BNSF Plans $1.5 Billion Rail Facility to Relieve California Port Congestion

A conceptualized image envisioning the Barstow rail yard
A conceptualized image envisioning the Barstow rail yard. (BNSF)

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With a threatened railroad strike in the rearview mirror, BNSF Railway is hauling out a $1.5 billion plan for a new rail facility in Southern California that it says will relieve congestion around the critical ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The Barstow International Gateway will be a 4,500-acre rail yard and intermodal facility with warehouses for moving freight from international to domestic containers, according to Fort Worth, Texas-based BNSF. Containers will be transferred directly from ships to trains and moved to Barstow, where they’ll be loaded onto trains moving east on BNSF’s 32,500-mile network spanning 28 states and three Canadian provinces.

BNSF hailed the project as a first-of-its-kind undertaking by a top-tier freight railroad. It expects the master-planned project to create 20,000 direct and indirect jobs.

“By allowing for more efficient transfer of cargo directly between ships and rail, the Barstow International Gateway will maximize rail and distribution efficiency regionally and across the U.S. supply chain and reduce truck traffic and freeway congestion in the Los Angeles Basin and the Inland Empire,” said BNSF President and CEO Katie Farmer in a statement.

The Los Angeles and Long Beach ports handle the highest container volume in the nation, according to U.S. Department of Transportation data. A backlog of containerships waiting to get into the ports last year was a key contributor to supply chain shortages across the U.S.

Farmer said the Barstow facility also will improve efficiency at BNSF’s existing intermodal hubs in Chicago and Alliance, Texas.

Just two weeks ago, BNSF and other major U.S. railroad companies were preparing for a potential strike that threatened to bring the nation’s supply chain to a halt. A tentative deal with a coalition of a dozen railroad unions averted a work stoppage. Three unions have since ratified the deal.

Political leaders in California praised BNSF’s decision. The railroad said the project doesn’t rely on public funding.

“The significance of BNSF’s investment to improve the supply chain here in California cannot be overstated,” said Trelynd Bradley, deputy director of sustainable freight and supply chain development for the state’s business and economic development office.

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Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka said the project also will reduce truck traffic on Southern California freeways and speed the movement of goods to consumers and businesses. Barstow, where BNSF has operated an existing rail yard for 140 years, is about 130 miles from the two ports.

No timetable was given for when the new facility will become operational.

It’s the second major project announced in recent weeks to move port traffic by rail to inland locations for additional processing, according to Developers previously disclosed plans for Mojave Inland Port, a 410-acre site to be served by Union Pacific.

BNSF’s revenue topped $23 billion last year and its trains carried 535 million tons of cargo. BNSF is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.

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