BNSF Railroad Company On The Brink Of Pulling Plug On Barstow International Gateway Project

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad Company corporate officers, who previously committed to establishing what they said will be the largest rail facility in North America in Barstow, have begun to rethink those plans because of the State of California Air Resources Board’s adoption of newly-drafted regulations pertaining to train engines which they say will compromise the viability of the planned $1.5 billion facility or render it inoperative altogether.
In October 2022, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company (BNSF) announced its intention to construct a 4,500-acre integrated rail facility that would employ upwards of 15,000 people on the west side of Barstow. The undertaking, dubbed the Barstow International Gateway, is intended to accommodate both traditional and automated direct transfer of containers that arrive in the High Desert after having been taken off ships at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, lowered onto train cars and then sent by rail through the Alameda Corridor to Barstow. According to Burlington Northern Santa Fe, it was placing the highest priority on seeing the Barstow International Gateway to completion. The modernized railyard was an important element of the railroad company’s future, corporate officers said.
International Gateway is intended to allow the direct transfer of shipping containers from ships at Los Angeles and Long Beach ports to trains for transport through the Alameda Corridor onto the BNSF mainline up to Barstow.
Upon arrival in Barstow, according to Burlington Northern Santa Fe, the train cars’ contents are to be sorted by cargo-handling cranes and other equipment and placed into rail cars on trains to be dispatched across the country in the railroad company’s trains. Since that announcement, Burlington Northern Santa Fe has given indication the workforce that would be needed at the Barstow facility would, upon full completion, run closer to 20,000.
Accordingly, Barstow officials read into the situation that Barstow, a railroad town since its modern advent in 1883 with the eastern extension of the Southern Pacific line to it from Mojave, would make strides toward recapturing its significance as what was once San Bernardino County’s fifth-largest community, and might see its population zoom from its current 24,789 to more than 80,000 by 2040.
Burlington Northern Santa Fe said that it would strive to have all of the cargo transferring equipment and conveyors at the yard powered by clean energy. That, however, did not fully satisfy the State of California, in particular the California Air Resources Board, which had previously mandated that by 2030 all railroad companies in California upgrade to train engines constructed and put into service no earlier than 2007, and transition to all-electric locomotives by 2035. In order to achieve that, the California Air Resources Board is proposing to require that the two largest operators of trains in California – Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific – as part of what is termed the “In-Use Locomotive Rule,” deposit, beginning in 2026, $800 million annually into a fund to be managed by the California Air Resources Board. That money is to be pooled and generate interest, such that by late 2034 and 2035 the proceeds can be used to purchase new electric powered locomotives for Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific.
Under its charter and the direction and oversight of the California legislature and California governor, the California Air Resources Board is entrusted with the authority to develop and codify California’s clean air rules and regulations.
The California Resources Board has consulted with the Environmental Protection Agency and is awaiting final input from that entity with regard to California’s adoption of the “In-Use Locomotive Rule.”
“The California Air Resources Board adopted the In-Use Locomotive Regulation, which would require the implementation of zero-emission locomotives in California,” according to Burlington Northern Santa Fe. “[Z]ero-emission tech, like that used in electric locomotives, is not commercially viable, and it’s not clear when it will be. Meanwhile, there are emissions-cutting projects underway right now that will be either stalled or completely scrapped if these regulations move forward. Rather than investing in efficient freight movement, railroads will be required to spend hundreds of millions per year just in California to stay compliant with the rule. Consequently, rail projects already in progress, like the Barstow International Gateway, would be canceled completely as development would become cost prohibitive. Thousands of promised and existing well-paying jobs would vanish. The cost of goods movement through California would increase to the point of being non-competitive, shifting cargo to other ports outside the state. Our national supply chain and West Coast port throughput would suffer without new rail projects that improve efficiency. Ultimately, this regulation will result in shifting freight from rail – the most efficient way to move goods over land – to trucks, increasing highway congestion.”
Burlington Northern Santa Fe appealed to members of the public to “Tell the Environmental Protection Agency, the California Air Resources Board and our elected leaders to reject this ineffective and unachievable patchwork approach to locomotive regulation and support more collaborative measures that accelerate commercial viability of lower- and zero-emission locomotives.”
Yesterday, on March 14, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Executive Director of Public Affairs Lena Kent, while addressing attendees of the High Desert Economic and Real Estate Symposium & Forecast at the Victor Valley College Performing Arts Center, said that Burlington Northern Santa Fe will be unable “to complete the Barstow International Gateway Project. Financing would not be feasible, and we don’t even know how much we’d be able to operate in the State of California.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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