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Port of Long Beach Looks to Rail in Next Transformation

The Port of Long Beach will invest heavily in rail this decade, along with worker training, in steps it says will help address faster movement of goods as it comes off a record-breaking year for container movement.

Port executive director Mario Cordero laid out those plans in the annual State of the Port virtual presentation Wednesday, as he dubbed 2022 a transformative year.

“Here at the Port of Long Beach, we continue to work to clear a backlog of vessels offshore, which assures that we’ll remain moderately busy into the spring,” Cordero said of the outlook.

Long Beach capped 2021 with 9.4 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) moved. That’s up nearly 16 percent from the prior year.

The San Pedro Bay Port Complex, which includes Long Beach and the neighboring Port of Los Angeles, moved a combined 20 million TEUs last year, which Cordero said reflected the fastest growth seen in decades.

Cordero affirmed the port is not looking to be complacent in outlining several projects for the coming years aimed at workforce training and development, rail, cargo tracking and sustainability.

Moving goods on rail to expedite cargo out of the port is the largest of those undertakings in terms of spend.

“Our biggest investments this decade will be improvements to our rail system,” Cordero said. “We’re making it possible for a greater share of the cargo moving through this port to go via on-dock rail. This reduces truck trips, improves efficiency and lessens environmental impacts even as we handle more cargo.”

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A $52.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration will be funneled to the first of those projects, an on-dock rail facility in Pier B.

“Pier B will provide our terminals with a facility where they can send smaller segments to join into full-size trains, increasing velocity of cargo and eliminating approximately 7.3 million truck trips,” Cordero said.

Construction is expected to start next year, with the project slated for completion in 2032.

In October, the Port of Long Beach and Utah Inland Port Authority inked a deal to work with Union Pacific Corp. to move goods for Utah, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona out of the terminals directly onto rail for speedier movement to Utah. The idea behind it is to more quickly free up space and equipment for other containers coming into Southern California.

The partnership also reduces the number of trucks on the roads by about 300 for every 100 rail cars loaded.

Long Beach Bridge
The Gerald Desmond Bridge in Long Beach. Port of Long Beach

Long Beach is also using data and is set to soft launch its Supply Chain Information Highway tool this month.

The port partnered with St. Louis technology consultancy UNCOMN on the development of the tool, which lets shippers, ocean carriers, trucking companies and others track cargo throughout its logistics journey in an attempt to improve visibility.

Training the current workforce and finding the next generation of workers for the port was also part of a number of initiatives mentioned in the Port of Long Beach update.

The San Pedro Bay ports, along with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), plan to build a Goods Movement Training Campus (GMTC).

California Gov. Gavin Newsom earmarked $110 million for the center in his budget proposal released last month.

“For my local, for the corp.’s local, the jobs of today and tomorrow aren’t the jobs that we can train as we go and train on the job,” said Joe Gasperov, president of ILWU Local 63. “These are jobs that are going to require more extensive training and computer systems, terminal operating systems and other software operating platforms. And, hopefully, the training center will be able to accomplish that higher level of training for us.”

Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners president Steven Neal pointed out the GMTC is complementary to existing efforts related to skills training in nearby communities.

“The project meshes well with our workforce development and education outreach efforts. We believe we have a responsibility to nurture the supply chain’s workforce for tomorrow, with a special focus on students from neighborhoods nearest the port,” Neal said.

The port has worked with Long Beach Unified School District since 2016 on college preparation training for students at Cabrillo High School’s Academy of Global Logistics. Last fall, the port began working with Jordan High School on the ACE Academy, focused on advanced manufacturing, architecture and engineering.

Cordero also reported in his State of the Port that sustainability efforts would continue.

The port met its 2023 emissions reduction targets across trucks, trains and cargo handling equipment early. It reported reductions of 90 percent diesel soot, 62 percent nitrogen oxides, 97 percent sulfur oxides and 10 percent greenhouse gases. The percentages are based on 2005 levels.

The emissions reductions are part of the San Pedro Bay Ports Clean Air Action Plan, which was established in 2006 and updated in 2017.

All new vehicles purchased for the port must adhere to green performance standards and a new fee program on non-zero emissions trucks, called the Clean Truck Fund Rate, will be charged $10 per TEU starting April 1. The two ports are expected to generate a combined $90 million initially from the truck fee.

“We stand by our resolve to become a zero-emission port,” Cordero said.