Union Pacific looks to get greener, starting this summer
Spokesman: Effort will save hundreds of thousands of vehicle miles; carbon emissions would be reduced, too
By Donna Beth Weilenman
Some time this summer, the Union Pacific Railroad expects to start construction on a project that will save 200,000 vehicle miles traveled over Bayshore Road in the Industrial Park each year.
UP expects the project will reduce the amount of carbon dioxide expelled when vehicles are removed from docked freighters and put on rail cars. The work is expected to make some storm water cleaner, too.
Benicia City Council unanimously approved a resolution last week that granted the railroad a storm drain easement it will need to complete the automobile loading project.
“No construction work has been done so far,” Aaron Hunt, Union Pacific’s director of corporate relations and media, said Friday.
But once it does, he said, residents are likely to see graders, front-end loaders, dump trucks, sheepsfoot rollers, excavators and other heavy equipment on the 6.05-acre site in the Arsenal.
That land is part of the railroad’s right-of-way, and it’s next to AMPORTS, the operator of the Port of Benicia.
The railroad will be building three loading tracks, three loading pads, a support track and a lead track, Hunt said. It also will be installing lighting at the site.
Charlie Knox, Benicia director of Public Works and Community Development, said the additional tracks will allow vehicles being removed from freighters to be loaded directly onto rail, rather than be caravanned on Bayshore Road to the existing automobile loading plant north of the Benicia Bridge.
Knox said the project ultimately will save 200,000 vehicle miles a year — and, he said, it will do more than just conserve fuel.
“The carbon dioxide savings is significant,” he told the Council Tuesday night.
The railroad company doesn’t know yet how much fuel will be saved, Hunt said. “We do not have a specific calculation for the fuel question,” he said.
But he had some ballpark estimates.
“If we assume an average of 28 miles per gallon, you’d save approximately 7,143 gallons,” he said.
“The vehicles are running a short distance and at low speeds. There are also shuttle vans moving the longshoremen,” Hunt said.
“I expect the average miles per gallon could be lower, thus yielding a greater fuel savings.”
He added that these were early estimates. “I do not have any calculation to back up a specific number.”
Another environmental improvement will come once the railroad uses the storm drain easement, a .04-acre piece of land the city sold for $4,450, money that will go into Benicia’s General Fund.
Knox said it will be used to expand a closed-culvert system, to which a short Y will be added. The pipe will remain underground to prevent contamination from parking lot oil and debris, he said.
Water will be purified through a filtration system, because the railroad isn’t allowed to add any pollutants to water entering the Carquinez Strait, Knox said.
Any runoff will be monitored, he said.
And the results will be better than what currently exists on the site, Knox told the Council.
Storm water analyses already have been conducted to evaluate the amount of storm water generated from the site and the capacity of the storm drain, Hunt said.
“The city of Benicia requires water treatment prior to discharge into the storm drain,” Hunt said, agreeing with Knox’s report Tuesday night.
“All storm water from the UPRR (Union Pacific Railroad) right-of-way would filter through the water treatment system before discharge.”
Hunt said storm water drainage on the railroad’s property is being collected by an underground subdrain system that has a single point of discharge.
In the future, the storm water will be treated by passing through a Rinker Stormceptor STC 450i manhole, he said. That manhole will be put within the new drainage easement.
“Currently, storm water is not mechanically treated before discharge,” he said, “so, yes, this would be an improvement over the current condition.”
The Union Pacific, considered a premier railroad franchise, operates in 23 states. In an issue hitting the stands March 21, Fortune Magazine will name UP the most admired trucking, transportation and logistics company.
Benicia is a significant transportation hub for incoming vehicles, and UP is part of that operation.
Last year, AMPORTS Benicia Terminal General Manager Randy Scott described the city as “a very strong auto port.” Fords, Chryslers, some models of Chevrolets and Toyotas arrive by freighter at the port, from which they can be loaded on to rail cars for delivery elsewhere.
Union Pacific is focused on serving those automotive clients, Hunt said.
But he said the railroad would welcome the chance to serve additional clientele, such as the producers of all-electric cars that can’t be driven off the freighters because their batteries aren’t being charged during transoceanic transport.
“If we had a customer that was interested in rail service for an auto that leverages newer technology, we would definitely consider that opportunity,” Hunt said.