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Alameda Corridor & LA/LB Harbor Tour

APTA Alameda Corridor and Los Angeles/

Long Beach Harbors Tour

April 2, 2005

Story and Photographs Copyright 2005 by Richard Elgenson, RailNews Network

The morning after experiencing the great U2 concert at the Pond in Anaheim, I found myself having to awake at 5:30 AM to get myself to Los Angeles Union Station for the American Public Transportation Association conference Alameda Corridor tour departing at 8:00 AM.  I wanted to somehow take public transit to Union Station and decided to drive to the MTA Blue Line Wardlow Station in Long Beach, about 10 miles west of my home.  I arrived just in time to see a Los Angeles bound Blue Line train get to the station.  I could not gather my belongings fast enough and buy an all day pass and catch that train.  I asked a Long Beach transit bus driver about how long until the next Blue Line train.  She replied that she was a bus driver and had no knowledge of Blue Line schedules.  After about a 15 minute wait, I boarded the Blue Line at 6:36 which would still get me to the Red Line in downtown Los Angeles and on to LAUPT with time to spare. 


Arriving on platform 5 just about 7:30 AM, the Metrolink train was already there, having been deadheaded in from Moorpark. APTA conference people and Metrolink officials were already there.  The continental breakfast was wheeled into the cabcar at the trailing end of the train and soon one or two busloads of people arrived.  The special Metrolink train departed about 8:03 AM for San Pedro.  This train also was the first Metrolink train to traverse the Corridor.  We crossed the Los Angeles  River to the east bank, headed south and then onto the Alameda Corridor. 


Soon after departure, Dan Davis from the Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority started narrating pertinent facts about the planning, construction and operation of the Corridor.  The Alameda Corridor consolidates rail traffic from 3 separate lines into one.  All of the existing major railroads at the inception of the plan had their own routes into the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.  The route selected absorbed the Southern Pacific line from downtown Los Angeles south to north Long Beach.  Union Pacific still maintains its line to the port but sends little or no traffic on it.  Santa Fe, Burilington Northern Santa Fe and now the BNSF Railway also maintains its Harbor Subdivision, although it is not a through route any longer.  The corridor took several years to build and has been operational for 2 years.  It recovers costs by charging the railroads $15 to $17 per TEU which is a standard twenty foot size container.  Containers which are trucked inland are also assessed the same fee.  50 % of the containers hauled from the ports are for local distribution and the other 50% travel east of the Rocky Mountains.  Wirth operations mainly Monday through Friday during daytime hours,  local government officials have tried to get the terminal operators to run their operations 24/7 in an effort to reduce truck traffic.  The Port of Los Angeles may team up with the BNSF Railway to develop another intermodal container transfer facility close to the port in an effort to further reduce truck traffic from the ports to the downtown area rail yards. 


