As we all know, transportation and mobility are central issues for Orange County and the larger region. Freshman Congressman Harley Rouda, who serves on the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, recently unpacked some of our regional challenges at a discussion with the Orange County Business Council and Orange County Transportation Authority—from congestion and the I-405 improvements to securing more federal dollars for local projects.
But while the public understandably tends to focus on the people side of transportation, goods movement is a critical piece of the puzzle. After all, our four ports are massive economic engines for Southern California, the state and the nation. Taken together, the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Hueneme and San Diego support nearly 3 million jobs throughout the nation and tens of billions of dollars of economic activity.
Beyond jobs and cargo, a symbiotic relationship between the ports and surrounding communities is essential to both healthy communities and region-wide economic vitality.
Our ports have shown themselves to be proactive stewards of the environment: Port of Hueneme was named the first Green Marine-certified port in 2017, the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have been collaborating on the Clean Air Action Plan since 2006, and the Port of San Diego adopted its Climate Action Plan in 2013.
A sustainable supply chain must reduce emissions and embrace new technologies while supporting the safe, reliable, and efficient transport of goods. In this endeavor, freight railroads are our strongest partners.
Trains are not only four times more efficient than trucks—moving a ton of freight 479 miles on a single gallon of clean diesel—they also take hundreds of trucks off of Orange County roads (9 million trucks across California in 2017, to be exact), reducing congestion and relieving our already overburdened highway infrastructure.
Railroads’ significant fuel-efficiency gains are spurred by their massive private spending on a nationwide rail network that connects shippers. These private investments—about $25 billion annually—also support the research and deployment of new technologies that continue to make freight trains more efficient and even safer. Recent years have been among the safest on record.
I saw some of these technologies close-up in Washington, D.C., recently. As part of Railroad Day on Capitol Hill, I helped to educate California’s members of Congress about the importance of freight railroads – to our ports, the Southern California region and the country as a whole.
Put simply, freight railroads are an extremely cost-effective, safe and clean way to move freight over land. America’s efficient freight rail system uses private investment to lower the price of goods, minimize greenhouse gases, and save taxpayers money by lessening the burden on taxpayer-funded roads and bridges.
More specifically, Congress should oppose policies that stifle freight rail innovation and stymie the efficient use of assets and capacity. They should ensure that regulations allow railroads to earn enough to invest into their network. They should also avoid putting their thumbs on the scale by creating a regulatory environment or passing legislation that favors one mode of transport at the cost of another.
Freight railroads are key to facilitating the economic power of Orange County, our region’s ports and the larger SoCal economy. I hope policymakers will take the freight rail lesson to heart and invest boldly in maintaining and expanding our goods movement network now and into the future.
Marnie Primmer is Executive Director of FuturePorts.
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