Black in blue
The Fishbone/Flickr

News from the world of heavy rail:

  •  Amtrak Cascades and WSDOT debuted a revamped Bistro and Lounge car. The “Mt. Rainier” trainset is in the rotation currently featuring the new swag.
  • Sound Transit’s Sounder D Street to M Street is moving along. D Street is open and C Street is now closed. Both of these crossings will be “wayside” horn crossings, meaning no loud train horns.
  • Sound Transit’s M Street to Lakewood is mostly completed, with only punch-list items remaining. Testing is tentatively scheduled to begin in July.
  • BNSF’s Auburn yard is getting additional capacity for coal and grain trains. These extra tracks will reduce/eliminate delays to Amtrak Cascades trains. This is a BNSF funded project, NOT part of ARRA funding…
  • BNSF’s Delta yard in Everett to get 2 additional tracks as part of ARRA funding. Construction starts in shortly, providing additional relief for Amtrak Cascades trains.
  • Canadian Pacific Railway is on strike, causing a delays to trains in North America. The ripple effect grows with each passing day. This does not affect commuter rail services or U.S. operations of Canadian Pacific Railway.
  • The Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad will be at the LeMay Auto Museum grand opening, June 2-3, providing train rides behind a 1922 Baldwin steam locomotive and a classic diesel locomotive. No advanced reservations are required. Fare is $10.
  • Oregon’s new trainsets are due to arrive in July. Certification and testing will start shortly after arrival in non-revenue service with start of service later in the Fall.
  • Could new coal trains prevent new Amtrak Cascade service? Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber believes so.
  • Seattle City Council also opposes coal-export ports and the coal trains that would come with it.
  • Could Coal Train traffic really be bad news for Public Health?
  • Rail advocates continue to push for Blaine Amtrak Cascades stop. White Rock and Surrey councils are behind the project as well.

54 Replies to “Rail Roundup – All that coal”

  1. While I understand the charms of an Amtrak station in Blaine, can anybody explain how it could possibly take the claimed “at least two hours” to travel from south Surrey to the station in Vancouver? It’s true that parts of Surrey are just across the border from Blaine. It’s also true that it can take two hours to get across that border in an automobile, and that downtown Blaine is but 27 miles from the Bellingham Amtrak station. Seems like those trying to promote this station have their work cut out for them.

    1. It’s only 27 miles to Bellingham. Correct.
      That’s like asking all Seattle residents to drive to Tacoma for their trip to Portland, ‘It’s only 27 miles’.
      Not the same you say? No, actually the suburbs of Vancouver proper (those nearer to Blaine) have a larger population than the entire city of Seattle.
      BC has great public transportation, even ‘almost’ to the Blaine Stn, which is walking distance to Customs.
      They want to take public transit to the border, walk through Customs and walk to the station.
      Very civilized, I would say.
      Right now, they have to slug their way to bus to a rail station or drive to the heart of downtown to catch Amtrak back – a huge waste of time.
      Out of direction travel kills ridership – period!

      1. Actually it’s 23 miles (25 minutes) Blaine to Bellingham and 33 miles (39 min.) Seattle to Tacoma according to Mapquest. Bellingham to Surrey is 32 miles. Surrey to Vancouver is 23 miles. Surrey’s a major city with a population between that of Tacoma and Seattle. Sounds like a great spot for a stop… that they can pay for if they really want one.

      2. This is more an issue about clearing Customs, and not about splitting hairs about mileage.

      3. I don’t get the clearing customs issue. If the train is going to Vancouver then it’s going to have to clear customs anyway. If it’s not going to Vancouver it’s ludicrous for Amtrak and/or WSDOT to fund a station and extend operations 20+ miles just to pick up a few Canucks that could just as easily stay on I-5 to Bellingham’s fine multi-modal transit center.

