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Alameda Corridor hit hard by recession

September 6, 2010 |  5:28 pm

Mid-corridor trench

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are a cargo powerhouse, handling about 40% of the country's imported goods and making possible hundreds of thousands of well-paying freight-related jobs.

Such a record would be impossible if not for the Alameda Corridor, a $2.4-billion engineering marvel that allows freight trains to travel the 20 miles from the ports to the transcontinental yards near downtown Los Angeles in 30 minutes, compared with four hours previously. With the help of the rail expressway, the twin ports moved nearly 16 million containers at the height of the international trade boom in 2006, up from 9.7 million in 2001, the last full year before the corridor opened.

"Without the Alameda Corridor, it just wouldn't be possible to handle that much cargo," said Jack Kyser, an economist with the Southern California Assn. of Governments. "The freeways and surface streets outside of the ports couldn't handle the burden, and you would have containers stacking up at the ports and lines of ships offshore waiting to load and unload."

But for all of its prowess in speeding up the flow of the nation's Asian imports, the rail route may become a financial burden for the ports it was supposed to help.

The corridor was intended to pay for itself through user fees on each shipping container, and for many years the setup worked, even generating a financial surplus. But port cargo is down sharply from its 2006 peak because of the worldwide recession, and the payments on debt that was taken on to build the route will rise — sometimes steeply — through 2033.

"Until two years ago, we were on track, no pun intended, to have the traffic we needed," said Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who also serves as chairwoman of the seven-member Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority Board, which oversees the rail route.

Read the full story here.

-- Ronald D. White

Photo: A Union Pacific locomotive pulls a load of containers through a below-ground section of the Alameda Corridor in Compton. (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles Times / September 5, 2010)