Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Bellingham's Ghost Trains

SSA Marine and their allies are waging a campaign for the Cherry Point project that is often constructed of rumors wrapped in innuendos.  One such persistent rumor argues that regardless of whether or not the Cherry Point coal facility is built, Bellingham will still get the train traffic.  So let’s look at the facts on this whopper.

In order for the above rumor to be true, Canadian port capacity would have to increase by 48 million metric tons and that cargo would have to be routed through Bellingham.  Let’s look at expansion capacity first.  Right now, Robert’s Bank is functionally running at capacity.  They are, however, adding new equipment that could raise their capacity from 29 to 33 million metric tons per year.  So Robert’s Bank could add 4 million metric tons, but what about the other 44 million metric tons?

The only other coal terminal in Canada is the 12 million metric ton Ridley Terminal at Prince Rupert.  Prince Rupert recently announced plans to double that capacity which would add 12 million metric tons and make the rumor’s short fall only 32 million metric tons off the mark, but there is more.

First, the expansion of Crown-owned Ridley Terminal is stalled and tied up in a legislative and budget wrestling match in British Columbia.  The second element of this is that Canadian coal companies are starting to complain about their access to their own ports.  For some reason, Canadian companies are arguing that federally-owned ports should service Canadian companies first and US companies second.  So how much of that capacity—when or if it is developed—can be used by Powder River Basin coal companies is very much open to debate.

Now let’s talk about routing.  There is considerable debate on the rail road chat rooms about routing, but most indicate that coal from Powder River Basin bound for Prince Rupert will likely be shipped north via Great Falls, Montana.  Though we cannot guarantee which route or combination of routes they will use, the Coastal Route through Bellingham seems to be a less preferred route. (view maps below).

So, at the worst case, this rumor is only 33 percent true and likely a lot less.  This really proves that when it comes to Cherry Point “facts” you really need to check them out.

--Bob Ferris 
Executive Director 
Both pictures are from a powerpoint slide by Peabody Coal Presentation in 2011, clearly showing the Great Falls route to Prince Rupert.

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