Key users back APM's Los Angeles automation plan

Key users back APM's Los Angeles automation plan

The Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners will take another vote Thursday on APM Terminals’ plan to automate part of its container facility in the port. Photo credit:

Rail, trucking, and shipper groups announced their support Monday for a plan by APM Terminals to automate a portion of its container facility in Los Angeles as the harbor commission prepares for another important vote on the plan Thursday. 

APM Terminals seeks to introduce automated straddle carriers on a 100-acre portion of its 440-acre facility at the Port of Los Angeles. The plan is opposed by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) because dozens of jobs would be eliminated; the ILWU has garnered political support at the city and state level. 

But the Coalition for Responsible Transportation (CRT) and the Union Pacific, BNSF, and California Short Line railroads, under the letterhead, “The California Railroads,” threw their support behind APM, speaking out against a recently submitted bill in the state legislature that would add a new layer of oversight to the process of automating cargo-handling equipment at California’s ports. The groups highlighted the environmental benefits of the project.

CRT, a coalition of truckers and beneficial cargo owners (BCOs) founded to promote clean-air goals at US seaports, noted that automation has been incorporated by some ports around the world and has proven to be effective in reducing harmful emissions through electrification of cargo-handling equipment.

“The decision by the city council of Los Angeles to deny permits for the installation and operation of the generation necessary to take full advantage of the air quality benefits of the planned electric cargo-handling equipment is decidedly contrary to the clean-air objective of the port and region,” CRT said in a letter supporting the APM plan.

CRT also noted the contribution that automation can make in reducing operating costs to increase the competitiveness of California’s ports and stem the steady loss of market share to other North American ports. West Coast ports grabbed 48 percent of US containerized imports last year, down from 57 percent in 2005, according to PIERS, a sister company within IHS Markit.

As for the California bill that would give the State Lands Commission the authority to reject the use of automated technology at California ports, the railroads serving the state said they are “very concerned that this bill will be an obstacle to ports and terminals meeting many critical economic and environmental goals sought by the state of California, and the freight, maritime and rail industries.”

APM reiterates intent to move project ahead

For its part, APM reiterated Monday it is legally permitted to move forward with the automation project, and intends to do so, regardless of what happens on the legislative front. Indeed, the 2008 coastwide contract between the ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association allows individual terminal operators to automate their facilities at will.

In addition, the construction permit APM requested from the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners is limited to the installation of electrical equipment that would recharge batteries meant to power the auto-strads. If the permit is denied, APM will simply charge the batteries with polluting diesel chargers, which would run contrary to the intention of the joint Los Angeles-Long Beach Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP), APM noted in a previous letter to the city council.

Contact Bill Mongelluzzo at and follow him on Twitter: @billmongelluzzo.