Community Columns

Short-haul rail can improve valley's air, competitiveness

The Central Valley's agricultural industry has a tremendous opportunity to improve transportation reliability, improve air quality and reduce transportation costs by securing a short-haul rail connection between the San Joaquin Valley and the Northern California seaports.

Valley farmers and businesses that export agricultural products face increased competition with farmers around the globe. The businesses with which we compete in other nations have cheaper labor, weaker regulations and all-around lower costs. We must work together on cost-saving innovations, such as short-haul rail, to achieve a competitive advantage.

The valley has a reputation for producing superior agricultural products. We cannot compete with cheaper labor and will never compromise quality, worker safety or regulations. But we can improve efficiencies, and short-haul rail is key to the quick and efficient transportation of goods.

We currently enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship with the Port of Oakland to export goods, but transportation costs are increasing. Every day, trucks are forced to sit in traffic getting to and from the port. Combined with rising fuel costs, our ability to compete erodes.

In February, the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors took an important step in addressing this transportation challenge. Selecting West Park LLP to develop Crows Landing into an inland port and economic engine gives growers an opportunity to reduce transportation costs through the use of rail.

This is a first step to ultimately serve the entire San Joaquin Valley's agricultural industry. Short-haul rail would provide growers with a more efficient, less expensive and more environmentally sensitive transportation alternative.

Short-haul rail reduces diesel emissions because trucks are intercepted inside the valley and their containers placed onto clean-fuel trains that carry products to our seaports. Diesel emissions account for more than 30 percent of pollutants in the valley and 27 percent of the valley's smog is wind driven from the Bay Area. A short-haul rail system will take a substantial amount of polluting trucks off the highways and reduce congestion.

Since the passage of last November's $3 billion bond funding, stakeholders, including the agricultural community, have been competitively working to bring those transportation dollars to their own jurisdictions.

As farmers and businesses that export agricultural products, we support short-haul rail's innovative solution that will ensure the valley gets a fair share. The Port of Oakland is interested in collaborating with us to create a comprehensive transportation infrastructure in Northern California. The agricultural community is enthusiastic about short-haul rail as a viable solution to the traffic and gridlock in and out of the port.

Our associations ask that every resident of Stanislaus County join us in support of short-haul rail in the San Joaquin Valley.

Batchman is director of industry relations for California Citrus Mutual, and Isom is vice president, California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations.