IANA EXPO: Port of Long Beach Dialogue Session

Dr. Noel Hacegaba
Dr. Noel Hacegaba
Dr. Noel Hacegaba, the Deputy Executive Director of Administration and Operations for the Port of Long Beach, speaks at the 2021 IANA EXPO. Photo by Karen Robes Meeks.

Noel Hacegaba knows exactly how busy the Port of Long Beach is. 

In a Sept. 14 conversation with attendees at the annual Intermodal Association of North America (IANA) Intermodal Expo in Long Beach, the port’s deputy executive director of administration and operations reported at least 56 container vessels at anchorage that day, 13 months of record cargo volumes coming to its docks, and longer wait times for goods sitting at terminals before leaving by truck or by rail.

“We are in the midst of a record surge,” he said, adding that the port posted a 30% increase in cargo between January and August of 2021 compared to the same time last year.

That’s 6.3 million container units, Hacegaba said. Seven years ago, that’s about how much the port moved in a calendar year.

“That shows you the magnitude of just how much volume we’re handling, how busy we are, and how important it is for us to work with all of our supply chain partners,” he said.

To handle the record influx, Hacegaba laid out the port’s short-term and long-term plans to increase productivity, including a goal to make the nation’s second busiest seaport a 24/7 operation.

Hacegaba said it will take the cooperation of the entire supply chain to make around the clock operations at the port possible.

“For that to happen, we need warehouses to be open, we need truck drivers to be working extra shifts, we need the railroads to align their operations, and we need the terminals at the port to maximize gate hours,” he explained. “We recognize that this is an aspirational goal. It will take some time to get there. But given the volumes of containers that we’re seeing, it’s now time that we have a serious conversation about what those barriers are, how to overcome those barriers and to inject liquidity and reliability into the supply chain.”

The port is already taking its first steps toward this around-the-clock concept. In late September, Total Terminals International and the Port of Long Beach announced that they’re launching a 24-hour cargo pickup pilot program at Pier T. Truck drivers will be able to make appointments between 11 p.m. and 1:30 a.m. at the TTI Terminal, allowing them to arrive anytime within that time frame.

TTI is also opening gates in a third shift—3 to 7 a.m. Monday through Thursday—for dual transactions. For those appointments, a driver can drop off and pick up a container on the same visit. The visits will be by appointment, with help from the region’s chassis pool to ensure a smooth transaction, according to the port.

“We are working around the clock to inject fluidity, velocity and reliability to the supply chain in Southern California,’ Hacegaba told IANA attendees.

To further deal with supply chain bottlenecks, the port in October established STOR, or Short-Term Overflow Resource, using vacant land on its property to temporarily move containers away from terminals to make room for more containers. STOR has an annual capacity of over half a million TEUs, Hacegaba said, adding that the port recently expanded the footprint to 65 acres.

“On any given day, there are 7,000 containers that are temporarily staged and stored,” he said. “It’s working fabulously. Customers come and tell us, ‘Is there any more acreage? Can you make this bigger? How soon?’ Because it’s making a difference.”

The port also publishes WAVE, or Weekly Advance Volume Estimate, reports that give the supply chain projected volumes, vessel calls and other vital data to be able to better plan, Hacegaba said.

He also spoke about the port’s long-term investment in infrastructure, including $4.5 billion spent in the last decade and millions more planned projects down the road.

“In order for us to be able to handle the volumes that we project, we will need to really build our infrastructure,” he said. “We need to make sure that we can handle the larger ships with efficiency and we need to make sure that we put our investments here at the port.”

Hacegaba highlighted the recent completion of some of the port’s long-term project, including the third phase of Long Beach Container Terminal’s modernization project and the new, modern cable-stayed span to replace the old Gerald Desmond Bridge.

He also updated IANA attendees on the port’s plans for the Pier B On-Dock Rail Support Facility project. The on-dock rail project is a big part of the port’s $1 billion capital improvement program that will enable the port to move more of the cargo by rail instead of by truck. The plan is to start construction in 2023, with first arrival, departure and storage tracks anticipated to be done by 2024. More tracks are expected to come online in 2030, with the whole project completed by 2032, according to the port.

“In order for us to accommodate these massive volumes, we need to leverage and utilize more of our rail capacity,” Hacegaba said. “Why? Because rail is faster. It’s cleaner. It’s more efficient.” About 20% of all containers processed at the Port of Long Beach leave by train, he said.

“We’d like to see that number move up to 35 to 40 percent and even higher over time,” he said.

Asked about his insight on current supply chain delays, Hacegaba said he expects the situation to continue at least through the end of the year, with the hope that delays will then trend downward.

“This is why we’re being very vocal at the Port of Long Beach that we need to transition to 24/7 operations,” he said. “We need to maximize our cooperation. Right now, supply is outstripping capacity.”

Hacegaba was positive about the port’s prospects when asked about where he sees Long Beach’s market share of cargo in the coming years.

Despite its busyness, he said, the port continues to field calls from shippers who are still looking for ways to send their cargo through Long Beach.

“They know we have the flexibility and agility, our close proximity to 2 million square feet of warehouse space, our access to rail that takes containers all the way across the heartland and beyond,” Hacegaba said. “All of these are competitive advantages and our intent in building our infrastructure is to demonstrate that we have the facilities, the capabilities to handle the bigger ships of today and the bigger ships of tomorrow.”