Shafter, CA wants to be Oakland’s intermodal center

By Peter A. Buxbaum, AJOT

A small city of 13,000 people, situated at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley in California, is bidding to become the first outpost of a northern Inland Empire. The city of Shafter, 90 miles South of Oakland and just North of Bakersfield, is not merely involved in promotion and recruitment. It is putting up much of the funding and intends to take an equity stake in the project known as the California Integrated Logistics Center.

Shafter is not starting from scratch. It already hosts a 700-acre industrial park known as the International Trade and Transportation Center. The ITTC boasts a 1.7 million square foot distribution center which services the retailer Target and the distributor The Hillman Group, among others. The city has also reached agreements with Northwest Container Services to provide intermodal services and facilities management at the site and with the Port of Oakland to provide promotional and general support. Shafter is now in the process of acquiring land and awarding contracts to develop a railroad spur directly into the facility.

“We are in a unique position because we have two Class One railroads in or near town,” said R. Brent Green, the city’s business development director. “We came up with the strategy to promote a shuttle service between the port of Oakland and Shafter in April 2004.”

Shafter’s vision is to develop what is known in Southern California as the Inland Empire: a series of distribution complexes East of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, with direct rail connections to the ports. Green sees the California Integrated Logistics Center as providing an alternative to importers frustrated at the chronic congestion they encounter in the Southern California ports.

“The logistics crisis keeps getting worse in Los Angeles and Long Beach,” he said. “The port of Oakland is operating at 50% capacity, but it doesn’t have much land on which to expand. Basically this is a partnership that benefits both parties. You can’t grow a harbor with freeways.”

Both the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and the Union Pacific railways pass near or through Shafter, according to Green. The UP track borders Shafter on the East and BNSF goes right though the city, bordering the ITTC on the West side of town. The two tracks are six miles apart.

Green sees Shafter as strategically located, not only because of the availability of rail service, but also because it has access to both imports and exports. “We’re within 300 miles of 14% of the US population,” he said. “We’re also located at the southern end of a valley rich in agricultural exports. We are in a unique position to balance import and export containers.”

Green also sees the CILC as a northern outpost servicing Southern California traffic. “Los Angeles is filling up,” he said. “They can’t expand to the West or South and they’ve gone East as far as practical. Now they’re moving north. We see large distribution centers popping up for Wal-Mart, Ikea, Kmart, and Sears. We see this as a wonderful opportunity to match imports with exports and cut down on the wasteful practice of repositioning containers.”

“New transportation model”

Northwest Container Services Inc., which has been running local rail freight services in the Seattle area for 20 years, will be the intermodal facility operator for the CILC. In that capacity it will coordinate all aspects of rail and truck transportation and will lead a joint intermodal development program with the City of Shafter. Northwest Container CEO Gary Cardwell said the CILC, “will be a new generation of inland intermodal centers that will revolutionize a system for efficient freight movement.”

“The proximity to the central valley’s exporters and future destination for importers creates the transportation model we have strongly been advocating for today’s land use planners,” he added. “Typically 50% of the time an international marine container is on the highway, it’s empty. We