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Port of Oakland seeks to move more cargo via rail

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Dry Bulk,

Port of Oakland Executive Director Chris Lytle has said that he wants more rail business at the port. He told a meeting of railroad executives in San Francisco in May that the port is poised to make it happen.

“We have two outstanding partners at the Port in the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroads,” Lytle told the annual meeting of the North American Rail Shippers Association.  “And everyone in Oakland would like to see more cargo move in and out of the city on the rails than over the road.”

Oakland’s Executive Director briefed more than 270 industry leaders and cargo owners on the state of West Coast Ports.  He said Oakland is building momentum following a record year for loaded container volume in 2016. He added, however, that there’s plenty of room to grow on the rails.

Ports rely on railroads or trucks to transport ocean shipments to-and-from the docks.  Lytle said both major West Coast railroads operate at far less than capacity in Oakland. The reason: the port’s primary market for containerised cargo is Northern California – more efficiently served by trucks than trains.  But he added that Oakland’s rail profile could improve soon thanks to recent investments at the port.

Late last year the port completed a US$100 million rail storage yard with 41 000 feet of tracks.  The facility, within sight of Oakland marine terminals, should be ideally located for export shippers, Lytle said.  He envisioned 100-car grain trains rolling into Oakland, then transferring cargo to containers for ocean transport.

In mid-2018, Cool Port Oakland will open, Lytle said.  The 300 000 ft2 refrigerated facility will be the pivot point for exporting beef, pork and chicken to Asia. Those shipments will likely come from the Midwest in rail cars, then go into ocean containers at Cool Port Oakland.  Lytle said the facility would be able to handle 36 refrigerated rail cars at one time.

Developments next door to the port could generate even more rail traffic, the Executive Director said.  They’re going up on city-owned land that was formerly part of the Oakland Army Base.  They could attract cargo shipped in bulk – not a staple at the port, but a likely candidate for the Port’s rail yard.

Lytle said rail transport is the preferred means of shipping cargo in and out of the port.  It takes trucks off the road, he said, reducing freeway congestion and diesel emissions.

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