      4. No, BC does NOT have great transportation to White Rock, and definitely not Blaine. As one who goes to WR often( I’ll be there tonight by 8pm), I’ve tried all the various ways to get in and out of WR by public transpo, not fun.

        The walk is around a forty minutes or more to get to Blaine from White Rock and vice versa.

      5. Because you clear customs in Vancouver at the station, and adding a stop in Surrey or White Rock (which otherwise would be a much better idea) would require either a stop at the border to clear everyone on the train–both directions–or additional customs officials, both US and Canadian, at the new station in order to clear arrivals and pre-clear departing passengers at BOTH locations.

        Since the Canadian federal government did not even want to add officers during the Olympics–despite BC and WA’s requests–and only eventually did so grudgingly, it’s unlikely that they would add enough extra staff hours to man a Lower Mainland station. If the residents of the area could pull that off, it would be a better idea, but the fact that both Surrey and WR are calling for a Blaine station seems to indicate that they have no hope of that happening.

        (maybe it wouldn’t be such a big problem if that last section from the border to Vancouver didn’t take so ridiculously long–the Amtrak train staff seemed more than a bit flip on my last trip up there when we were delayed 20+ minutes in New Westminster, telling us that “our Canadian friends” chose not to tell them why they were being delayed when the train was on time and allegedly had a space allotted for them. Not being a railroad professional, I have no idea if that were so but it sounded like an ongoing issue)

      6. So if BC doesn’t want to pay for additional customs agents just assign them to White Rock. Or come up with an agreement that all customs checks for both countries are done in Bellingham. Canada wanting us to foot the bill is nothing new. Besides, when the train is inevitably late where would you rather kill a few hours, Fairhaven or Blaine? And assuming the surcharge for Blaine vs B’ham would be the same as B’ham vs Mount Vernon the ticket will be $6 more. How many Canuks are going to spend $6 per person rather than just drive the extra 25 minutes? And if this giant market from Blaine really exists why doesn’t Greyhound provide service?

      7. Take the train to Blaine, call your favorite Surrey taxi company, walk across the border.

        Pick up cab, and you’d be in White Rock in what, five minutes after you cross?

        Translink might even start extending a bus route or two to Beach Road and BC99.

      8. Alternatively, good secure bicycle parking at the Blaine Station could encourage using that mode for the “last mile”.

  2. Isn’t that a coke train in the photo?

    Canadian Pacific resumed operations this morning.

    1. Paul, no I don’t think so. These GATX hopper trains often only have about 90 cars vs. 120 for the regular unit coal, and no units on the back end either.

  3. I don’t quite understand the fuss about the health effects of coal dust. From the articles and postings I’ve seen related to the coal terminal proposals out here, you’d think it was a new issue. But there have to be a bunch of communities in Wyoming, Nebraska, etc. that have experienced at least 18-20 coal trains rolling through town for at least a decade. How about Grand Island or Lincoln in Nebraska for instance? What health effects have they seen, if any?

    If people are that concerned about air quality, they should be fighting to shutdown I-5. I’m sure it is a bigger health threat (diesel particulates, tire dust, etc.) than the coal trains.

    1. Also, the worries about GHG pollution from China doesn’t make sense. If the Chinese don’t import coal from the US, they’ll import it from Australia or Canada. They can’t switch to alternative sources of energy at this point.

      1. Having less coal on the market raises prices, which shifts industries to other forms of fuel (including efficiency: burining less fuel). China actually has a rapidly growing sustainabile energy market, and has added more solar and wind than we can dream of in the past few years. Giving them cheap coal will not help them build more.

      2. If this coal doesn’t go through WA, it will probably go through Mexico. I read that BNSF was already looking at the infrastructure to do this. Stopping these coal terminals won’t remove Wyoming coal from the international market.

      3. But it will make transport more expensive. And who knows, maybe Texas won’t want those trains either.

      4. Having less coal on the market raises prices

        The problem with this line of thinking is that there is a huge domestic market. Opening up exports might drive up the price of coal domestically which is already under pressure from the recent abundance of natural gas. It’s a bit disingenuous to point a finger at China when half of the electricity consumed in the United States comes from burning coal.

