Our Sponsors:

Read more »

Our Members

Many thanks to Lawrence Hard and Andrew Wappler some of our many supporters.

ALL MEMBERS »

Coal train impacts feared along the Sound

Like many other cities, Seattle, Edmonds and Marysville are alarmed at the prospect of massive coal trains and their effects on communities. Compounding it all, tracks are already reaching capacity or nearing it.
A BNSF freight passes alongside Bellingham's popular Taylor Dock walkway.

A BNSF freight passes alongside Bellingham's popular Taylor Dock walkway. Floyd McKay

Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring with business owner Darlene Scott in a renewal area downtown.

Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring with business owner Darlene Scott in a renewal area downtown. Floyd McKay

Cars, ferries and trains come together at spots along the Puget Sound shoreline.

Cars, ferries and trains come together at spots along the Puget Sound shoreline. Floyd McKay

Mayors and city officials are scrambling to find ways to deal with an onslaught of new freight-rail traffic in Washington, with new projects seemingly coming online daily. Some of their frustrations are finding voice in public meetings to determine the scope of environmental review of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point north of Bellingham.

That project would add 18 unit trains a day to traffic in the region, which is already at or near capacity in some sections, particularly the area from Everett to the Canadian border. At least 15 trains a day are in that section now, capacity for some choke points; Gateway Pacific Terminal would more than double that traffic when it reaches full operation later in the decade.

Regional rail traffic is facing severe stress as regional refineries look to the huge Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to feed their plants. Alaskan crude, the major source for the refineries, is past its peak and the Bakken fields are yet to be fully developed. Alaskan crude is carried in large ocean tankers; Bakken oil arrives via unit trains on the BNSF railway's tracks.

Tesoro's refinery at Anacortes has opened an addition that will add two trains a day — one full, the other returning — to haul Bakken oil. The BP refinery at Cherry Point has announced it will begin accepting Bakken oil as soon as 2014, adding about two trains a day (full and returning) when the facility reaches capacity. (A caution to those following stories of unit trainsÑalways check the figures to see if they include empty return trains as well as full trains; the difference is 100 percent.

In addition to oil, a proposed water-bottling plant at Anacortes would add another four trains a day — full and empty — to the system. The Tethys Enterprise proposal to build a plant still faces serious opposition in Anacortes, and a similar proposal was rejected in Everett, but it has a contract with the city of Anacortes for 5 million gallons of Skagit River water.

Tacoma's U.S. Oil and Refining Co. plant has begun accepting Bakken crude, and will add two unit trains a week to the load. The Tacoma News-Tribune reports that the Port of Tacoma is also looking at several proposals to build a bulk liquids handling facility on its former Kaiser Aluminum smelter site.

In British Columbia, the Port of South Surrey is moving ahead to add a coal export facility to barge some 4 million tons of Wyoming coal a year to Texada Island to be loaded on coal ships; the plan would add about two trains a day to the present four coal trains moving through Washington state to British Columbia. Vancouver's Neptune Terminal is looking to add 6 million tons of coal a year to its current 12-million ton capacity, but the shipments will be within Canada.

Do the math: To the existing rail traffic of at least 15 trains a day, Bakken oil will potentially add another six-plus trains a day; the Anacortes bottling plant potentially adds another four, and Gateway Pacific another 18 trains daily.

The total increase — if all the proposals come to fruition — would add more than 40 trains a day to a system that in some places is not designed, according to state rail studies, for more than 15 trains a day. And nearly all of the new trains would be the giant unit trains of up to 150 cars, a mile-and-a-half in length.

Northwest Washington wouldn't be impacted by a proposed coalport in Longview, but the estimated 16 trains a day it would generate will contribute to clogging the rail lines from Wyoming to Longview.

There is little public process involved in some of these proposals; British Columbia environmental reviews are lax but anti-coal forces are protesting, and the oil-train proposals in Anacortes, Cherry Pont and Tacoma face minimal or no public review.


Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!

Comments:

Posted Mon, Dec 10, 9:20 a.m. Inappropriate

Yes, heaven forbid that we have to pause in our (mostly single occupancy) vehicles to let some additional unit trains pass by hauling oil, coal, wheat, lumber, cars, etc. Let's continue to ignore in this debate that trains are roughly 4x as efficient as trucks in hauling the freight that makes this region economically competitive. Why isn't the environmental community arguing as vehemently for an EIS every time a trucking company expands its shipping facilities or expands its fleet of trucks? Rail should be the comparative darling given its significantly more efficient/"green" attributes.

Posted Mon, Dec 10, 9:54 a.m. Inappropriate

Amazing that all articles in Papers along the route only talk about impacts on their community. Everyone is focused on the trains, traffic and jobs.... But the 700 new coal plants in China, and the 170% increase in coal powered plants in China over the last decade, is never mentioned. Somehow everyone can keep a clear conscious because they aren't mining the coal, nor are they burning it. Fits in nicely with our denial on climate change. Why are we following Cananda that was just rated the worse carbon producing country in the world? Why does any regional attempt at conservation fail? Because all anyone cares about is their backyard... The Evergreen State? Really... More like the Evergreed State. Greed in that we continue to live beyond the lands means.

