Burlington Northern Santa Fe is proposing a water-level route along the Columbia River and up the coast to Cherry Point Gateway Pacfic Terminal. This is not the most direct route for coal trains. The most direct route for BNSF from the Powder River coal mines is to the Canadian border at Sweetgrass, Mont. From there, trains would run on Canadian Pacific track from Coutts, Alberta, to the Calgary area where they would enter Canadian National rails to get to Prince Rupert's port. Canadian Pacific has already accepted one train per week across their portion of this trip.
This alternate routing is approximately 800 miles shorter, a significant difference of 30 percent for loaded coal trains. Not only is the route shorter, but there is less route congestion. The BNSF-CN routing must traverse moderate mainline grades, but the larger issue is the reduced impact of moving coal trains through congested rail areas in Seattle, Burlington and Bellingham.
Perhaps the best and highest use of limited northwest rail capacity is to have oil trains bring crude from North Dakota to our local refineries. This would creating more highly paid union refinery jobs in Whatcom and Skagit counties and eliminate the taxpayer bill for additional expensive highway overpasses!