Thursday, August 25, 2011

Gateway Pacific Terminal - update August 17th

August 17th - It has been a fairly busy week already with talk of a 6-year moratorium being imposed on SSA Marine for destroying 9.1 acres of habitat that included trees, wetlands, and an archaeological site without a permit. (Thanks Jean for the posts)

This week also saw one of the first broadly circulated pieces on coal and coke dropping off trains in the area. This has been covered by us before ( but it is nice to see it covered on KING 5 TV as well.

This week also saw an opinion piece by Marysville’s mayor about current train traffic issues and how this 30 miles of added trains would cripple an already impacted system.

And last but not least, many of you in the Bellingham area may have gotten an e-mail from Karl Kleeman the president of the local railroad museum. Mr. Kleeman was critical of Whatcom DOCS efforts to talk about the potential health impacts of the terminal. Below is my response to Mr. Kleeman’s issues (his points are in italics). As usual, read all of this and pass it and the links along. And thank you all for you efforts, you are all doing a wonderful job.

Response to Karl Kleeman:

Dear Mr. Kleeman,

I am in receipt of your recent electronic communication regarding the coal trains. I take issue with your four points/questions (in italics) as follows:

1. How much diesel exhaust would you expect compared to the diesel exhaust
from all the trucks on I 5. Modern locomotives have some of the best clean
running diesels made. Complete burning of the fuel also makes them more
cost efficient. And of course the diesels are not moving the locomotive,
they are diesel electrics and the electric motors move the locomotive.

Yes modern diesels are more fuel efficient and emit less nitrogen and greenhouse gases than do diesel powered tractor trailer rigs. Unfortunately, when it comes to diesel particulates there is not a huge difference in the grams/ton mile of PM released (please see BNSF power point slide in Moreover, all indications are that the more we look at diesel particulates—especially those under 2.5 microns as well as the even smaller nano-particles—these very problematic health-wise. For the doctors in Whatcom County to characterize them otherwise would be irresponsible.

2. The noise from train diesels is not very significant compared with I 5 and other noise producers. The trains have to blow their horns by law to
keep people off the tracks.

Do you live near the tracks? Because for those of us who do this noise is non-trivial. We worry about its health impact as well as its impact on property values. Looking at what this project could add to an already difficult condition, one has only to multiply required horn blasts (5) by at-grade crossing (5) by number of trains at full capacity (9) by number of trips per day (2). This exercise yields 450 additional horn blast a day. Moreover, adding current traffic to projected traffic means one train every 45 minutes 24/7. This passes far beyond a trivial impact.

3. A mile long train going 20 mph, the speed limit in Bellingham will block
an intersection for 3 minutes. And if instead of saying no coal trains, we
said, put in a couple more overhead or underpass train crossings, we would
really help the traffic problem that already exists with the current train

Your estimate on train length is short by 50% and your speeds are optimistic. Empirical data are indicating 5-8 minutes but at Post Point where these 17500 ton trains often come to a full stop and have to start up again, we are seeing blocked crossings closer to 10 minutes and even longer if another train traveling in the other direction is involved. And while it is nice to talk about overpasses as a solution, federal law puts the burden of those types of improvements (90% or more) squarely on the shoulders of the tax payer and not the railroad.

4. The coal dust thing is just nonsense. Little if any as the train passes
through Bellingham and the terminal plans the newest in containment like the
coal will be dumped in a negative pressure building, no dust released and
even the coal conveyors will be enclosed and under negative pressure.

Just because the coal dust issue is complicated and at times unpredictable does not mean it does not exist or is nonsense. What does not exist is a coal dust free coal terminal or a working example of some of the technologies suggested by SSA Marine. They claim that the place where they unload rail cars will be under negative pressure (not the conveyors), but that leaves 80 acres of open mounds as well as dust scattered during handling and by the repeated movement of the elephant snout or snorkel loaders as they iteratively move from hold to hold to load ships evenly. Every place we have seen this technology employed we have seen decks covered with coal dust which ultimately finds its way into the water column. And all major coal terminals in North America have coal dust issues some of them currently under litigation.

I understand your love of trains. I love them too and see them as a solution when used appropriately and in the proper scale. This project violates both of those conditions. Rejection of this project is in no way a no-confidence vote on trains, but rather a condemnation of a project whose scale and cargo threaten the quality of life and health of folks all along the 624 mile delivery route in Washington State. Let’s stick to the facts and keep trains on the right track.

Bob Ferris