Railroad spokesman discusses coal trains with Mount Vernon council


A BNSF Railway Co. spokesman told the Mount Vernon City Council recently that his company probably would not pay more than 5 percent of the cost of railway overpasses to avoid traffic problems that could result from increased traffic in coal and other freight through the city.

Terry Finn, BNSF’s executive director of government affairs, also told the council that there have been many “exaggerations and misstatements and outright falsehoods” about a proposed bulk commodities shipping port in Whatcom County and associated rail traffic.

Finn addressed what has become a public outcry in some circles against the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal that SSA Marine of Seattle has proposed building at Cherry Point. The shipping pier would handle coal and other products bound for Asia.

Public criticism of the project has included complaints about the potential increase of coal dust, more train engine emissions, and the increased traffic that more trains would bring.

Finn told the council June 6 that loads of coal are sprayed with a plastic-like coating to lower the amount of dust released. He said the dust is bad for the train tracks.

Trains are also more fuel-efficient than in the past, he said, and are more efficient still than shipping the same load by truck on a highway.

He also said insisting on an environmental impact process to include cumulative effects of coal trains — including traffic impacts in individual communities along the rail line, noise and the impact of the burning of coal in another destination — could set a “dangerous precedent” for other commodities, such as parts for Boeing airplanes.

In determining an impact for rail shipment of jet planes, he said, “A London to Bombay run would have to be included in the final analysis for rail service to a Boeing plant.”

Councilman Mark Hulst said he had heard concerns from city residents about getting emergency vehicles across tracks when additional trains might restrict flow.

Finn told the council that the railroad could in some cases contribute up to 5 percent of the cost of an overpass.

Councilman Gary Molenaar asked who would pay for the remainder.

“Five percent is typically the limit,” Finn said. “Usually it’s a matter of federal, state and local governments to cough up the dough.”

Railroads are a fixed system and are incredibly difficult to move, he said.

“In most cases the railroad was there before the communities,” Finn said. “That non-rail volume has really contributed to a lot of the conflicts.”

Kate Martin can be reached at 360-416-2145 or kmartin@skagitpublishing.com.

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