        One thing I’d like to see happen is an international agreement to clean up some of the worst toxins right at the source and ship processed coal that burns cleaner. This would create jobs here in the US. The volume of what is shipped would be reduced saving money and further mitigating some of the environmental damage. The higher value added product would help our trade imbalance and likely have to be shipped in covered gondola cars or perhaps even containerized (something to do with all the empty containers we ship back to Asia).

    2. Check out Sightline for a very detailed set of posts on this. Seriously – spend some time there. They’ve put a huge amount of effort into research.

      Looking just at the carbon emissions from China burning the coal that will come through WA, it’s equivalent to 14 western states worth of gasoline. That’s more than just shutting down I-5.

      Then there’s the more toxic pollutants that end up back here when burned in China. “An Oregon researcher estimates that as much as 18 percent of the mercury in Oregon’s Willamette River comes from sources overseas, increasingly from China.”

      They’re having a huge increase in resperitory issues in India after they started running coal on trains.

      And all this for what? Shutting down I-5 would have less impact than shutting down coal trains, but would massively effect our economy. What do we get out of this deal that’s worth causing all of this pollution?

    3. Both coal trains and I-5 are serious problems. Humanity will probably run with both for a little too long, but that’s for future generations to enjoy. In the meantime, growth, baby, growth!

    4. Hilarious.

      Because this combines several things that Liberals get funding from: Warren Buffet and rail — suddenly Coal-Is-Ok. So, all the global warming and pollution arguments go out the window.

      What a bunch of hypocrites.

      1. Yes. Because we all elected Paul as spokesman for the liberal movement.

      2. I never claimed coal is OK in general, I just questioned the magnitude of the coal dust issue opponents raise against the proposed terminals and also doubt that stopping terminal here will have any noticeable affect on the global issue.

    5. Is there really no technology that would allow for covered coal cars?

      Seems bizarre that the fire risk hasn’t been mitigated.

      1. A while ago, a beautiful afternoon at the gardens at Ballard Locks was spoiled by watching a long coal train with three diesel locomotives at each end crawl across the drawbridge.

        First train I ever really hated the sight of. Those cars were a lot dirtier than any truck I’ve seen on I-5.

        Fact that shippers don’t even bother to cover the coal-cars pretty well sums up why I don’t want their trains in my neighborhood, city, or State. Seems to be standard for the fossil fuels industry: They honestly don’t care how bad a mess they make.

        Seriously doubt anybody on any of their boards of directors live three blocks from where their own uncovered trains go by.

        This is also a good indicator of just what the position of the United States of America has come to in the world. Dirty export of a dirty raw material, on its way to another country that’s on its way to dominating the world market in solar energy technology. With the heartfelt backing and subsidy of its government.

        Not that I care what the remedy is called, but I don’t think it’s either extreme or undemocratic to take action to put our country back in the First World.

        Mark Dublin

      2. I agree with you entirely, Mr. Dublin.

        It would be nice to live in a forward-thinking democracy. I’m not sure how to get there from our current corrupt resource-extraction plutocracy, though.

    6. So, from what I’m reading here, and in the links, the idea is to be sure that coal trains won’t run through the PNW, and leave it up to activists in the other parts of the country and the world to work to stop the mining, transporting, and burning of coal.

      And hope for the best.

      1. Well, there are not that many routes to the West Coast fpr export by ship. There’s Washington State, British Columbia, Oregon, and California. The southern ports mean longer shipping times to China and raise costs. If the coal trains are kept out of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, it would definitely put a dent in the market.

      2. The problem is that we’re still going to get China’s air pollution.

        Which battle will produce the best results for the overall reduction in the burning of fossil fuels?

