PCCP West Park LLC's short-haul rail proposal still lacks some detail, but it is a creative plan that "is certainly worth a careful look," according to a study commissioned by Stanislaus County.
West Park, headed by Sacramento developer Gerry Kamilos, is proposing a short-haul rail link between the Port of Oakland and a 4,800-acre business and industrial park Kamilos wants to build in and around the former Crows Landing Naval Air Station.
The rail link would serve distribution companies Kamilos hopes to attract to the business park, and valley ag exporters, according to West Park consultants.
The county hired Global Insight to do an impartial review of Kamilos' numbers for the system. County Deputy Executive Officer Keith Boggs said the firm was hired because of the county's lack of expertise on rail issues.
Supervisor Jim DeMartini, a consistent critic of the proposal, contends that the proposal will lose money. He's referred to the rail connection as a "Trojan horse" to bring housing development into the area.
Kamilos acknowledges that the project will lose money in its infancy and proposes to subsidize it with assessments on business park tenants. He has pledged that no houses will be built in West Park.
Kamilos touts the environmental benefits of the service, contending that it will take thousands of trucks off Altamont Pass, easing the valley's air pollution. The development will create 37,000 jobs over the course of 30 years, he said.
A preliminary draft of the plan by Global Insight, released in December, questioned whether there is enough freight demand to support the concept. The analysis called for a more comprehensive survey of potential customers, and questioned whether West Park can attract large distribution centers as tenants and clients for the rail link.
West Park officials have contended that details such as customer surveys are premature because the first trains wouldn't run for an additional four years.
The final Global Insight review says West Park's customer surveys aren't conclusive, and more study will be needed to measure how much truck traffic would switch to train service.
Union Pacific talks ongoing
The West Park cost analysis of the train service is difficult because negotiations for track rights with Union Pacific haven't been completed. West Park should use best- and worst-case scenarios to inform the county of projected minimum and maximum subsidy levels, the Global Insight review says.
While calling for more information as the project progresses, the Global Insight review notes that short-haul rail and industrial park developments have been successful elsewhere, including the redevelopment of an arsenal in Joliet, Ill.
The economic development and job growth at the Illinois site have been "unusually strong," the review says.
"It is possible that the Crows Landing site -- connected by rail to the Port of Oakland -- could become just such an engine of economic development for the region," the review states. "As port volumes and local road congestion both continue to increase, the demand for inland port capacity is likely to accelerate.
"With a number of strategic options available to Stanislaus County for the Crows Landing redevelopment, the West Park Inland Port/Short Haul Rail Master Plan is certainly worth a careful look."
Supervisor Dick Monteith said Boston-based Global Insight is an impartial firm.
"I like the fact that the com-pany is not on the West Coast and not involved in all the politics," Monteith said. "It helps give some credibility to what they are saying."
Monteith is a member, along with DeMartini, of an ad hoc committee negotiating with Kamilos on a master developer agreement for West Park.
Location a plus
The study notes that the biggest difficulty in launching inland port projects is finding a site with rail and port access, Monteith said. "It points out the uniqueness we have, of having all the pieces close together," he said.
Monteith said he liked the conclusion that more study is needed. "I don't like people who come in and think they have all the answers," he said.
The study's conclusion isn't likely to please West Side opponents of the project. Most West Side governmental agencies oppose the plan, citing its size, the traffic congestion it would cause and the disruption of up to six new round-trip trains running daily through Patterson.
Ron Swift, president of WS-PACE, a group formed to oppose the project, presented the supervisors with 1,200 petition signatures Tuesday opposing the railroad and container use of the air station property.
Swift had not read the Global Insight review Tuesday afternoon but said an inland port would make more sense in San Joaquin County. That would be closer to existing warehouse development, and would require less road construction to serve the port, he said.
Patterson Mayor Becky Campo declined to comment because she had not read the Global Insight report.
Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2349.