News | Transportation Students tour Port of Hueneme and Distribution Center

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by Yindong Sun, Master of Transportation Engineering 2023, USC

Twelve USC students, led by USC ITE Advisor and Adjunct Associate Professor Eric Shen, had the opportunity to experience and a technical tour of the Port of Hueneme on Friday, October 22, 2021. This tour was organized by the USC Student Chapter of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) and supported by METRANS Transportation Consortium. Port of Hueneme is located in Ventura County, just north of and bordering Los Angeles County. It is the only deep-water harbor between Los Angeles and San Francisco and processes approximately $9.5 billion in cargo annually.


Students and hosts gather for group photo


The field trip consisted of three parts: a technical session, a marine terminal tour, and a vehicle processing center tour. Christina Birdsey, Chief Operating Officer at Port of Hueneme, started the event with a detailed presentation on the port, its history, and its ongoing programs. Students learned that the Port of Hueneme is well-known for its agriculture and auto import and export industries and ranks 1st on the west coast for containerized bananas. Ro-Ro (roll-on, roll-off) import/export, which mainly focuses on auto trade, is another big portion of the port business, accounting for 47% of the total revenue. “Due to the pandemic and chip shortage, the entire auto industry has been hit hard,” Christina noted “but the customer demand remains high, and the port is facing a recovery trend. Compared to the first six months of 2020, the volume of this year’s first half has increased by 24%.”


Christina Birdsey, Chief Operating Officer, Port of Hueneme, introduces the port


Next, Michael Morrison, Operations Manager, gave students an engaging introduction to the Zero Emission Program, a clean air project, and its impact on the port. “Consistent with the Zero Emission initiatives, we are transitioning to a carbon-free world and the ports are as well.” Michael explained and shared that the Port of Hueneme has reached significant milestones. Since 2008, the port witnessed a cargo growth of 26% while at the same time experiencing a decrease of 85% in Diesel Particular Matter. As Port of Hueneme is shifting toward a green port, Michael also noted that lots of job opportunities will be provided for students from various backgrounds to help the transition.   You can learn more about the clean air monitoring program here.


Michael Morrison, Operations Manager, introduces the Port’s clean air program


Then the active portions of the tour began. First, the group was taken to the shore power system, which cuts emissions at berth to achieve both economic and environmental benefits. The students then moved on to the container area. Christina explained that U.S ports are now undergoing very serious congestion, especially on the west coast. Port of Hueneme is helping to ease the congestion by diverting small container ships (1000-1500 TEU). However, the problem of container detention is serious, and the port is ready to dismantle old warehouses to increase container yard area. The last spot was the ro-ro vessel.  Students viewed an NYK liner ro-ro vessel operating in the port and learned that the capacity of this vessel is more than 5,000 vehicles, and is used mainly for imports from western Europe and exports to South Korea.


Mike Wallace, General Manager Oxnard, explains the vehicle processing procedures


The tour continued to Wallenius Wilhelmsen Solutions vehicle processing center where students were greeted by General Manager, Mike Wallace.  He explained that all vehicles unloaded from the ro-ro vessel will be driven into the center by safety pilots, then the vehicle control system will be programmed, and each vehicle will be further processed according to customer needs. He shared an interesting fact about the cars’ next destinations.  “3 out of 4 vehicles on average are already sold upon arrival at the Port,” Mike noted, and “are sent directly to the customer, which means car dealers have to find a balance to adapt to this new sales mode in the future.” As Mike led the group through the processing line, he pointed out that the center was recycling most of the raw materials to fulfill the green environment. He then showed us a particularly interesting import - the latest version of the Swedish Polestar – Polestar 1, a high-tech, high-end hybrid sports car – waiting to be delivered to its new owner.


Students and hosts gather for group photo around a Polestar 1


The field trip as a whole garnered positive feedback from attendees. Master of Science, Civil Engineering student David Askins-Gast, found the very informative and broadened his mind to more research directions.  “I really learned more about this industry!” he remarked. We would like to extend our sincere gratitude to Christina Birdsey, Michael Morrison, and Mike Wallace for preparing an entertaining and educational experience for our student attendees.


USC ITE and METRANS were pleased to make this opportunity available for students.  “The focus in the transportation field lies in practice. Only through extensive experiencing can we know more about this industry,” noted Advisor Eric Shen.  “The on-going supply chain congestion offers many lessons-learned and ideas for innovations. We look forward to seeing students at these study tours in the future!"


About the Author:

Yindong Sun is a first-year student of the Master of Science in Civil Engineering Program with an emphasis on transportation engineering at USC Viterbi School of Engineering. He has a great passion for research focusing on Intelligent Transportation Systems and port management and is originally from Shanghai, China.