuttle works, we could get a lot closer to the 50 percent (goal)," said Doherty. "We want to prove to the shippers that we can deliver containers via rail as reliably as they now receive them by truck."
Meantime, ACTA officials anticipate seeing an average of 48 daily train trips on the rail line this year, up from 44 in 2004 and 40 the year before.
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