By Michael Sussman

In July, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Executive Order B-32-15 directing numerous state agencies to collaborate on and develop an “integrated action plan” by July 2016 that establishes clear targets to improve freight efficiency, transition to zero-emission technologies, and increase the competitiveness of California’s freight system. Caltrans and other state agencies have already solicited comments and are now fully engaged in the development of the action plan. OnTrackNorthAmerica’s intention is that the action plan implement strategies that better deploy freight rail’s economic and environmental benefits.

OnTrackNorthAmerica (OTNA) has been working throughout 2015 to contribute its expertise in freight transportation land use planning to the state’s progress. In light of the significant projected increases in the state’s freight traffic over the next 25 years, California must focus on the optimal integration of freight transportation and land use. Lower emission truck and locomotive engines alone will not be enough. Conserving highway capacity and road maintenance expenses requires an optimal modal balance between truck and rail modes.

In response to Senate Bill 743 (Steinberg, 2013), the California Air Quality Resources Board and other agencies throughout the state are engaged in a series of initiatives to prepare updates to the state planning guidelines that will direct local agencies to analyze and consider transportation impacts from new projects. Additionally, California has set aggressive new targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to be 40% below 1990 levels by 2020 and petroleum usage to be reduced by half in 2030.

Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) 2012-2035 Regional Transportation Plan projects that warehousing space in the region will almost double by 2035, increasing from approximately 700 million square feet in 2008 to 1,250 million square feet in 2035. As a result of this growth, there is an increasing demand for large development parcels for warehouse projects, which are noNewsletter v4 (no sidebar)_img_14w sprawling into the Inland Empire.

The Los Angeles Basin in particular is facing a considerable and unsustainable increase in truck traffic unless a freight transportation land use and modal balancing strategy is implemented. SCAG projects that truck traffic entering and leaving the San Pedro Bay Ports every day is expected to almost triple from 54,000 in 2008 to 134,000 in 2035.

As the most efficient mode for goods movement, freight rail is well-situated to play a vital role in a sustainable transportation approach to accommodating this growth. Otherwise, millions of square feet of logistics centers will be constructed over the coming decades as truck-only facilities. OTNA is committed to supporting the state’s leadership with our insights into this dynamic.

Current examples include the City of Moreno Valley World Logistics Center development—40.4 million square feet of high-cube warehousing, that will be entirely truck-served. Nearby, the City of Perris has approved the Integra Perris Distribution Center with over 800,000 square feet of high-cube warehousing that will be entirely truck-served. The City of Fontana is evaluating Citrus Commerce Park which will consist of 3,171,449 square feet of high-cube warehousing that will be entirely truck-served. The City of Stockton is currently evaluating the NorCal Logistics Center which involves in excess of 6,000,000 square feet that will have no direct rail service.

These are natural market opportunities for the Class I and short line railroads if located and planned to utilize rail transportation. Across California there are many examples of distribution warehouses that have been located adjacent to operating rail lines yet do not take advantage of the available rail service or they are sited too far from the nearest rail lines. Consequently, these warehouses ship containers in and out by diesel truck, typically over miles of highly-congested freeway.

OTNA has developed a results-producing collaborative process that enables stakeholders to forward smart ideas toward California achieving its mandated targets. Among other things, OTNA recommends:

  • Apply life-cycle cost and benefit analysis to project and system planning
  • Optimize the use of all transport modes within a balanced freight logistics system
  • Avoid subsidies to less efficient modes
  • Integrate freight planning with land-use planning
  • Attend to small as well as large shippers and rail lines
  • Align private business interests with public sector concerns
  • Conduct transportation planning and investment as a public-private partnership guided by measures, baselines, targets, commitments and action plans
  • Coordinate research priorities and spending with practical needs and application

OTNA is actively communicating with staff and leaders of the California Freight Advisory Board, California Transportation Commission, Caltrans, shippers, and key transportation providers to support all parties in productive collaboration toward designing and building a sustainable transportation system that addresses the Governor’s urgent environmental goals.

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Charles L. Garrison
8 years ago

Through the past 30 years it seems that the rails have discouraged distribution warehousing through requirement of capital expense by their proposed customers and clients through the expensive specifications for private sidings. While there is still a lot of boxcar freight, it generally is that which is too voluminous via motor truck and without time sensitive needs as in consumer commodities. Now what we seem to be left with is bulk freight and container moves for the rails. Flexibility of service has not kept up with motor transportation. Add to that the enormous package delivery of mostly one package at… Read more »

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