Friday, August 1, 2014

Study Examines Potential Gateway Pacific Terminal Impacts

By Mark Edward Nero

There would be increases in train traffic, but also benefits to the region if the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal coal handling facility is built in the region, according to a new report by the Puget Sound Regional Council.

The study, which was released July 24, found that the cities of Everett, Auburn, Algona, Pacific and Fife would be affected by more trains servicing the proposed terminal, but also pointed out that as the regional economy grows, demand for more freight and passenger rail service would increase, even if the proposed terminal isn’t built.

“If our trade-dependent economy is going to generate more family wage jobs and if we’re going to keep the jobs we have now, our state and the railroads need to invest in critical rail improvements,” said Port of Seattle Commissioner Bill Bryant, who sits on the Puget Sound Regional Council executive board.

SSA Marine subsidiary Pacific International Terminals has proposed the terminal, which would be a dry bulk commodity export-import facility at Cherry Point, Washington, about 100 miles north of Seattle. The terminal is expected to primarily transfer coal to ships for export.

The proposed terminal would result in an expected additional 18 trains per day, each about 1.6 miles long, between the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming through Washington state.
The study found that most of the proposed terminal’s direct economic benefits would accrue to Whatcom County and that much of the direct costs to King, Pierce and Snohomish counties would be related to increased train traffic – traffic delays at rail crossings and infrastructure improvements. Other findings include:

  • Gateway Pacific Terminal traffic impacts due to increased times for passing trains would vary on the BNSF Railway mainline by an increase of 41 percent in Steilacoom to 147 percent in Marysville, with a regional average 65 percent increase.
  • The amount of additional time roads could be blocked by Gateway Pacific Terminal trains would range from 38 minutes to one hour and 26 minutes per day.
  • Thirty-four of 101 rail crossings within the region could potentially benefit from mitigation related to Gateway Pacific Terminal impacts.
  • Grade separation projects would likely cost between $50 million and $200 million each.
  • The study also identified 21 crossings in the region where additional waits for trains could impact the delivery of emergency response service due to close proximity to fire stations or emergency medical facilities.