Since the late 1980s, the Sanitation Districts, in conjunction with other public agencies, have been studying means to address the projected shortfall in local solid waste disposal capacity. Currently, nearly all refuse in Los Angeles County is transported to disposal sites in the metropolitan area by truck. However, as public opposition to siting new or expanding existing disposal facilities near urban areas has grown, sites farther from the Los Angeles Basin have become more desirable, despite the costs associated with longer transport distances. For some sites, such as the Mesquite Regional Landfill in Imperial County, rail transport is an efficient means to transport refuse to remote disposal sites. Transitioning to remote disposal of refuse that involves rail transport requires that new infrastructure be developed. This concept of rail transport of refuse, which includes an integrated system of local and remote infrastructure, is called “Waste-by-Rail.”
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The Sanitation Districts have taken the lead role in implementing the Waste-by-Rail system, a remote disposal program for Los Angeles County. The Waste-by-Rail system will provide long-term disposal capacity to replace local landfills as they reach capacity and close. The starting point of the Waste-by-Rail system will be materials recovery facilities (MRFs) or transfer stations located throughout Los Angeles County. Residual waste from the MRFs or transfer stations will be transported via rail to remote landfills for disposal.

In-County MRFs and Transfer Stations  

MRFs and transfer stations are owned and/or operated by both the public and private sectors. Refuse collection trucks would deliver their loads to MRFs/transfer stations where the waste would be processed for the recovery of recyclable materials and inspected for the presence of hazardous waste or other unacceptable materials. The residual waste would be loaded into rail-ready shipping, or “intermodal”, containers.

 Local Rail Yard (Or “Local Intermodal Facility”) 

The rail-ready shipping containers would be delivered to a local rail yard, known as an intermodal facility, by truck where the containers would be loaded onto rail cars.  Empty containers would be removed from the rail cars and loaded onto trucks to be transported back to the MRFs/transfer stations.

 Artist rendering of the Puente Hills Intermodal Facility. Click to enlarge image.

Rail Transport


A train will transport the containerized waste on rail cars to a remote landfill and empty containers back on railcars using existing rail lines.

Remote Rail Yard (Or “Remote Intermodal Facility”)

The remote rail yard would allow unloading of full containers from the train to trucks for transport to the landfill. In addition, empty containers would be placed onto the train for transport to the local rail yard.  The Mesquite Regional Landfill is connected by a rail spur to the railroad mainline.

Waste-By-Rail Landfills

In August 2000, the Sanitation Districts entered into a purchase agreement for the Mesquite Regional Landfill in Imperial County, located approximately 200 miles east of Los Angeles along the Union Pacific Railroad. Construction of the Mesquite Regional Landfill and its remote rail yard was completed in 2011.  This 4,250-acre site is permitted for 20,000 tons per day, with a total capacity of 600 million tons.  The project life of the facility is about 100 years.



The local components of the Waste-by-Rail system will be comprised of MRFs/transfer stations and intermodal rail yards. The Sanitation Districts own and operate the South Gate Transfer Station, Puente Hills MRF, and the Downey Area Recycling and Transfer Facility (DART). These MRFs/transfer stations provide waste diversion and publicly-owned transfer capacity for Los Angeles County. Additionally, these facilities help Los Angeles County meet the 50 percent diversion rate required under California Law while providing for cost-effective transfer of solid waste to landfills using transfer trucks and, eventually, rail. The Sanitation Districts are currently developing the Puente Hills Intermodal Facility that would serve as the dedicated intermodal yard located in close proximity to the Puente Hills MRF.

Downey Area Recycling and Transfer Facility

The Downey Area Recycling and Transfer Facility (DART) is currently in operation accepting approximately 500 tons per day of refuse and curbside recyclables. The facility is permitted to accept up to 5,000 tons per day of municipal solid waste. The processing line at this facility is designed to recover materials from curbside recyclables including paper, cardboard, plastics, aluminum and tin cans.

Puente Hills Materials Recovery Facility

The Puente Hills MRF is permitted to accept up to 4,400 tons per day. The facility began operations in July 2005 and will ramp up, as needed, when the Waste-by-Rail system begins operation.

Materials are presorted on the tipping floor. The remaining materials then go to a processing line. The processing line is designed to recover materials such as cardboard, paper, plastics, and metals. The initial 500 tons per day processing line will focus on fiber recovery such as cardboard and paper. If the recycling market and economies warrant it, additional processing lines can be added in the future.

Puente Hills Intermodal Facility

The Sanitation Districts began construction of the Puente Hills Intermodal Facility in 2009. The Puente Hills Intermodal Facility is in close proximity to the Puente Hills MRF. A dedicated access road from the MRF to the intermodal yard will facilitate loading compacted containers, which are heavier than those permitted on public streets.  Using the access road will also reduce traffic impacts to local streets by allowing intermodal-related truck traffic to avoid public streets. The intermodal facility is designed to handle up to two trains per day, or approximately 8,000 tons per day of refuse. The intermodal facility would have capacity to receive rail ready shipping containers from other materials recovery facilities in addition to shipping containers of residual waste from the Puente Hills MRF. Construction of the Puente Hills Intermodal Facility is scheduled to be complete in 2014.

Mesquite Regional Landfill

The Mesquite Regional Landfill is located on 4,250 acres of land in Imperial County. The Mesquite Regional Landfill is fully permitted to accept residual solid waste transported from Southern California communities by rail. The approved landfill footprint of 2,290 acres will provide capacity for approximately 600 million tons of solid waste and 100 years of operation at a maximum of 20,000 tons per day.

The Sanitation Districts purchased this facility in December 2002 and have constructed all essential facilities necessary to operate the landfill. The rail spur and railyard at the Mesquite Regional Landfill was completed in October 2011.