      3. It seems like the locations along the Columbia River (four and counting) make the most sense. It gets the coal on board ship the soonest and boats are even better than rail when it comes to efficiency. It also eliminates going through Seattle with it’s bottle necks (GN tunnel and draw bridge at the locks. I can’t see BNSF using the crowded Stevens Pass route but I guess the increased volume might push them to open Stampede to year round use. Canada is already doing a land office business shipping coal to China.

      1. Careful when opening those.

        There’s a lot of mass in a trailer full of soda cans. I’m impressed that there weren’t any injuries, and that the train isn’t more scratched up (or even crumpled). Maybe they weren’t going as fast as it looks.

      2. It was clearly a low-speed collision. When a 79 mph train hits a semi, you can’t even tell that there *was* a semi, it’s just small bits of metal.

    1. Seems like an odd street for a soda semi to be turning onto or off of unless they were headed to/from MLK Elementary.

    2. That Link Train doesn’t look to badly damaged. It sure seems like it gave much more then it received. :)

    3. The PI says:

      “It appeared that the train and the semi had sideswiped one another.”

      That’s one heck of a “sideswipe” – most don’t end with one vehicle bisected.

      What is the deal with the white boxes for Mtn Dew?

      1. I was wondering about the box color too. Maybe the cans are were distined for vending machines instead of supermarkets.

      2. But that would be a waste of material. Normally they’re handled in shallow plastic reusable crates or at worst carboard “flats”. The effort involved in opening and discarding cardboard boxes doesn’t make sense in bulk.

      3. I don’t think it’s possible for a train to sideswipe something. They tend to move in pretty straight, well-defined paths…

        Based on that report and the (lack of) damage to Link, I wonder if the truck sideswiped the train, got hooked somehow, then was pulled and rotated before snapping in half. I’d think that if Link had T-boned it then the train would have had a lot more damage, and that the truck debris would be spread further.

      4. It’s a plan to foil Darth Bloomberg. Mountain Dew is today’s dilithium crystal. Clearer than coal. Mostly.

    4. Assuming that driver is cited for failure to stop at a railroad crossing, he/she is likely to have their CDL suspended for 60 days. In most instances, that pretty much means their job.

      I’ve heard rumors that the State Patrol has been issuing tickets to several commercial drivers along the BNSF tracks in Seattle – don’t know if SPD is going to start policing Link crossings too.

  4. Great thread! Last weekend the coal was flying fast and furious into Roberts Bank. From our porch in White Rock I saw two consecutive BN trains only fifteen minutes apart, never seen that before. Since the CP was on strike Deltaport could handle more BN trains, and there were several more as the weekend progressed.

    Whether we like it or not, there’s going to massive tonnage of coal moving through to Roberts Bank even if they don’t build the new facility in washington. Sure is fun as hell to watch all unit trains.

    1. I personally find mixed consists to be much more interesting. Particularly if they have a 737 fuselage or two. Seattle is a train watcher’s paradise.

      1. On the rare occasions when I’m watching trains (usually because I’m at a train station waiting for a passenger train), I’m mostly entertained by intermodals, keeping track of which companies are sending containers today (UPS, FedEx, Roadway, all on the same train… now what are those Japanese-sounding shipping companies?)

  5. “BNSF’s Auburn yard is getting additional capacity for coal and grain trains. These extra tracks will reduce/eliminate delays to Amtrak Cascades trains. This is a BNSF funded project, NOT part of ARRA funding…”

    Are the reduction in delays, meaning reduction in padding, meaning reduction in trip time that result from BNSF doing this work already factored into our projections?

    Are there any other projects BNSF is looking at doing on their own which will help bring down running times?

    1. I wonder if BNSF is doing this as mitigation for additional Sounder train easements. If so, Sound Transit would, in effect, be paying for it.

  6. What a lousy upholstery job on that booth in the picture of the Bistro car. Someone signed off on that? It will last about one month.

Comments are closed.