L.A. City Council Approves BNSF Railway’s $500M Intermodal Facility

BNSF Railway’s $500 million Southern California International Gateway took a big step forward last week with Los Angeles City Council's approval for the 156-acre project.

BNSF Railway’s $500 million Southern California International Gateway took a big step forward this week when the Los Angeles City Council approved the environmental impact review and a 50-year lease for the 156-acre project near the Port of Los Angeles.

Southern California International Gateway

Located within four miles of the San Pedro Bay ports, the SCIG facility would shorten the distance trucks loaded with cargo would have to travel before transferring containers to rail. Supporters say that would reduce emissions and provide cleaner air because the trucks would not have to travel 24 miles up the 710 Freeway. But media reports note there is opposition to the project, particularly from city of Long Beach officials, area residents and some health and environmental groups.

Both BNSF and Los Angeles officials deny there would be significant health and environmental issues and say the Fort Worth, Texas,-based freight transportation company’s project would set standards for the use of green technology.

“We applaud the Los Angeles City Council, the Mayor’s office and the Port of Los Angeles Harbor Commissioners for their commitment to green growth. With their input, BNSF’s SCIG project is setting a new standard of excellence in reducing emissions and realizing a positive impact on local communities,” Matthew K. Rose, BNSF chairman and CEO, stated in a release. “We are investing more than $500 million in private funds to build this state-of-the-art facility, which will help keep the San Pedro ports competitive, and we look forward to the jobs, air quality and traffic benefits the facility will bring to Southern California.”

Noting that SCIG would be the “greenest intermodal facility in the United States,” Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino said in the release that BNSF was including more than $100 million in green technologies, clean trucks and funding for zero emissions research.

“This project demonstrates that it’s possible to achieve air quality and health risk improvements and keep the international trade industry in Southern California strong,” Buscaino said.

The facility would be located at an existing industrial site, which is between Sepulveda Boulevard, the Pacific Coast Highway, the Dominguez Channel and the Terminal Island Freeway. A BNSF spokesperson told Commercial Property Executive that there were currently four tenants still operating at the site and the company was working with them on relocation.

The project dates back to 2003, when BNSF sent letters to officials of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach asking if they had property available and would they be interested in working with BNSF on a new intermodal facility, according Lena Kent of BNSF. The Port of Los Angeles officials agreed to the proposal and in 2005, BNSF began to draft the environmental impact review. Kent said the company hopes to begin construction in 2014 if the start is not held up by potential litigation from opponents. Construction will take three years from start to finish, she noted.

The project will provide approximately 1,500 jobs each year during construction. By 2036, the SCIG is expected to create 22,000 new direct and indirect jobs in Southern California, including 14,000 in the Los Angeles area.

About $100 million of the estimated $500 million to build the SCIG will come from investments in green technology. The intermodal facility will feature wide-span, all electric cranes, ultra-low emission switching locomotives and low-emission rail yard equipment. Only trucks built after 2010 will be allowed to transport cargo between the marine terminals and the SCIG. By 2026, 90 percent of the truck fleet will be LNG or equivalent emissions vehicles.