Short-haul rail analysis notes lack of details

A draft analysis of the proposed short-haul rail system between the Crows Landing Air Facility and the Port of Oakland questions whether there is enough freight demand to support the concept.

The short-haul rail and inland port are the key components of a 4,800-acre industrial and business park in western Stanislaus County proposed by PCCP West Park LLC on and around the county-owned air facility.

The study, by Global Insight, a Boston-based economic forecasting firm hired by the county to analyze the rail proposal, concludes that soliciting state funds for the project or creating a redevelopment plan are premature because of un- resolved issues.

County Supervisor Jim DeMartini, an opponent of the West Park proposal, made the interim study available Wednesday morning after a Crows Landing Steering Committee meeting.

"This rail project is going to lose money from day one until who knows when," DeMartini said. "It makes me wonder if there is another agenda that we don't know about. How long are they going to lose money, and who is going to pay for it?"

Sacramento developer Gerry Kamilos, who heads the West Park effort, has acknowledged that the short-haul rail operation would need to be subsidized for several years. The development has pledged to subsidize the rail link in its early years, possibly with land assessments on business park tenants.

The Global Insight draft analysis calls for a more comprehensive survey of potential customers for the rail link. "... It is difficult to envision the region providing the West Park Inland Port facility with anything approaching the projected 1,380 daily containers (identified in a previous study)," the report says.

Truck problems could make link more attractive

D.J. Smith, a transportation consultant working with West Park, said most of the issues raised by the Global Insight analysis would be addressed in West Park's application for state bond money to get the rail system up and running.

West Park is seeking $26 million in state trade corridor bond money. Smith said the question of who will use the rail link is difficult to answer four years before the first train would run.

"All we can do is meet with the shipper groups," he said. "We know the vast majority of them will watch it, and try it to see if it is real. There is a tremendous amount of interest, particularly with the problems the trucking industry is experiencing right now."

Those problems include issues of security at the Port of Oakland, the unstable price of diesel fuel and other costs, Smith said.

Other questions the draft analysis identifies include:

Whether West Park can attract large distribution centers as tenants for the business park, and clients for the rail link.Other potential Central Valley sites and Bay Area locations will be vying for the distribution centers, the study says.

Whether potential scheduling conflicts with the Altamont Commuter Express trains using the same tracks will hamper freight service. The San Joaquin Rail Commission, which operates the ACE trains, is negotiating with Union Pacific railroad to acquire the track right-of-way that the West Park short-haul rail would use.

Smith said West Park has begun talks with Union Pacific to get agreements on track use.

Some details left out of previous studies would make the short-haul rail link more attractive, the Global Insight study says. Inflation factors for truck congestion, and costs for driver wages, fuel and insurance weren't considered, for instance. Those factors would make the rail option more attractive in the future, according to the study.

West Park is working on a response to the analysis, which is to be completed by Feb. 8, said Keith Boggs, county deputy executive officer. Global Insight will make a final report by the end of February, Boggs said.

The Crows Landing Steering Committee agreed to meet March 12 to discuss the rail report.

Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at tmoran@modbee.com or 578-2349.

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