Port of Los Angeles - San Joaquin Valley rail service may begin in 2028

A rail service linking agricultural exporters in California’s San Joaquin Valley to the Port of Los Angeles could begin in 2028, according to Eugene Seroka, Executive Director, Port of Los Angeles.

In 2017, California’s Merced County Supervisors unanimously agreed to enter an agreement with the Port of Los Angeles in hopes of creating an inland port at the former Castle Air Force Base site.

At his September 14th media briefing, Seroka responded to a question from AJOT regarding the status of the Merced County to Port of Los Angeles rail project: “From the standpoint of the Port of Los Angeles, we're very encouraged to see the State of California invest nearly $50 million into the development of an inland port at the former Castle Air Force Base in Merced County. We were early supporters here at the Port of LA on that concept, and we even signed an M.O.U. (Memorandum of Understanding) with the County Supervisors several years ago.”

Seroka said the go-live date for the project is 2028: “The go-live date is not set until 2028 because, of course, here in California, … permits and all the other necessary environmental work take a long time before this … will really come to fruition, but it is going to coincide with the opening of the Atwater Merced Expressway, which is a big deal.”

“The Atwater-Merced Expressway (AME) will connect major destinations to the state highway system and alleviate heavy freight and commuter traffic through congested areas in Atwater and Merced … “according to a briefing paper issued by the Merced County Association of Governments.

The result, Seroka said is that: “This'll help us across all sectors, find new ways to bring the Port of Los Angeles closer to our Central Valley Ag farmers, ranchers, growers, and producers. And that's the goal. Regular rail service from Merced County to the San Pedro Bay would be ideal. And the key is to provide options for shippers in the Central Valley to best access their international markets. And an early survey showed of those who export from the Central Valley, they reached 90 different international countries. And we've got to step up our game on the service provider side.”

Seroka added that California’s leading railroads can provide support for the service: “The BNSF railway has a direct connection to the site and the Union Pacific is just a mile or two away. I do understand from discussions that the BNSF is working with short haul rail provider in that area, Patriot Rail, to move cargo in and out of the site, and that planning continues. Overall, we think it's a very good project and we want to see the progress here accelerate because it's going to add so much to the people that we count on in the agricultural sector.”

In July, the Merced County Times reported that the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) announced that Merced County was successful in its bid for a $49.6 million grant to build-out an inland port at Castle Commerce Center.

The $49.6 million CalSTA grant will enhance Castle Commerce Center’s existing rail capacity by:

• Facilitating the development of 70 acres at Castle to support pre-shipment processing and intermodal cross-docking for Central Valley agricultural producers.

• Providing cost-effective, direct rail service for shippers.

• Expanding the railway to a new staging and container laydown area to support cross-docking and processing; and,

• Evaluating, engineering, and planning for further expansion on existing land within Castle Commerce Center.

These projects will support additional goods movement to and from the Port of Los Angeles, the Port of Long Beach, and the Port of Oakland while making Merced County a focal point for inland goods movement.

Situated at the south-eastern corner of Castle, its rail district became operational in May 2022 under Patriot Rail, which operates the rail line and has already tripled the shipping volume to and from Castle in recent months.

Merced Supervisor Daron McDaniel, whose District 3 includes Castle Commerce Center, said the inland port and rail district has been in the works for many years and is a major focal point for the County, the newspaper reported.

Stas Margaronis
Stas Margaronis


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