MIKE MCGINLEY: ABOUT RAILROADS, THE RIVER, AND THE PIGGYBACK YARD
The very first railway in Los Angeles ran north and south on Alameda Street. Phineas Banning built the connection between downtown and the tidewater at Wilmington – the Los Angeles and San Pedro Railroad. The Santa Fe, when it came in, came down through Highland Park along the west bank of the River. In 1875 the Southern Pacific, with a lot of help from the City of Los Angeles, came into L.A. and connected with the L.A. and San Pedro and then took off for the east – for Yuma, Arizona, El Paso, Texas, connecting up with the eastern railroads, putting Southern California on a linkage throughout the U.S.
The original line of Southern Pacific came south from Sacramento along San Fernando Road, crossing the river at the narrows (under Riverside Drive), angling SSW along north Main St. to “River Station”. This is where the first LA freight yard was built, later to be known as the Cornfield.
The River Corridor
The Union Pacific was the last to come into Los Angeles – around the early 1900’s – from the south. The City granted them the right-of-way along the east bank of the LA River provided that the railroad built levees to protect the neighborhoods and the growing businesses around them from flood damage, as the river had a history of spreading out.
The reason the railroads came down the River corridor is because they are very conscious of grade. To raise the railroad up and down causes a lot of operating problems and operating expenses, so railroads tend to follow the lowest grade, the easiest path, which is pretty much what they did. The question of grade, the design profile of the railroad, is very critical in the economics and feasibility of running a railroad. By contrast electric-powered vehicles like subway cars and LRT’s [light rail transit] where every axle is powered, you can go up very steep hills. You see that in Chinatown. You can’t do that with the kinds of trains we’re talking about here.
The Piggyback Yard: From Shops to Intermodal Site
Before it was a piggyback or freight-forwarding site, the Piggyback Yard was a place of “General Shops” where heavy repairs and even building of freight cars took place. You can see the site and the shop configuration in aerial photos of the river area in the late 1930s when the Corps of Engineers built the levees. The need for “general shops” on all railroads decreased when they changed from steam engines to diesels in the 1940s and 50s.
The use of the land evolved into being a place to load truck trailers “piggyback” onto railroad flat cars and a site for two or three big freight forwarder operations. A freight forwarder gathers small shipments with trucks and fills up boxcars or highway trailers which are then moved in trains over long distances. Some of these freight sorting “sheds” are still there.
The Tracks Today
The tracks around the Piggyback Yard on the north side are the Union Pacific’s “Yuma Main,” a route for many freight movements, plus one Amtrak train. The UP orients their traffic so most westbound trains headed to the ports or to their East LA terminal use this line (they put most of their eastward trains on the former Los Angeles and Salt Lake line via Whittier for a “paired track” set of one-way operations which is very efficient.) Piggyback trains to/from the east would use this track.
On the west side of the Piggyback Yard are the “East Bank” tracks that connect points to the north (Bakersfield, Sacramento, San Jose, etc.) with the ports. These tracks are used by the piggyback yard trains to go to/from the north, what the UP calls the “I-5 Corridor” business, which is still quite strong.
On the south side are the Metrolink tracks (known as the San Gabriel Subdivision) used by dozens of daily passenger trains but basically no freight trains.
Union Pacific owns the whole piggyback site, tracks and all, and owns the tracks on the north side. The LA Metro owns the East Bank and San Gabriel sub tracks and right of way lands (of varying width, roughly 50-100 feet wide) and under the Joint Powers Authority (JPA), has Metrolink operate them. “Operate” includes maintaining the tracks, dispatching the trains, and operating the Metrolink trains.
A very important thing to know is that the UP owns trackage rights to operate on the East Bank (and on the San Gabriel Sub if they ever want to use them). This is an easement right, not revocable. These tracks are a part of the transportation infrastructure of the nation, as identified by the “STRACNET” designation. Even if the LA Metro Board agreed to remove these tracks, the UP could, should, and would sue to keep them (or a suitable replacement) in continuous service. It is a matter of interstate commerce and public need to keep them in operation.
We talked about pedestrian trails above the tracks where you can look down on the River, or shifting the tracks laterally some incremental amount, but still keeping the corridor. We even talked about having these access points and trails running on a set of terraces along the banks of the River. I hate critics who don’t offer alternatives and constructive suggestions. You can’ t kill the tracks, but having a parallel and multi-use trail isn’t a deal breaker.
Mike McGinley, Retired Southern Pacific Railroad and Metrolink
LUPE VALDEZ: UNION PACIFIC, RAIL PROPERTIES AND RIGHTS OF WAY
In the mid 1900’s: Southern Pacific was “the big daddy” in Southern California and owned most of the regional rail properties. Union Pacific owned a line to the port, but few easements elsewhere. The Santa Fe was also present.
