Editorial: Train impact study worthy of discussion by Bozeman officials – Bozeman Chronicle, Aug. 9, 2012

August 13, 2012

Categories: Coal, Editorial, Newspaper editorial


Bozeman city commissioners may have been a bit too hasty when they opted out of getting involved in a study to determine the effects of increased coal train traffic on cities between eastern Montana coal fields and the West Coast.

The issue failed to earn a place on a City Commission meeting agenda when the issue didn’t muster the support of the mayor or at least three of the five commissioners. As a result, the commission will not even vote on whether to participate in an Army Corps of Engineers environmental study aimed at gauging the effects of increase train traffic on places through which they will travel.

Montana and Wyoming coal fields contain an immense amount of coal. A great deal of that coal is slated to be shipped out of West Coast terminals to Asia. And as the amount of coal shipped increases, cities along the route, including Bozeman, will see an increase in train traffic.

Right now, some 15 trains pass through Bozeman daily, only two or three of which are carrying coal. How much that traffic will increase is unclear. Conflicting numbers have been bandied about.

The increased train traffic will bring more noise, diesel exhaust and possibly some coal dust to the city. Those are issues that need to be addressed and doing so could get expansive. But the biggest issue that could arise is the disruption of automobile traffic at several street crossings along the route.

These traffic disruptions could necessitate the construction of under- or overpasses. That could get really expensive. And who’s going to pay for it? City taxpayers most likely.

The railroad has a historic right-of-way along the route and may be under no obligation to mitigate the effects of the increased traffic. And there’s little likelihood they will be persuaded to unless confronted with evidence of significant impacts.

The effects of the coal trains could be minimal, and little action will be required on the part of the city. But we don’t know that. And we don’t want to find out the hard way – when it’s too late.

We’re not suggesting at this point that the commission should wholeheartedly endorse an environmental study from the Army Corps of Engineers. What we are saying, however, is that the issue is at least worthy of the commission’s public consideration.

220 South 27th Street, Suite A
Billings, Montana 59101
(406) 248-1154