Blake

Posted Mon, Dec 10, 11:03 a.m. Inappropriate

How about this, the at grade crossing space is of a higher benefit to the public good, than a rail line, at the Edmonds crossing and several other state highways. The people of the State of Washington legally take that at grade crossing property by eminent domain. We then offer the railroad to generously help with 5% of the cost if they would like to build a rail bridge over our roadway.

I only offer this to show how absurd or archaic the crossing and safety funding system is. When was this formula devised, 1890, before the interstate highway system was built?

Every time a train goes over a busy state road, it needs to pay a per use impact fee. That is a better funding system.

Posted Mon, Dec 10, 12:22 p.m. Inappropriate

Of course there'll be an impact. The trouble is 67% of the state's population live in the Puget Sound area and as a general rule we're very selfish. If it ain't good for Seattle, go away. This applies to up and down the sound. Coal just happens to be the latest poster child for icky.

I'm surprised that there isn't a move afoot to turn the all rails to bike trails movement. That would solve the coal port problem with a local solution.

Djinn

Posted Sat, Dec 15, 12:25 a.m. Inappropriate

By Jove, you've got it, Djinn.

I'm sure that Cascade Bike Club will be in touch, as will all the computer/hi-tech companies that only hire the very young who can actually still ride a bike.

Posted Mon, Dec 10, 4:13 p.m. Inappropriate

"let some additional unit trains pass by hauling oil, coal, wheat, lumber, cars, etc."

Except that the only things that anyone is actually talking about hauling are Coal and Oil. The oil is for refineries in the region, but the coal is all for export,

The coal profiteers approach is quite traditional: privatize the profits and socialize the cost. They get the profit. We get the cost. In transportation impacts, health impacts (pollution from burning this coal in Asia is carried here); and the Brontosaurus (Gorillas and Elephants are way too small) in the living room - global overheating. Hey. its the American way. Its traditional. But we don't have to let them do this to us.

I like the idea of taking the crossings via eminent domain.

Steve E.

Posted Mon, Dec 10, 4:24 p.m. Inappropriate

To expand on the idea of condemning the crossings for the purpose of making the RR's and their Coal Buddies pay for crossings that infringe on everyone else's rights and ability to travel freely:

Short of requiring the construction of adequate elevated crossings, another option is to simply impose schedules when the trains can use any particular crossing. For example, to assure that 1 out of 3 crossings in an area is always available for use by emergency vehicles. Or that 10,000 commuters can get home in a timely fashion. You get the idea. This is no different than metering vehicles entering an interstate highway or imposing congestion pricing. Its simply a traffic management strategy. Perfectly constitutional.

Steve E.

Posted Tue, Dec 11, 5:20 a.m. Inappropriate

Barge it out of Longview and be done with it.

ivan

Posted Sat, Dec 15, 12:29 a.m. Inappropriate

Chehalis does have the coal plant just off I-5. I knew it in the back of my head, but Thursday I saw that long tunnel cloud, and realized it was a white cloud, shaped much like a funnel, that came down to the ground. That's it, nothing dramatic.

The coal comes from Wyoming.

You don't like it? Then go out, invent something clean, and that is an improvement.

Complaining won't work. Cure the problem.

Posted Wed, Dec 12, 3:15 a.m. Inappropriate

If these coal trains, and coal ports are allowed, don't come talking to me about the need to reduce carbon emmissions.

jhande

Posted Sat, Dec 15, 12:22 a.m. Inappropriate

Why? If another country ships their coal to asian markets, we're still going to need the same carbon emmission trades.

At least this way, if we're the shippers, we keep the profits at home. And control more than just the steering of the train.

Posted Sat, Dec 15, 12:22 a.m. Inappropriate

Why? If another country ships their coal to asian markets, we're still going to need the same carbon emmission trades.

At least this way, if we're the shippers, we keep the profits at home. And control more than just the steering of the train.

Posted Fri, Dec 14, 6:20 p.m. Inappropriate

Ah, Sightline. These are the same people who hurl the "NIMBY" epithet at anyone who opposes any development that Sightline's favorite billionaries support. Not that they're pseudo-"progressive" hypocrites or anything like that.

NotFan

Posted Sat, Dec 15, 12:20 a.m. Inappropriate

RR transportation. Federally funded, seems like we're goign to allow the coal trains.

Seems also like it makes sense. When we know where it goes, we control the safety of how it arrives.

For us as well as 'them uns'. It's not like we don't already use a massive amount of coal here at home either. We do.

Login or register to add your voice to the conversation.

Join Crosscut now!
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Follow Us »