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Puget Sound council study cites economic impact of proposed BNSF-served coal terminal

The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) late last week released a new study on the economic effects of a proposed coal terminal in Cherry Point, Wash., that would be served by BNSF Railway Co.

Pacific International Terminals plans to build the Gateway Pacific Terminal, an export-import coal facility that would be located about 100 miles north of Seattle. The proposed terminal would result in an additional 18 trains per day, each 1.6-miles long, running between the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming through Washington state, the council estimates. The terminal primarily would transfer coal to ships for export.

Much of the potential costs to King, Pierce and Snohomish counties would be related to increased train traffic, such as motorist delays at grade crossings and infrastructure improvements, the study found. Among other findings: 34 of 101 crossings in the region could potentially benefit from mitigation measures; grade separations could be a desirable solution, but such projects likely cost between $50 million and $200 million and predominantly are funded by public dollars; and demands for increased freight- and passenger-rail service likely will increase regardless of whether the terminal is approved and built.

The study also determined that the proposed terminal could impact rail capacity within the region, depending on whether BNSF responds to increasing demand by boosting capacity, council members said in a press release.

"We recognize the importance of our railways in keeping our seaports competitive. That's why we need to stay on top of changes that could impact our economy and communities up and down the Sound," said Pat McCarthy, the PSRC's president and a Pierce County executive.

The state and railroads need to invest in critical rail improvements to generate more jobs in the trade-dependent economy, said Port of Seattle Commissioner Bill Bryant, who represents Washington’s ports on the PSRC's executive board. Ports are strong advocates for expanding rail capacity and service to the Pacific Northwest, which is "essential to our global competitiveness," he said in a statement.

"We also need to pay attention to the safety, environmental and traffic impacts on our communities," said Bryant.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 7/29/2014