Friday, March 25, 2011

Long Beach Council Wants Zero-Emission System for Railyard Project

The Long Beach City Council on Tuesday approved the drafting of a resolution calling for the inclusion of zero-emission goods movement system options in the environmental impact report being prepared for a $300 million modernization project at a major Southern California intermodal railyard.

While targeted at reducing an ever-dwindling amount of air pollution from drayage trucks that shuttle cargo to the 223-acre Intermodal Container Transfer Facility (ICTF), the resolution could also have sizable impacts on the costs of the project and thousands of drivers in the drayage workforce.

The joint powers authority (JPA) that manages the ICTF has been working on the modernization project since 2007 and is expected to present the draft EIR for public review and comment sometime later this year.

The JPA was created by the two ports in 1983 and is funded by the two ports that also share control of the four-member JPA governing board.

Located about five miles north of the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, the ICTF is operated by Class I railroad Union Pacific under a sublease from the JPA and serves as the major intermodal railyard for the two ports.

If completed as envisioned by the JPA, the three- to four-year $300 million modernization project will double the throughput of the ICTF to more than 1.5 million TEUs per year by reconfiguring the yard, adding additional tracks, constructing a new gate, and improving the existing gate facility. The project will actually shrink the footprint of the ICTF to 177 acres and substantially increase the buffer area between the facility and the neighboring community. The JPA/Union Pacific have pledged to reduce air emissions and noise/light pollution through various proposals including the use of low- and zero-emissions yard equipment within the facility. The project will be paid for by the two ports, which will recoup the construction costs through the lease to UP.

The non-binding Long Beach City Council resolution, if approved, will call for the EIR authors to include options including magnetic levitation trains and/or electric trucks to short haul containers from Long Beach and Los Angeles container terminals to the ICTF.

"I think it is important that we develop that science and present all of the options to the [JPA] governing board," said 7th District Councilmember James Johnson, who proposed the motion. "This is about moving the ICTF without polluting our communities."

While the proposal for the resolution gives no specific examples of the zero-emission goods movement systems the Council wants included in the EIR, during Council discussions on the motion, technology such as electric shuttle trains, a magnetic-levitation train system, and electric trucks were mentioned.

The inclusion of any such system in the final program, however, would likely have serious impacts on both the costs of the project and/or the current drayage workforce.

Current estimates for magnetic-levitation systems run a minimum of $100 million per mile and one projection cited a cost of $575 million to build a system from the ports to the ICTF.

A 2008 study conducted by California State University, San Bernardino found that electrification of the port railways would run $40 million per mile, raising the possibility of adding $200 million to the cost of the ICTF project.

Both rail systems would also supplant the roughly 9,000 trucks, and the associated drivers, currently serving in the two ports drayage fleets. This would be in addition to the roughly 7,000 drivers that were forced out of the port-servicing drayage fleets due to the implementation of the two ports' Clean Trucks Programs which launched in 2008.

Electric trucks, still in their early development phases, are expected to cost substantially more than the nearly $100,000 that a new clean diesel truck costs. Requiring such vehicles would push more than $1 billion in added costs on to a trucking industry that has already spent more than $700 million over the past four years to upgrade their port-servicing drayage fleets to 2007 or newer model year diesel trucks.

Another consideration is what is called the spare factor, or how many extra trucks are needed in the fleet to meet demand when down time for various reasons such as maintenance is calculated.
An industry study conducted several years ago found that a fair estimate of the diesel fleet spare factor was 15 percent, that is, the diesel fleets need 15 percent more trucks than the number needed to perform the demanded work. With LNG-fueled powered fleets this factor jumps to 30 percent. Estimates suggest that while electric trucks would likely require less maintenance down time, the need for these trucks to sit for many hours to charge would boost the spare factor to well over 30 percent, at an added cost of more than $300 million to the $1 billion just to upgrade the current fleets to electric trucks.

A final consideration is the bang for the buck such a zero-emission system will achieve. The ports' current Clean Truck Programs have reduced ports-generated truck pollution by more than 80 percent since 2008, and are set to reach close to 90 percent by the end of this year. This at a cost between the two ports and the trucking industry of about $1 billion over four years, or just over $11 million per percentage point of emissions reduction. The various zero-emission system could cost anywhere from $200 million to more than $1 billion to address a portion of the remaining 10 percent of truck emissions, as not all ports-servicing trucks go to the ICTF.

However, the ICTF JPA is the final arbiter on the EIR and the approval process does not involve the Long Beach City Council. As the resolution is non-binding, the JPA could decide during the approval process of the EIR to either include a sero-emissions system option or ignore the request outright.