Coal plans raise rail questions
By Erik Siemers
Coal export facilities will mean increased train traffic in Oregon and Washington, raising questions about who will pay for additional capacity.
Two years ago, the Oregon International Port of Coos Bay completed the $16.6 million purchase of the dormant Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad, bringing new life to rail freight along Oregon’s southern coast.
Yet to make the 133-mile rail line — now called the Coos Bay Rail Link — capable of handling large shipments of bulk commodities, it needs an estimated $180 million worth of upgrades the port can’t afford.
That has led to an unlikely savior: a proposed $250 million coal export terminal.
“It’s a massive upgrade that a tiny little port district on the Oregon Coast could never get its hands on otherwise,” said Elise Hamner, the port’s communications manager. “They offer the opportunity to get private investment funds without going to taxpayers.”
The Coos Bay project is one of four coal export projects proposed in Oregon and southwest Washington, including three that plan to ship coal along the Columbia River corridor.
All but one of the proposals are expected to rely on mile-long unit trains passing through the Portland region filled with coal bound for Asia from the coal-rich Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana.
Though the exact routes and volume of the train traffic aren’t set in stone, it’s almost certain to bring substantial increases in rail traffic. That’s led communities and businesses along the projected rail routes to air a host of concerns over everything from coal dust to the disruptions caused by traffic delays.
If you are commenting using a Facebook account, your profile information may be displayed with your comment depending on your privacy settings. By leaving the 'Post to Facebook' box selected, your comment will be published to your Facebook profile in addition to the space below.