Guest Opinion: Coal exports will cost money close to home – Stillwater County News, July 19, 2012

July 31, 2012

Categories: Coal, Member news

By Charles Sangmeister
President of the Stillwater Protective Association

At the recent Stillwater Protective Association sponsored Coal Export Train Forum in Columbus, there were presentations and discussions about the coal and rail companies announced plan for exporting huge amounts of Montana and Wyoming coal to Asia through ports in Washington and Oregon. Coal tonnage estimates suggest, “. . . 75 million tons per year by 2017 to 170 million tons per year by 2022.” Based on the companies’ own press releases and public statements, it was estimated that this exportation would result in about forty (40) additional full and empty coal trains a day rolling through Columbus, Park City, and Reed Point. (MT Rail Link employees at our forum thought only about 30 trains a day were likely for the foreseeable future.) We spoke about how this would likely cause significantly more traffic congestion, noise, diesel emissions, and coal dust. Though public safety was discussed at the Forum, it was pointed out that present level of rail traffic has not affected or impaired our safety. However, in the July 12 Stillwater County News it was reported that the police had to speak with a man who drove around the crossing gates, as well as having to deal with a twenty-nine (29) minute traffic delay due to a train blocking the Columbus crossings. Can this be just the beginning?

A recently released report “Heavy Traffic Ahead: Rail Impacts of Powder River Basin Coal to Asia” for the first time identifies costs, many of which will fall on taxpayers, for needed infrastructure due to increased rail traffic. It was co-authored by Terry Whiteside who, with over 30 years of experience in transportation, is a principal in Whiteside and Associates, a transportation and marketing consulting firm. The firm does work for utilities, lumber companies, agricultural manufacturers and government entities and, most importantly, the growers of grain. Joining him was Gerald Fauth, a recognized expert (also with 30 years experience) in transportation issues working on projects involving railroad mergers, transactions, acquisitions, abandonments, rate reasonableness issues, railroad accounting and cost issues, railroad practices, and other railroad related matters.

Their comprehensive report estimates the costs for upgrading rail lines, roads, and other infrastructure to support coal export facilities on the West Coast which could reach into the billions of dollars across the four-state Northwest region, including Montana. Specifically for all taxpayers in Stillwater County, and possibly the entire state, the report says, “State and local governments would likely bear the brunt and burden of the related infrastructure costs in their localities . . . .” The ensuing tax burden to Stillwater County taxpayers would likely be astronomical if they had to pay for all appropriate mitigations. It is imperative that all taxpaying residents be made aware of what can be expected and encouraged to express their opinions on this very real threat.

The full report can be read at A review of the Executive Summary (page 5) and the Conclusions & Recommendations (page 59) will provide the important points of the report. The report, itself, includes the source and documentation for their findings and you are encouraged to read this background material.

WORC, the Western Organization of Resource Councils, produced this informative report. WORC is a regional, seven state network of grassroots organizations (Northern Plains Resource Council represents Montana) with 10,000 members and 38 local chapters, including the Stillwater Protective Association.


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