Last week I had the opportunity to tour the Port of Long Beach. The Port of Long Beach is the second busiest container port in the United States and the tenth largest port in the world. The port has six container terminals and intermodal rail service from BNSF Railway and the Union Pacific Railroad. The port’s Middle Harbor terminal is highly automated and one of the most technologically advanced port facilities in the US. It is also considered to be the world’s greenest Port, pioneering many green initiatives throughout the facility.
I have to confess as I sat in the bus on my way to the Port I wondered what we would be seeing. After the huge mess of delays that many shippers suffered through last year, how has the port recovered? As we entered the port facility we were escorted to a conference room overlooking the port container loading area as well as the central operations center in their offices.
Long Beach is engaged in a 10 year, $4 billion capital improvement program with the money being spent on larger, modern terminals, taller cranes to handle super post-Panamax cranes, deeper water at the berths, on-dock rail improvements, improved roadway access, and a new bridge. Interestingly, the night before our tour there was a construction accident on the new bridge causing a shut-down of the roadway for a few hours, but we saw no evidence of any lingering delays.
Long Beach is also improving its rail program that will allow railroads to build full unit double-stack trains. The program is current under environmental impact review. Each double-stack train eliminates about 200 truck trips easing congestions at the terminals gates and on local freeways.
As we drove through the port facility, our tour guide was the person responsible for labor relations at the port. He shared with us that before they began this most recent improvement project, they sat down with the union and explained what they intended to do and got their buy in from the very start. In the control center, union and non-union employees sit and work together as a unified team.
Our first stop was the In-gate where we all expected to see long lines of trucks waiting to get in. We saw two and they were clearing the gate quickly. By the time we got to the loading bays the drivers were getting ready to off load their containers. We watched the entire process of one container getting off loaded and another container being placed on the chassis. It took less than fifteen minutes! In another instance, the driver’s container was already hovering over the bay ready to be placed on his chassis before he even backed into the bay. Once the drivers have completed their container loading/unloading they proceed to the Road-ability station that ensures any container leaving the premises is road worthy.
We were told that current turn times at the port were running less than 45 minutes…a vast improvement from a year ago. What a difference a year makes…