SEATTLE — If the Northwest’s largest proposed coal export gets built near Bellingham, Wash., it would draw train traffic from across the region, carrying coal from Wyoming and Montana to be exported to Asia.
And that would lead to more traffic, according to a new report from the Seattle Department of Transportation.
The report says that if the Gateway Pacific Terminal goes in near Bellingham, Seattleites could spend up to 50 percent more time waiting for trains to go by at various railroad crossings in the city.
The report commissioned by the city estimated that gates would be down at railroad crossings an additional 31 to 83 minutes each day in 2015, and an additional 67 to 183 minutes in 2026. The study says the proposed coal trains would impact emergency vehicle trips to and from the waterfront.
That would “create significant traffic impacts with regard to traffic going between the waterfront and the maritime and industrial businesses on the other side of the tracks,” said Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn.
The report also said that coal train traffic would make it harder for the three major fire stations in downtown Seattle to get to the waterfront, causing delayed emergency response times.
The report authors did not contact Burlington Northern Santa Fe – the company that would be moving the coal – for input in this report.
Nor did they assess the cost to improve safety or build overpasses necessary to ease the traffic congestion.
Another report from proponents of the Gateway Pacific Terminal say it would generate close to $1.7 million in property revenue and $44 million in Washington state sales and use-tax revenues.
At full capacity though, the proposed terminal would mean nine more trains a day, coming and going, across Washington and Oregon. That, says McGinn, poses problems for more than just Seattle.
“I’m going share this review with other cities and other mayors who have train tracks running through their cities,” McGinn said, “because there are communities from one end of Washington to the other which are going to have to face these questions about these effects.”
A statewide rail study from 2006 shows sections of that route are already at or over capacity and referred to Spokane as a “choke point.”
There are now 5 ports in the Northwest considering coal export facilities.
Coal trains would move from Wyoming and Montana through Spokane and then West along the Columbia River gorge toward the coast. Traveling through towns in northern Idaho and Oregon as well.
That could mean coal trains moving through other rail chokepoints in the region – including Portland, and the Washington cities of Longview, Kalama and Vancouver.
(EarthFix/OPB reporter Bonnie Stewart and the Associated Press contributed to this report.)
(Hover over markers to hear reports on coal in communities of the Northwest. Then click “website” for more EarthFix coverage. Click here for larger map view. Note: Train routes are approximations. They illustrate potential corridors based on existing lines and publicly available information.)