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While public uproar over a proposal to export coal may have slowed down one redevelopment project at the former Oakland Army Base, another one has been quietly under construction.
And on Thursday, a 100-car train rolled in from the Midwest, carrying animal feed that was unloaded and repacked on-site for distribution overseas -- the first of what the Port of Oakland hopes will be many such shipments at its new rail yard.
The roughly $258 million project, which is being developed in two phases, will ultimately house a warehousing and distribution center, offering commodity suppliers a more efficient way to sort and ship containerized goods, said port spokesman Robert Bernardo.
Workers with Capitol River Group, tenants of the Port of Oakland, use an NPK hard car unloader to loosen the DDG (distillers dried grain) from the train car as they unload the feed into container trucks for transportation at the Outer Harbor Intermodal Terminal rail yard in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, July 7, 2016. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)
Once both phases are completed, which is expected in 2019, the facility will provide an estimated 4,000 jobs on-site, plus another 8,000 jobs from ancillary industries, not including construction jobs, he said. Currently, many of the large warehousing and distribution centers are located in the San Joaquin and Central valleys, Bernardo said.
"Those warehouses and distribution centers can be hundreds of miles from the port," he said. "So, this allows us to move products much faster."
The new rail yard also enables the port to handle more cargo without adding to the often-congested weekday traffic at the port as trucks wait to drop off and pick up containers at marine terminals, Bernardo said. The port recently added night hours to help eliminate some of that congestion, which was exacerbated when one of the port's four terminal operators declared bankruptcy earlier this year.
Each "hopper" train car, which are used to transport loose bulk commodities, can carry 3½ times as much product as a single 40-foot truck container, Bernardo said. "It's a lot more efficient," he said of the train cars.
"Not only are you reducing truck pollution, but at the same time, we're increasing commerce for the region."
Before the opening of the new rail yard -- officially named the Outer Harbor Intermodal Terminal, or OHIT -- the port could accommodate a train with only 17 cars, said Thanh Vuong, the port's supervising engineer.
The former yard was part of the Oakland Army Base and not the port, he said, and had limited capacity for lumber and small bulk cargo such as wallboard.
Now, OHIT will be able to handle as many as 200 train cars at a time, Vuong said. It anticipates shipping mostly agricultural products, Bernardo said, adding, "We don't ship coal."
The port is also anticipating that construction will begin later this year on a $90 million cold storage facility, Vuong said, allowing customers greater flexibility in shipping temperature-controlled products.
Bernardo said the expansion is part of a major transformation for the port and will help the agency attract cargo suppliers from outside California that might otherwise have shipped their products through other West Coast ports.
"We do want to bring more cargo through Oakland, and specifically, cargo that isn't local to the region," he said. "We're working with our business partners and government funding partners to make that happen, and we're also using the existing infrastructure to really develop the port and make us more competitive."
This article first appeared on www.eastbaytimes.com
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