Hauling trash by rail to disposal sites in the desert is technically feasible and is "a potential solution to the solid waste disposal crisis projected for the 1990s," according to a study commissioned by an association of San Gabriel Valley cities.
The report says area landfills will begin closing in 1995 or earlier, and it is unlikely that new dumps can be opened or that trash incineration plants can be built in an urban area such as the San Gabriel Valley because of community opposition. Other options, such as recycling or composting, cannot solve the problem by themselves, the study says.
If residents will not allow expansion of the Puente Hills landfill or accept waste-to-energy plants, the report says, "then transporting the waste to a remote site may be the only alternative."
The report, which is still in draft form and runs nearly 300 pages, identifies several sites where San Gabriel Valley trash could be loaded onto trains for shipment to disposal facilities that could be developed in Kern, Riverside, San Bernardino and Imperial counties.
Hauling trash by rail has rarely been attempted in this country, the study says, but successful systems are operating in Europe, where it is considered cheaper to haul by rail than by truck at distances over 50 miles.
The Southern California Assn. of Governments, a regional planning agency, prepared the report for the San Gabriel Valley Assn. of Cities under the direction of a subcommittee headed by West Covina Councilwoman Nancy Manners.
Manners said the report "gives credibility" to those who have been advocating the shipment of trash to remote desert sites. The study shows that rail hauling is not nearly as costly as many thought it would be, she said.
"We had a feeling it would be so sky-high that it would be impossible," Manners said, "but (the cost) is in the ballpark."
The report says homeowners in the San Gabriel Valley pay an average of $9.35 a month to have their garbage collected. Rail-haul disposal would push the cost to between $12.50 and $14.50 a month, an increase of 33% to 55%.
Gill V. Hicks, who managed the study for SCAG, said the cost could be much higher if the area delays a decision on rail hauling until dumps close.
"It if is well planned and thoughtfully done, we can keep the costs down," Hicks said. But if cities delay decisions and try to start a rail-haul program under crisis conditions after dumps start shutting down, the cost will escalate, he said.
The report says: "To avoid crisis economics, the decision to begin a waste-by-rail program should be made by this summer. It would be at least five years before a system could be operational."
Hicks said the first step would be to designate an agency to request proposals from private contractors interested in developing a complete trash disposal system that would use the railroads. Cities could form a joint powers agency or use the county Sanitation Districts or the state Waste Management Board to solicit proposals.
Hicks said the railroads have a strong interest in hauling trash, seeing it as a potentially lucrative revenue source. The San Gabriel Valley is served by the Santa Fe, Southern Pacific and Union Pacific rail lines.
The report says a waste-by-rail system will require complex business and political agreements.
"The political feasibility of waste-by-rail is by no means assured," it says. "Elected officials from areas proposed for the disposal of Los Angeles-area waste are at best neutral on the subject."
The report recommends that San Gabriel Valley officials begin talking about the waste-by-rail project with officials from areas where the waste could be sent. The report suggests that a royalty of $2 a ton be paid to the receiving county as a financial incentive.
Several potential disposal sites are listed in the study. The nearest, just 68 miles from the City of Industry, is on the Morongo Indian Reservation at Cabazon in Riverside County. The report says the Morongo Indians would be willing to consider a proposal. About 400 of the 800 members of the tribe live on the reservation, but only 1,000 of the 36,000 acres are inhabited. The Southern Pacific main line goes through the reservation.
Elsewhere in Riverside County, Kaiser Steel Corp. owns huge pits at Eagle Mountain, near Desert Center, that were mined for iron ore and could be filled with rubbish. The report says the pits could hold 150 million tons of refuse. Kaiser and a San Diego company are evaluating the suitability of the site for waste disposal. The pits can be reached by way of a Southern Pacific line and a 55-mile private railway owned by Kaiser.