Press release: Tongue River Railroad reveals new shortcut-to-China rail route – Dec. 18, 2012

December 18, 2012

Categories: Agriculture, Coal, Fossil Fuels, Landowner Rights, News, Northern Plains Resource Council

The Tongue River Railroad Company (TRR) has submitted a new route westward to take coal from the proposed Otter Creek Mine to West Coast coal ports and eventually to China and other Asian markets. A new filing submitted December 17 to the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) reveals plans that indicate that it intends to export most, if not all, new coal mined from Montana’s Powder River Basin overseas.

Now avoiding Miles City all together, the new route is a dramatic change from route proposed for the past 30 years.  The rail line would turn west a few miles north of Ashland and connect to the railroad spur that serves the Westmoreland mine at Colstrip in an obvious line headed west.

“This new route makes it obvious that the company is finally admitting that this whole boondoggle is to sell cheap coal to China,” said Walter Archer, Northern Plains Resource Council Chair and a Broadus-area rancher. It would not follow the Tongue River to Miles City as plans had proposed for the past 30 years.

The Tongue River Railroad Company is owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Arch Coal, which is developing the Otter Creek mine, and candy billionaire Forrest Mars, whose ranch near the Wyoming border was threatened by the planned railroad until he bought into the railroad.

Ranches, historical Native American sites, and possibly the future of the Westmoreland mine at Colstrip are jeopardized by this new plan.

In mid-October, TRR submitted its latest application for a railroad project that has undergone many changes since it was first proposed 30 years ago. The application on file with the STB claims the coal from the proposed Otter Creek mine will be transported to the Upper Midwest, a claim that contradicts statements by the Otter Creek mine’s promoters. In fact, American coal demand is falling and coal companies are looking to China and other Asian markets for their survival.

“There is something inherently wrong for a private, for-profit corporation using federal eminent domain to condemn our property so coal can be exported to China,” said rancher Clint McRae, whose family ranch would be crossed by the new route. “I seriously question that this is in the best interest of the public. This is an agricultural issue, a private property rights issue, and is one more example how Montana landowners are under attack by energy interests. All this to fuel China’s economy?”

The latest route change will run through nine miles of the McRae family’s ranch in Rosebud County. Clint McRae is Co-Chair of the Northern Plains Resource Council’s Tongue River Railroad Task Force. A Montana conservation and family agriculture group, Northern Plains has been fighting the proposed railroad for 30 years.

Del Dinstel retired from the Colstrip mine as a dragline operator. “As a former employee of Western Energy for 26 years,” he said, “I still have friends and neighbors who work there. I don’t think cheap coal coming from a newly opened mine traveling by rail within 200 feet of the Colstrip plant is going to be good for any of the Western Energy employees. I’d be afraid of seeing those jobs disappearing.”

Archer added, “The big picture of all this is that this new route is just a shortcut to China. China and other Asian economies will get the coal, the coal and railroad companies will walk away with the money, and Montanans will be left with heavy costs to pay. It will hurt our land and water, our communities across the state, and even our ability to move grain harvests to market.”

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