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Plan for Dockside Cargo Trains Draws Stiff Opposition

January 09, 1986|DARYL KELLEY | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — Though months away from final consideration by the Harbor Commission, a shipping terminal's plan to build a small dockside rail yard and run up to five trains a week out of the Port of Long Beach is already drawing strong opposition from residents of neighborhoods through which the trains might run.

The proposal has also prompted concern at the Port of Long Angeles, where a top official said construction of the dockside rail yard could undercut the business of a $75-million truck-to-rail transfer facility in Wilmington that the two ports are developing jointly.

Under the rail yard plan, International Transportation Service Inc., which handles cargo for about 15 shipping lines, would load 40-foot steel containers onto 100-car trains at Pier J near the Queen Mary.

These trains, one a week at first and up to five a week as business increases, would take the double-stacked containers directly from the docks to destinations in the Midwest and East. A shipper would contract with a railroad for the use of a full train.

$70-Per-Container Saving

These so-called "contract trains"--an innovation used in recent months at other West Coast ports--would eliminate the need to move containers by truck from the port to rail yards elsewhere and save shippers about $70 per container, said James McJunkin, executive director at the Port of Long Beach.

"This proposal is a response to a new twist in the market, a new competitiveness for certain segments of the market," said McJunkin.

The proposal, though still in its formative stages, drew about 40 residents to a public hearing Tuesday. The hearing was called to help port planners identify issues that should be analyzed in an environmental impact report they will write by May.

Several speakers were veterans of a successful 1983 battle against an increase in coal trains on the Union Pacific Railroad line. That line runs north from the port along Long Beach's Westside, crosses the Los Angeles River near the Virginia Country Club, turns due north in Lakewood near Cherry Avenue and goes through Paramount and South Gate on its way to a central rail yard in Commerce.

Noise and Safety

The speakers told port officials to carefully consider noise and safety problems and damage to homes that additional trains running within 15 feet of some homes would cause. Now, about three trains a day make round trips on Union Pacific's Long Beach line, said a railway spokesman.

A 1982 port study reported that about 15,000 Long Beach residents live within 1,000 feet of the Union Pacific line, said Councilman Warren Harwood, who opposes increased train traffic.

Rae Gabelich, a Virgina Avenue resident, said, "I don't want 100 trains going through my neighborhood with kids playing 20 feet from the track."

Joanne Williams, president of the Windward Village Homeowners Assn., said her group wanted assurances that the Union Pacific track would not be used for the new train traffic.

The Union Pacific line that serves the ports is closer to more homes than are Southern Pacific or Santa Fe port tracks, which run primarily through industrial areas.

Line Designated

The Union Pacific line was initially designated as the line onto which the International Transportation Services rail yard would route its contract trains, said port planner Byron Buck.

But Shinta Asami, president of ITS, said Tuesday that shipping companies that unload at his facility might use any of the three railroads. Neither of the two large shipping firms interested in contract trains has signed an agreement with a railroad, he said.

The dockside rail facilities sought by ITS could undermine the central rail yard in Wilmington that the two ports are sponsoring, said Jack Wells, chief deputy executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, in a Dec. 26 letter to Long Beach Harbor Commissioner David Hauser. The ports' 150-acre Wilmington yard is scheduled to begin operation this summer.

The Port of Los Angeles has received several requests for dockside facilities and has always turned them down as inconsistent with the two ports' commitment to the Wilmington yard, Wells said in the letter.

"If the ITS project is actually developed, there will be an immediate demand at both ports for similar facilities for competitive reasons," Wells said. "Therefore it is important to view the ITS proposal not in isolation, but as one of a series of other similar projects creating an accumulative impact far beyond that associated with the ITS project alone."

'Time and Money Invested'

Wells advised Long Beach port officials to "carefully consider and evaluate the ITS project proposal in light of the past commitment to the (Wilmington) project in terms of time and money already invested, and the overall cooperative relationship with the Port of Los Angeles."

The Wilmington facility will be run by the two ports and Southern Pacific Railroad, which has invested $18 million and incurred debts of $54 million more to build it. The ports have invested $2.5 million each.

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