The latest move in the drive to clean up the air in San Pedro Bay is coming not from the ports, but instead from one of the largest port users.


Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. said last week it would invest more than $75 million to purchase a fleet of clean-burning diesel trucks to service its proposed port facility.


The Fort Worth, Texas railroad operator, a subsidiary of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp., said it expects to purchase about 400 trucks to serve the facility.


The bid is part of the company's efforts to garner support for a new rail transfer facility, called the Southern California International Gateway, where trucks will deliver cargo from the ports to be transferred onto trains. The company says the proposed $300 million facility is necessary to accommodate expected growth in cargo movement through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in the coming years.


"We see a tsunami of containers coming our way and we need to be ready for it," said Lena Kent, a spokeswoman for BNSF. "The sooner we can get it built the better."


The proposed 180-acre rail transfer hub, which would connect to the Alameda Corridor, would be built about four miles from the port complex. Some community members have expressed concern over the facility, citing possible noise and air pollution from the trucks that would service the facility.


Matthew Rose, chairman, president and chief executive of BNSF, has said the company made changes to its proposal in response to community requests. In addition to buying clean-burning trucks, the railroad company proposed several measures to mitigate the facility's community impact, including building a noise-reducing wall near the freeway and requiring truckers to drive non-residential routes. The company also said it would give first priority to local residents for new jobs at the facility.


BNSF may face an uphill battle, though, as health concerns surrounding port-related pollution have taken center stage recently in discussions about the ports' future. With some experts predicting a doubling of cargo volume in the next 10 to 20 years, environmentalists, port officials, community groups and elected officials have all begun weighing in on how to cut down on the ports' environmental impact.


Last year the ports approved the Clean Air Action Plan, a wide-ranging initiative that port officials say could reduce emissions by about 50 percent in the next five years. BNSF executives said their proposal was intended to exceed the specification set forth in the clean air plan.

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