Dan Davis told us that they are potentially going to have short length shuttle trains, 10 car intermodal sets to inland empire distribution locations to alleviate congestion.  This inland truck depot might be 40 to 60 acres in size.  Another idea is to offer a discount for night shipping.  The southerly portion of the Alameda Corridor has 6 miles of track at grade  From there it enters the 10 mile long mid-corridor trench.  At the southerly part of downtown LA, it climbs back to ground level and splits toward the BNSF Railway or Union Pacific Railroad yards which are close to one another.  Mr. Davis asked for questions, so I asked about the surface track which parallels the trench for about 7 miles on the east side from Greenleaf to Firestone.  The  reply was that they had constructed a bypass track during construction to keep the original rail line operational.  Now it serves two puposes.  First, it would be used in case of a derailment in the trench.  Second, Union Pacific uses it for customers like Cargill along the line.  At its northerly point it veers away from the trench towards the east.  Another rider asked about how they would clear railroad equipment in the event of a derailment.  The trench has horizontal struts which are removeable to keep the tops of the walls from falling in.  Rail cars which could not be rerailed in the trench could be lifted out by removing 2 struts.  Another feature of the Corridor is that the rail is all continuous welded rail.  The third question asked about the disposition of the other two rail lines to the ports.  Mr. Davis replied that it is up to the individual railroad to maintain their other route.  At some point those two other routes may need to be pressed into service again when the Alameda Corridor reaches capacity.  At this point, the train got to CP Thenard in Pacific Harbor Line territory.  PHL President Andrew Fox took over commentary until the train reached its destination at 6th Street in San Pedro.  Mr. Fox noted that Pacific Harbor Line was formed in 1998 to take over from Harbor Belt Line.  The ports bought all of the physical rail assets from the railroads to level the playing field for shippers. Prior to this, Harbor Belt Line was owned and run by the Southern Pacific, the Santa Fe Railway and the Union Pacific.  In the past, a shipper could have problems getting their goods to or from the port depending on where an individual railroad's track ended.  With the inception of PHL, shippers now had a neutral switching railroad that could dispense reliable service at the largest port complex in the western hemisphere which handles 14 million TEU annually.  In other words, the PHL leveled the playing field between the ports and the railroads.  At the commencement of operations, PHL had 5 switching assignments which has grown to 31 assignments in 2005.  At Long Beach Junction, one track segment branches off towards the Port of Long Beach.  Our train was destined for San Pedro and continued under Anaheim Street and turned to the west. 


It was here that Mr. Fox talked about the other signature feature of the Corridor, the Henry Ford Avenue grade separation.  This piece of railroad is a mile long, two track railroad bridge over Dominguez Channel funneling rail traffic over the Badger Bridge and onto Terminal Island and Pier 400.  This improvement cost $90 million.  The truss bridge was manufactured in Korea, shipped over to California and assembled.  There are also two surface rail lines which parallel the overpass.  One comes from the UP Mead yard (non-PHL territory) on the east and the other  comes off the Corridor and combines with another track to form a wye.  Both surface tracks then head to the 2 track Badger Bridge.  According to Mr. Fox, 70% of the containers at the ports are moved at Terminal Island, home to Global Gateway South at Pier 300 and the Maersk Terminal at Pier 400. Hanjin has its terminal at the site of the former U.S. Naval Station Long Beach.  NYK and Evergreen are on the west portion of Terminal Island under the Vincent Thomas Bridge served by the TICTIF intermodal yard.  40% of all containers in the United States go through the LA/LB port complex. 


The special train continued along the PHL non-signaled main track past transfer yard into Wilmington.   We saw large parking lots for Nissan imported cars which are handled by DAS, Distributer Auto Services.  Toyota cars are offloaded at the Long Beach side.  PHL handles 36,000 carloads and 750,000 intermodal cars annually.  We passed nearby the PHL Pier A yard, their carload yard, main offices and locomotive facility. 


PHL has 125 employees, 21 locomotives, and 31 job assignments per week.  Other passengers were talking amongst themselves as well and I overheard author Joseph Strapac talking about the one narrow guage railroad that was at the port of  LA.  Past the PHL yard area, the track comes back parallel to Harry Bridges Boulevard, or as Strapac called it "B" Street, its former name.  We passed the MItsui OK Lines Trans Pacific terminal, one which does not load rail cars on their property.  After Figuroa Street, there is Conoco-Philips oil refinery across John S. Gibson Boulevard and one of PHL's largest carload customers. 



Further along the track we passed the West Basin container facility, home to Yang Ming and China Shipping.  Mr. Fox noted that the name "Wilmington" came from Phineas Banning, who had migrated from Wilmington Delaware.  The railroad turns towards the south and eventually passed under the Vincent Thomas Bridge which connects San Pedro to Terminal Island.  The track then passes the Los Angeles World Cruise Center and parallels Harbor Scenic Drive.  At 9:20 AM the train stopped in the crossing of 6th Street where all passengers detrained. 


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