Coal Export Study Warns of Train Congestion

Jul 12, 2012

A new study has found that increased coal train traffic could adversely affect Pacific Northwest communities. Reporting for EarthFix, Courtney Flatt has more.

Proposals to export coal from Washington, Oregon and British Columbia could move about 170 million tons of coal a year through the Pacific Northwest. That’s according to a study released by a conservation group. It’s called the Western Organization of Resource Councils.

More coal means more train traffic. Terry Whiteside helped write the report.

Whiteside: “This, make no mistake about it, is a huge, huge increase volume, like we’ve never seen before in this part of the world.”

The report says traffic increases could cause grain and shipping containers to be delayed or rerouted to California.

The study focused on Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad as the main company transporting coal. Sueann Lundsberg works with the railroad. She disagrees with the study.

Lundsberg says other railroads will also transport coal, so Burlington Northern’s lines will not be that congested through Pacific Northwest cities. Lundsberg says the company also will upgrade lines as needed.

Lundsberg: “Freight traffic will increase with or without coal export, and you’ve seen in the past that railroads have been able to accommodate that growth by the record capital investments we’ve made and will continue to make those.”

But people living next to the railroad would prefer fewer trains on the rail lines. Sonny Meehan lives in Whatcom County, Wash., near the Canadian border. His home is about 200 yards from the railroad.

Meehan: “The noise pollution is going to render my home, I think, unlivable. And then in that regard, I won’t be able to sell my home. I won’t be able to live in my home.”

Meehan also worries about health effects from increased coal train traffic, among other problems.

The Western Organization of Resource Councils study says major rail lines through the Columbia River Gorge and Stephens Pass in Washington are already near capacity. Burlington Northern says that’s not true.

Study author Terry Whiteside says municipalities may have to pay for bypasses around cities, like Spokane and Edmonds, Washington. Edmonds city officials are proposing an underpass to help alleviate train congestion.

Copyright 2012 Northwest Public Radio