Legal challenge to proposed southern California-based rail yard project launched

I have never witnessed the building of a new railroad yard, not that many people have. I suppose it would be akin to a new airport going in and witnessing that, which I have not done either. For the record, though, as a child I did observe construction of just a short section of highway going in behind my home – part of the extensive Baltimore Beltway effort. To continue with my initial thought, with California high-speed rail groundbreaking anticipated soon, an associated yard and a corresponding heavy maintenance facility will eventually be going in somewhere along the high-speed rail corridor, but as of this writing, the place this will occur is not yet decided as far as I am aware. Presumably, that place will be in the San Joaquin Valley.

In southern California – and the whole point of this discussion – I understand that Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway is proposing to build an expansive intermodal rail terminal that, if built, would sit on Port of Los Angeles terra firma. The proposed project’s name: the Southern California International Gateway (SCIG).

Here is what I have learned so far.

It is my understanding an environmental impact report or statement related to SCIG was apparently already signed off on. By virtue of this action, the presumption is the way for the rail complex in question to commence construction is cleared.

But, I have also now learned in a June 7, 2013 press release the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is calling into question SCIG as initially proposed. This is my understanding.

“The Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit today in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of Harbor residents living within the shadow of the largest development on Port of Los Angeles property in more than a decade,” the NRDC wrote in the release. “The Plaintiffs contend the proposed Southern California International Gateway rail yard project violates the California Environmental Quality Act and the state and federal Civil Rights Acts, and will increase cancer rates, chances of children developing asthma, and add to chronic air pollution plaguing the region.”

According to information in the release, NRDC scientists and lawyers offered suggestions to reduce expected project-connected air pollution such as incorporation of cleaner burning Tier 3 and Tier 4 on-site locomotives, expansion of on-dock rail capability to do away with short-distance truck hauls by the thousands and reliance on non-polluting shipping container transfer systems.

Moreover, the NRDC in the release also went on to point out, “More than 40 percent of imported goods sold across the country are shipped through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Diesel pollution, the chief carcinogen associated with the SCIG project, is known to cause chronic and lethal respiratory diseases in children and elderly residents. Asthma rates among Long Beach children are the highest in the region, with an estimated 15 percent of Long Beach children suffering from asthma, compared to 8 percent overall for Los Angeles County.”

I await the result of the legal challenge. I plan to report on this as more information becomes available.

– Alan Kandel