Group says coal production may increase train traffic – Bozeman Daily Chronicle, April 3, 2012

April 3, 2012

Categories: Coal, Events, Member news, News, Northern Plains Resource Council

Chronicle Staff Writer

Today, an average of 15 trains pass through Bozeman every 24 hours.

In the future, another 40 trains may be added, said Beth Kaeding of the Northern Plains Resource Council, a conservation group based in Billings.

Increased sales of Wyoming and Montana coal from the Powder River Basin to Asian markets will result in more trains traveling from the basin to Northwest seaports, Kaeding said.

“So, what that means for Bozeman, and all the towns around the rail lines, is that coal train traffic is going to significantly increase,” she said.

Northern Plains has been holding conferences in cities across the state to discuss the issue.

However, Lynda Frost, spokeswoman for Montana Rail Link, which operates the railroad through Bozeman, said MRL isn’t expecting a significant increase in coal trains any time soon.

“Taking into consideration that there are a number of factors involved that could result in an increase in coal traffic, it could easily take as long as 10 years before a notable increase in coal traffic could be seen,” Frost wrote in an email to the Chronicle.

In Bozeman, rail lines run under Interstate 90 across North Rouse Avenue and past homes and businesses north of Front Street. The tracks pass the Village Downtown condominiums before heading out of town.

The railroad “is the northern boundary of our neighborhood,” said Chris Nixon, president of the Northeast Neighborhood Association, which represents about 1,300 homes and businesses.

Nixon said it seems like there has already been an increase in train traffic.

Kaeding said coal companies working in the Powder River Basin plan to ship 110 million tons of coal to Asia by 2015 if enough coal export facilities are built on the West Coast.

The Powder River Basin is one of the largest coal reserves in the world. And while coal use is declining in power plants in the United States, countries like China are using more and more of the fossil fuel, Kaeding said.

She said more trains rumbling through Bozeman would mean more pollution from diesel fumes and coal dust, increased traffic congestion, delays in emergency response and additional noise. Each coal train consists of 120 to 125 cars and stretches more than a mile long, Kaeding said.

Addressing some of Kaeding’s concerns, Frost said noise from more trains would be minimal because the trains travel at 60 mph. And Frost said coal dust has been reduced by 85 percent by using a modified loading chute and applying a surfactant to wet the surface of the coal.

Northern Plains will hold a public informational meeting on the issue at 7 p.m. April 26 in the large conference room at the Bozeman Public Library.

Panelists will include Kaeding; Clint McRae, a landowner near Colstrip who will talk about the impacts to the land and agriculture; Dr. Richard Damon, a retired doctor who will talk about health concerns; and Public Service Commissioner John Vincent, who will talk about alternative energy solutions.

Kaeding is also scheduled to present information to the Bozeman City Commission on April 16. And she will talk to members of the Northeast Neighborhood Association from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. April 18 at City Hall.

Amanda Ricker can be reached at or 582-2628.


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