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Blue Diamond Almond Growers spearhead ‘Almond Express’ rail service to Ports of LA and LB

As a result of cutbacks in sailings to the Port of Oakland, Blue Diamond Almond Growers are supporting two new rail services transporting almond exports from Central California to the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

On July 4th, Blue Diamond partnered with Union Pacific (UP) and ocean carrier CMA CGM to inaugurate a rail service from the Port of Oakland’s Union Pacific ramp to terminals at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

This is in addition to a UP rail service from Fowler, California (in the Southern San Joaquin Valley) that is transporting containerized almond and dairy products to the Southern California ports also in partnership with CMA CGM.

Blue Diamond says the rail service could move as much as 1 billion pounds of almonds via the so-called ‘Almond Express’. 

In an interview, Steve Schult, Vice President, Global Supply Chain, Blue Diamond Growers told AJOT that the new rail services have been supported by California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross, Under Secretary Birdsong, and Dee Dee Myers, Director Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz). 

Schult also cited the support of Eugene Seroka, Executive Director, Port of Los Angeles.

Almond Export Costs For Southern California Rail Service 
Schult said the two rail services transport about 400 containers per week to the Southern California ports.

He said the cost to truck a container to the Southern California ports from the San Joaquin Valley (SJV) was $3,900 per container compared to about $1,900 by rail but there is an added $1,100 trucking charge which brings the total cost to $3,000 per container.

Schult said the $1,100 truck dray cost to Oakland from the SJV was seemingly the cheaper route but problems with cutbacks of Port of Oakland vessel services and Oakland terminal unreliability had prompted Blue Diamond to transport some containers by rail:

“So, I am guaranteed that if I dropped a box at the Port of Oakland that it will ship on the rail whereas there is only a 30% chance that it will go out on a ship. My chances are waiting to try and get a gate at Oakland, seeing the gate changes there or facing the equipment and chassis issue at the terminal. So, is the extra dollars’ worth … playing the 30% game out of Oakland? We don’t have the luxury of waiting.”

Schult said an initial rail service from Fowler, California to the Southern California ports prompted the interest in rail: “This was an existing vein that already was transporting dairy products and now is also transporting almonds. So, there is an almond-dairy rail connection to the Port of Los Angeles. And we have a good partnership with the Union Pacific and this partnership is starting to take off."

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