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Plan for Dockside Rail Yard Yanked Amid Opposition

December 04, 1986|DARYL KELLEY | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — A shipping terminal's withdrawal last week of a proposal that could have sent one train a night through northern Long Beach neighborhoods has not halted debate about how local officials should respond to growth pressures at the port.

Angry dockworkers, in fact, shut down the port for nine hours Monday to protest city opposition to the shipping terminal's plan to expand a dockside rail yard, which would have created about 15 more jobs.

"To me that's restraint of trade . . . and it means jobs for us," said Jim North, president of foremen's Local 94, one of three International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union locals that honored Monday's boycott.

But Mayor Ernie Kell said that withdrawal of the on-dock proposal is a victory for thousands of west and north Long Beach residents who live along the Union Pacific Railroad tracks on which added trains would probably have run.

"We have to think about the residents this would have affected," said Kell, who sent a letter to the Harbor Commission in August on behalf of the City Council strongly opposing the project.

Plan to Be Altered

Even as Kell and the council were savoring withdrawal of the on-dock rail proposal, however, its sponsor was saying an altered plan would be resubmitted within two months.

That new proposal by International Transportation Service Inc., which handles cargo for 15 shipping lines, would either reduce the number of trains or require use of a rail line that bypasses residential Long Beach, said attorney Terry J. Coniglio.

City and port officials say, however, that port jobs and train noise are but two of several intertwined issues that must be addressed if Long Beach Harbor, the busiest on the West Coast, is to get its share of cargo being moved from the Orient overland to this country's Midwest and East.

To remain competitive for this overland trade, the Long Beach Port, and the adjacent Port of Los Angeles, face tremendous pressure to build dockside facilities similar to the one that had been proposed by Japanese-owned International Transportation Service.

Ports in Tacoma, San Francisco, Oakland, Portland and Seattle have all planned or built on-dock rail yards within the past two years, said James McJunkin, executive director of the Long Beach Port.

"(They) have proliferated like Cabbage Patch dolls," McJunkin said in a memorandum to the Harbor Commission earlier this year.

Those ports can move 40-foot steel containers directly from ships to railroad cars instead of trucking them to a storage yard for loading, lowering costs by about $70 a container, he said. On a typical mile-long train with 200 double-stacked containers, that would mean savings of about $14,000.

Therefore, if there were no complicating factors, both local ports would be foolish not to consider on-dock loading at least for shipments with enough containers to fill an entire train, said McJunkin.

Both local ports are now studying how on-dock rail yards might fit into their master plans, said McJunkin and his counterpart in Los Angeles, Ezunial Burts.

Plan Rejected 6 Years Ago

The ports dismissed on-dock rail yards as infeasible six years ago because they thought that limited waterfront leaseholds could be better used. Probable traffic congestion in the ports was also a consideration.

As a result, the ports agreed to build, in conjunction with Southern Pacific Railroad, a $62-million, 150-acre rail yard four miles away, in Wilmington.

The first phase of that Intermodal Container Transfer Facility (ICTF) was completed last month, with Southern Pacific picking up all but about $5 million of the cost and indebtedness. It is expected to be complete by 1989 and have a capacity of seven trains a day.

Still, cargo must be hauled by truck to the ICTF and that one extra handling before placement on a train increases costs beyond those of dockside yards.

McJunkin maintains, however, that the Wilmington central

yard remains the better facility in most cases because many shipments do not have enough containers to fill an entire train and shipments can be combined if bound for the same destination. The ICTF could coexist with some on-dock facilities, he said.

But others say on-dock facilities would siphon too much cargo from the ports-sponsored central yard.

Over the years 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, Jack Wells, a Port of Los Angeles administrator, said in a letter to Long Beach Harbor Commissioner David Hauser last December.

"If the ITS project is actually developed, there will be an immediate demand at both ports for similar facilities for competitive reasons," Wells wrote.

Burts, chief administrator of the Los Angeles Port, said this week that in the letter Wells was acting as chairman of the Joint Powers Authority that is directing development of the ICTF, and on behalf of the port.

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