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New transfer railyard draws protest near Port of Los Angeles

Men just off work, still in safety vests, joined women and preteen kids to shake black and orange signs at guests arriving to an evening party. At the edge of a right-of-way near Ports o'Call Village, opponents to the proposed Southern California International Gateway said they’re worried about health impacts from a new railyard where about 5,000 trucks a day would transfer containers to trains. Intermodal railyards like SCIG are a key tool the goods movement industry uses to spread cargo traffic from the Port of L.A. around the country.

"Having a railyard of that magnitude in this community is just a bad idea this close to schools, churches, homes, parks, community gardens," says Angelo Logan, who directs East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice. He says the port should plan future expansion at the dock. "We believe railyards belong in the ports not in the neighborhood."

Along with Coalition for Clean Air and Coalition for a Safe Environment, Logan argues that kids and older people in west Long Beach already suffer more asthma and respiratory illness than people living further from the port. He says he doesn’t trust BNSF. "What their website says is they’re going to create more jobs they’re going to reduce air pollution and they’re going to take more trucks off the and we believe that all three of those statements are false."

BNSF spokeswoman Lena Kent says Logan's wrong. "We’re gonna take over a million trucks off the 710 freeway," she says, adding that the proposed railyard would be the cleanest of its kind in the US. She says the new transfer point near the 710 between Sepulveda Boulevard and the Pacific Coast Highway would save trucks 20 miles of driving to a downtown LA yard: the current route. "If we can’t put them on rail closer to the port they’re going to keep going on our freeways to a point where they can get on rail," Kent says.

View Southern California International Gateway in a larger map

According to BNSF's consultants, the project will create thousands of jobs. Kent argues that critics like Logan are shortsighted and outnumbered. "We’ve actually had a good relationship with many members of the community adjacent to the proposed facility," she says. "We have met with hundreds of residents, we have knocked on hundreds of doors, in the neighborhood to solicit their input on the project."

BNSF’s Southern California International Gateway needs environmental approval from LA harbor commissioners to get built. Port officials anticipate it’ll be several months before a final environmental impact report is ready for a public hearing and vote.