In the 1980’s Southern Pacific fell on hard times and sold off its rights of way to stay in business. Since the rail corridors are not subject to the California Environmental Quality Act, these properties were ripe for commuter rail acquisition in order to speed up the process of building the commuter rail system.
In the 1990’s Union and Southern Pacific merged, becoming Union Pacific; Burlington Northern and Santa Fe merged, becoming BNSF. Public bonds passed and commuter rail expanded along sold off lines. The County owns the land, Metrolink operates the trains, and UP or Metrolink maintains the land.
Currently Union Pacific operates on the East Bank of the LA River and BNSF operates on the West Bank along the 4.5 mile stretch from Arroyo Seco to Commerce. Neither company owns all of these runs, hence the challenge of combining all tracks on one side.
With the Union Pacific/Southern Pacific merger, some activities were off-loaded, like the heavy maintenance in the Taylor Yards moving to the Colton Facility [east of San Bernardino]. But UP still owns the parcel. The proposed bike path continuation is a problem because of resultant at-grade crossing with active rail lines. Relocating rail is difficult, because the related industries must follow the tracks.
Los Angeles Transfer Container Facility (LATC) / aka The Piggyback Yard
Union Pacific’s LATC is an intermodal yard with truck interface, operating today at less than 100% in part due to the economy. It is the last yard UP has in the City of Los Angeles, and we realize we could never get it back once gone because of cost and current environmental requirements. Other yards in the LA region belonging to UP include one at the Port of San Pedro and one in Commerce.
Domestic related traffic is the majority of the LATC’s use now, including 40% of California car transport and service to the neighboring UPS facility. The LATC also serves as a relief valve for port traffic. Domestic cargo goes in and out of the site quickly. Some items may sit for a short time (+/-24 hours), but customers cannot park inventory, as it does not help fluidity.
The LATC holds approximately 50-100 workers per shift 24/7, not including truck drivers. Yard workers, inspectors and signal workers tend to be local. Engineers come from further away (e.g. Barstow), but not usually from out of state.
No one anticipated that residential properties would be right next to the LATC. Consequently, UP has studied the area’s air quality with the California Air Resources Board. The plan is to focus on pollution reduction via truck improvements and upgrades of onsite equipment. Little can be done with diesel locomotives at this time.
Train length is typically dictated by single line length accommodation along the route, i.e. what length of train can be pulled off to the side to allow another train to pass. In the LATC’s case, train length is dictated by the distance (4500’) between San Pablo Street crossing at the University of Southern California Health Sciences Campus and the length of the triple tracks within the Yard. Hence, larger trains are able to be accommodated outside the Yard.
Union Pacific did test a two-mile long [560 containers] train, but found that no sidings in the L.A. Corridor could accommodate it. So, trains running in the L.A. Corridor for intermodal transportation are only one mile long. We wish the yard was longer to handle the longer trains, but there are no plans to expand the existing footprint at this time.Industrial Use & Environmental Concerns
We strongly urge keeping the yard in industrial use after any railroad is gone. Rail sites are typically cleaned (remediated) to standards of industrial use. Some of the biggest concerns with the yard now are in relation to air quality and noise control, especially for residential, but really for all non-industrial uses in close proximity.
Regarding air quality, there are no real alternatives to diesel on the horizon and electrification has issues with generation, encountering NIMBYism, plus national desire to lessen (not increase) energy generation and power stations. There is no diesel replacement for long hauls that traverse significant temperature differentials in national system.
Regarding noise control, quiet zones along tracks are being tested in various locations, but rail yards are exempt from quiet zones for safety reasons. The biggest source of call-in complaints is the “sensitive receptors,” which include parks, residences, and schools.
Lupe Valdez, Director of Public Policy and Community Affairs, Union Pacific Railroad
METRO’S ROBIN BLAIR: ON THE PBY AND LIGHT RAIL
Metro has no stated preference for any site other than those already included or being included in the environmental documentation for each of the proposed Measure R rail lines. While finding a location along the river, or more importantly, along any rail alignment is difficult, a consolidated multiline central facility is very desirable for long-term operations. Metro’s previous studies of long-term light rail facilities have identified a long-term storage deficit of approximately 175 cars.
A central location for storage would also likely include a larger heavy maintenance facility that would allow a major repair and re-build facility to serve all light rail lines in the region. For purposes of this discussion I would suggest you look at a facility that would store approximately 4 cars per acre, or 25 acres for this conceptual plan.
In addition, a major repair facility would require another ten acres including parking, turn-around areas, storage, painting, washing and other related improvements. So 35 acres or so would be a good place to start. While more or less would still be useful, optimally in the Central Area, an additional one hundred car storage and repair would be desirable. In addition to the light rail needs, somewhere in proximity to Union Station, an additional 50-60 acres may be required to store and service high speed rail operations.
Stacking the Deck
For cost purposes an “at grade” facility is cheapest. With that said Metro is currently reviewing a storage yard under a “deck” that allows a substantial opportunity for development above the deck and is in proximity to active communities and recreation facilities. While more costly, the possibility of minimizing the visual presence of the industrial use yard is likely to be a good trade off for building the yard in an active area.
The possibility of a university, research center, housing, commercial, etc. on top of an active rail yard should be compared to examples in New York and Millennium Park in Chicago. Both successfully mix active people uses with rail operations below. If other uses are anticipated (universal, commercial, etc.), I would suggest looking at the option of including a public rail station integrated into the conceptual use plan. We are considering a similar station with yards concept across from Sci-Arc along Santa Fe.
What Would It Be Worth?
The financing of these kinds of projects is different each time. Public Private Partnerships are the current term many use for public use combined with private finance and private uses. As for rail yard expansion, Measure R and other Metro Long Range Planning Program funding sources include funding for yards. Measure R, Propositions A and C, CMAC, TEA, and other state funding sources differ in availability every few years. A private or University use usually would find its own funds and combine with the public infrastructure funds for the underlying public use.
As to the value of land near the River, we really have no usable data since the sites differ widely, the economy has changed the values substantially and most river properties raise concerns of toxicity given the long term historical rail road uses. So site cleanup is both a big cost and big liability. For the most part I would suggest it might be worth anywhere from $70 per foot to $120 per foot or so. I have heard of land selling for less and in some cases much more.
Railroads do pay property taxes, but given the long-term ownership history, much less than if there is a recent purchase. Prop 13 in California limits taxation to 1% or so of the purchase price with limited escalations. Railroad properties have enjoyed a preferential tax status since their inception in the mid 1800’s.
Robin Blair, Planning Director, Metro’s Central Area Team
MARTIN SCHLAGETER: AIR QUALITY IN THE PBy NEIGHBORHOOD
Two studies indicate the severity of pollution near the Piggyback Yard, including a first of its kind look at health risk around rail yards. They indicate that the cancer risk near the rail yard is hundreds of times higher than what is deemed acceptable, and that risks closest to the yard are almost double that of “background” pollution levels.
First and foremost, health risk assessments of California rail yards can be found at Rail Yard Health Risk Assessment for the Piggyback Yard (also known at the LATC)
Second, a study of air toxics by the South Coast Air Quality Management District – Multiple Air Toxics Emission Study III (MATESIII), South Coast Air Quality Management District – shows that the cancer risk from air pollution is hundreds of times above what the EPA considers safe.
While MATES III does not distinguish among the sources behind this risk, which include the confluence of freeways and industrial sources as well as the rail yard, it underscores that all possible pollution reductions must be pursued in order to protect the health of residents and workers in the area.
Summary of the Health Risks
A Health Risk Asessment conducted by the California Air Resources Board [CARB] in 2007 used an emissions inventory from 2005. Four rail yard sources of diesel particulate matter [DPM] emissions—perhaps the most dangerous common air contaminant—were categorized: locomotives (which include switcher and line-haul), cargo handling equipment, on-road trucks, and “other.” Locomotives accounted 3.19 tons of DPM, which is 46% of the total DPM emissions from the Piggyback Yard. Out of that 46%, switcher engines accounted for 36% (2.46 tons of DPM) and line-haul accounted for 10% (.73 tons of DPM).
Cargo handling equipment was responsible for 2.6 tons of DPM at the Piggyback Yard, which was the second largest percentage total of DPM at 33%. On-road trucks at the Piggyback Yard accounted for .99 tons of DPM (14%), and other unspecified sources emitted .46 tons per year. The Air Resources Board also conducted an assessment of nearby non-rail yard diesel PM emissions. These non-railyard DPM emissions include 31.7 tons per year from mobile sources and 1.3 tons per year from stationary sources.
Rail Emissions Agreement skips Piggyback
A recently adopted Air Resources Board agreement with the railroads to reduce emissions includes only the four highest-risk railyards in California, BNSF-Hobart, UP-Commerce, ICTF-Dolores, and BNSF-San Bernardino. The Piggyback Yard is among 14 not on the list, and so we are failing to adequately protect public health there by not more actively seeking pollution reductions.
Martin Schlageter, Interim Executive Director, Coalition for Clear Air