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July 31, 2007 > Traffic Talk - Port of Oakland (part II)

Traffic Talk - Port of Oakland (part II)

In a continuing series of articles, TCV plans to explore traffic influences and patterns that impact our daily lives. In the July 10, 2007 edition of TCV, a brief interview with Libby Schaff, Director of Public Affairs for the Port of Oakland discussed some aspects of that facility. In this follow-up interview, we spoke with Port of Oakland spokesperson, Marilyn Sandifur and Maritime Operations Manager and Rail Specialist John Amdur about the flow of goods through the seaport.

TCV: How does the Port of Oakland interact with shippers?

Amdur: We are a partner with the carriers, shippers, terminal operators and, most of all, with the railroads to help develop additional capacity.

TCV: How is cargo moved from the port?

Amdur: We have two types of cargo that move through the Port of Oakland for distribution. Local cargo bound for the Bay Area and Northern California is primarily by truck. Long distance cargo can be destined for points beyond California, into the Midwest, South and East Coast.

TCV: Does rail traffic from the Port of Oakland impact the southeastern Bay Area?

Amdur: Most of our rail traffic goes north through Richmond to Sacramento over Donner Pass or through the Feather River route. This freight heads to Chicago or through the Tehachapi Mountains to Southern California and to the South. Most rail traffic leaves California. The only current reason to use rail lines through your part of the Bay Area is to relieve congestion on the typical routes. Most of the impact is truck traffic.

We have been working on planning to increase capacity - the California Inter-Regional Intermodal System (CIRIS) Project, - looking at ways to distribute goods throughout California by rail rather than by truck. The idea was to increase use of trains, lessening the impact of truck traffic on highways and the environment. That concept requires more activity going south. Right now there is not enough capacity and the haul distances are too short.

Sandifur: The CIRIS project is something we have had an interest in for some time. Right now we are exploring subsidies for that project because it would be financially challenging. Our primary focus at this time is to improve rail capacity for 'intermodal' goods that move from ship to truck to train. We have a large export business as well; agricultural goods from California and Midwest are shipped overseas.

TCV: Is the port changing its practices to become more environmentally sensitive?

Amdur: Rail is involved in the 'greening' of this facility. Right now, we are in the process of planning a new rail yard with Union Pacific (UP) and Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Company (BNSF), looking at maximizing electrification and use of alternative fuel systems, including engines called 'green goats' for our rail yard.

Sandifur: These are Gen-Set Switchers, fuel efficient, low emission locomotives that move train cars around the yard. In the past, older engines were used to do this type of work. Modern equipment will be more efficient and reduce the environmental impact of these engines.

TCV: Is volume at the Port of Oakland growing? How does it move from ship to truck or rail?

Amdur: We grow between three to five percent per year. The impact is an increase in the number of containers which increases the number of trucks on the highways. Goods are unloaded from a ship and unloaded by the big cranes you see at the port. Containers are stacked in the yard. As time allows, the cargo is moved from the yard to short haul trucks and the local market or by truck to the railhead - we have two rail yards. Rail yard equipment is used to build trains.

TCV: Does the Port of Oakland control any of this movement?

Amdur: We are a non-operating port, a landlord. We work with our tenants - railroads, marine terminals, trucking, etc. - to provide an infrastructure that allows them to do their jobs without interfering.

TCV: What commodities are shipped through the Port of Oakland?

Sandifur: We are one of the premiere export seaports of agricultural goods from the Central Valley. In terms of imports, everything that touches your life comes through this seaport whether it is running shoes, coffee, furniture, TV sets, electronic parts, car parts such as those used at NUMMI (New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc.) in Fremont. Movement of goods is challenging since today, some shipping is done on a 'just in time' basis so companies do not have large inventories.

Almost anything you can imagine moves through this port. On the export side, we move a lot of raw materials such as wine, food products, chickens, paper and lumber. Some returns as finished goods. An example is raw cotton that leaves here for Asia and comes back as jeans. Often you may buy jeans in a store that started as cotton in California, traveled to Asia and returned as the finished product you bought in a store back in California.

TCV: What does the Port of Oakland do as the landlord of this operation?

Amdur: We work with our tenants to make things run smoothly and increase productivity and capacity. There is very little area for us to expand so we are working on making things more efficient.

Sandifur: The Port of Oakland embarked on an expansion program for a number of years and basically doubled the size of our maritime facilities. This was done through land that came back to us after use by the U.S. Navy for decades as a Fleet Industrial Supply Center. That just happened over the last several years. We now have land coming back that was used as the former Oakland Army Base. We are looking at that for future needs of maritime activity.

Amdur: That is an area we are planning for a rail facility.

TCV: If people want to know more about the Port of Oakland and its effect on our area, how can they do this?

Sandifur: We are a vital economic force for this region. Our operations, infrastructure and activities of our tenants and business partners provide over 55,000 jobs in this area and 668,000 jobs around the nation. The annual economic impact of the port is $7 billion in this area. We look at how we can be sustainable in our operations and try to balance our environmental responsibility with the flow of commerce. As development projects move forward to increase capacity, we are looking for ways to make these environmentally responsible.

We have an extensive outreach program that can provide speakers to groups. The Port of Oakland has three lines of business including a seaport, an airport (Oakland International) and 900 acres of waterfront and commercial real estate. We have free harbor tours that are going on right now. Anyone including individuals, schools and groups are welcome. The harbor tour hotline is: (510) 627-1188. Additional information on our website:

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