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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Mayor Mike McGinn Calls for an Economic Impact Study on Coal Trains

Posted by on Wed, Dec 12, 2012 at 11:46 AM

At a press conference this morning, Mayor Mike McGinn announced his intention to commission a study to analyze the economic impacts of coal trains that may start rumbling through Seattle's waterfront on a daily basis on their way to a proposed coal port terminal outside of Bellingham.

"Seventy percent of our visitors are families who come in cars," explains Kyle Griffith, the owner of Pier 57's Great Wheel. "We're very concerned that a wall of coal trains could cut off [public] access just when the ugly, noisy viaduct is coming down."

The city is currently requesting proposals (RFPs) for the $25,000 study, which will seek to address:
· Impacts on the Port of Seattle, both on operations and employment
· Impacts on businesses along the Duwamish industrial and waterfront districts
· What infrastructure and mitigation efforts are necessary to offset the coal trains

This continued full-court press against coal trains comes follows a previous city-commissioned that concluded coal trains would delay downtown traffic by one to three hours a day. It also comes the day before the state's last public meeting seeking comment on the Bellingham coal train proposal, which will take place tomorrow at Seattle's Convention Center.

(The US Army Corps of Engineers and Washington's Department of Ecology are currently in the midst of a three-month public comment period to determine which impacts should be studied before issuing or denying permits for the coal terminal. The comment period ends January 21, 2013.)

Turnout at the previous six public meetings has been unexpectedly robust and so anti-coal train that railway companies have been hiring people to stand in line and speak positively about the coal train proposal. Several legislators have called on the state to commission a state-wide study of economic impacts. Meanwhile, governor-elect Jay Inslee refuses to address the issue, which is especially troublesome, given its sensitive timeline.

"This is a project with multi-state implications," McGinn said. "The state needs to step up and take a leadership role on this issue."


Comments (14) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
Its kind of hard to fathom long freight trains rolling through what is planned to be a tourist district. This already happens in Edmonds, and the trains aren't slow -- 30 mph or more. Risk to life as well as an inconvenience.

The freight tracks running along the waterfront is a 100 yrs ago decision, really in many ways outdated given the mixed use / tourist use now of most of the urban waterfront.
Posted by certaindoom on December 12, 2012 at 11:51 AM · Report this
MacCrocodile 2
City council has plans to circumvent the environmental study by preemptively signing off on it.
Posted by MacCrocodile on December 12, 2012 at 11:57 AM · Report this
Kinison 3
Posted by Kinison on December 12, 2012 at 11:57 AM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 4
How about the impact on regional mobility in regards to the effects on both Amtrak and Sounder? What about the millions of dollars of taxpayer money spent to improve rail infrastructure, only to have it beat down by the exceptionally heavy coal trains?

IF we are going to do this, they should make BNSF bring the tracks over Stampede Pass up to passenger service levels, and make them run the coal train over Steven's Pass. That will at least keep it out of Seattle, and only impact passenger rail to points north of Everett.
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on December 12, 2012 at 12:18 PM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 5
Fat old lib gubers climb on board the exercycle and start backpedaling...
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe on December 12, 2012 at 12:25 PM · Report this
rob! 6
@4, I was interested in your comment because I didn't realize there was another E-W rail line in that part of the Cascades besides Stevens Pass. Sounds like a good idea, but a couple of factors might confound it. According to the Wikipedia article on Stampede Pass Tunnel:
As of 2007, BNSF and government agencies in Washington state are committed to enlarging Stampede Tunnel to accommodate larger intermodal freight cars. The current tunnel is not high enough for double stacked intermodal cars.
—so some conflict with containerized freight. Also, the Stampede Tunnel is arched (high in the middle), unlike the straight-line ("boresight") Stevens Pass Tunnel, and might have inadequate ventilation for passenger trains. Not insoluble problems, but worth considering, and I think the public should be well-informed of all possible information and options in order to press for the best outcome on the coal-train question.
Posted by rob! on December 12, 2012 at 1:16 PM · Report this
Um, let me guess. The study will be done by Parametrix for $50,000.
Posted by hmmmmm on December 12, 2012 at 1:44 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 8
We could easily turn the Deeply Buried Tunnel into a Coal Train Tunnel, and make the problem go away.
Posted by Will in Seattle on December 12, 2012 at 1:57 PM · Report this
McGinn, how about a study of the interstate commerce clause, you corrupt fuck?
Posted by Mister G on December 12, 2012 at 3:25 PM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 10
Rob! Dear, the Northern Pacific's North Coast Limited used that tunnel for decades, all through the steam era, and the Empire Builder used it through much of the 70's. It's fine for passenger service.

As for the container traffic, send that across Steven's also. If BNSF is so eager to get this coal money, make them work for it.

Or bring back the Old Milwaukee Road line, which is currently the John Wayne Trail. That was the most direct and lowest grade route into Seattle from the east (I think. I need to brush up on my Milwaukee Road history)
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on December 12, 2012 at 6:17 PM · Report this
rob! 11
@Catalina, I found here that the Stevens Pass tunnel was running 70% of capacity already in 2008, the allowed max being 28 trains per day.

But one interesting possibility mentioned in the same report (assuming they increase the vertical clearance in the Stampede tunnel) is "directional running," i.e. one-way westbound over Stevens Pass and one-way eastbound over Stampede, westbound over Stevens being fortuitously favored by gradient considerations.

Less auspicious is that directional running "is an operational consideration for the private entities and cannot be enforced by the state."
Posted by rob! on December 12, 2012 at 8:19 PM · Report this
rob! 12
Re: the John Wayne Trail/Iron Horse State Park, you'd have to fight the rails-to-trails aficionados.
Posted by rob! on December 12, 2012 at 8:21 PM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 13
Rob! Dear, From an operational standpoint, multiple coal trains would probably limit the Steven's Pass tunnel even further, because of the increased ventilation needed due to the coal dust. That's why they want to run it along the Columbia and up the coast.

If the BNSF cannot meet their business obligations with their infrastructure, that is the BNSF's problem. They are contractually obligated to accommodate both Amtrak and Sounder, and as a taxpayer, that is my first concern. Coal for China (and the BNSF's profits) should not take precedence over our regional transportation, tourism and commerce needs
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on December 13, 2012 at 6:54 AM · Report this
rob! 14
I should clarify that I agree with your stance completely—and Amtrak suffers far too many delays already from prioritized freight—but if they were allowed to proceed with coal exporting, it would be nice to force shipments north as you initially suggested.

Another flaw with directional running is that the empty trains would presumably all go south through Seattle to reach Stampede Pass on the return trip, so you'd get the same car/truck traffic interference, and probably a lot of the dust as well.
Posted by rob! on December 13, 2012 at 8:05 AM · Report this

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