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Rail Giant Eyeing $1.5B California Complex

A more than $1.5 billion project in Barstow, Calif. developed by BNSF Railway is expected to help ease traffic on Southern California freeways and get cargo moved from the San Pedro Bay ports faster. 

The 4,500-acre rail facility, dubbed the Barstow International Gateway, will include a rail yard, intermodal facility and warehouses once built. 

Barstow, which is where the railroad has a railyard it’s operated for more than 140 years, is located about 136 miles northeast of the Port of Los Angeles and is part of Southern California’s High Desert region. 

The mega rail project would allow for containers to be moved out of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to have those goods then processed and packaged for shipment to the rest of Southern California and the country. It would also be used for the reverse route to move containers on rail to the ports or other facilities. 

BNSF president and CEO Katie Farmer said in an announcement of the project the complex would boost efficiencies in goods movement, playing a “critical role in improving fluidity” in the company’s rail network, ports and hubs in places such as Texas and the Midwest. 

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Inland ports or dry ports, such as what’s being proposed for Barstow, are seen as a long-term supply chain solution for squeezing out greater efficiencies in the transport of product and ironing out congestion issues. 

The Port of Long Beach about a year ago struck a deal with the Utah Inland Port Authority and Union Pacific Railroad to get cargo containers processed more quickly by moving them away from the docks via rail to Salt Lake City where product is then processed and moved on to its next destination.

Outside of California, there are plans for an inland port in northeast Georgia that would operate as a complement to the Port of Savannah. The 104-acre facility will be serviced by Norfolk Southern and would measure about 18,000 feet of tracks once fully built out. 

“BNSF’s planned Barstow International Gateway will improve cargo velocity through our port and reduce truck traffic on our freeways,” Port of Los Angeles executive director Gene Seroka said. “This project will help ensure that goods moving through the San Pedro Bay will get to consumers, businesses and manufacturers with speed and reliability.” 

Port of Long Beach executive director Mario Cordero also voiced support for the Barstow complex. 

“This project will help improve supply chain fluidity, reduce environmental impacts and enhance the competitiveness of California and the nation’s largest port complex,” Cordero said.

The proposed project would generate 20,000 direct and indirect jobs, according to BNSF. The railroad has been in talks with Barstow city officials and said the city, along with the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development and port officials, supports the complex. 

BNSF has a big footprint in the state, with more than 3,000 employees as of last year, and counts 913 route miles, a measure between two rail points that does not include parallel tracks. 

The Barstow project could be a boon for the High Desert area, which real estate brokerage CBRE pegged earlier this year as being “one of the most active outer-core markets for [industrial] development” into the future, given the low land costs.  

The area sits north of the Inland Empire, which is made up of parts of Riverside and San Bernardino counties and is a key player in the region and country’s movement of goods.  

Land in the High Desert runs about 50 percent to 75 percent cheaper on a per-square-foot basis than the Inland Empire, according to CBRE.