Home > Uncategorized > A Piece of Coal Without a Train is Just a Rock

A Piece of Coal Without a Train is Just a Rock

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Guest Post by Kathy Srabian

Wyoming, the nation’s largest coal producer, is stuck two to three states inland.  As with so many of our natural resources, coal is looking for a way to reach China’s market place.  Coal without a train is just a rock laying on the ground. Add a train to carry it somewhere, though, and you have a product people want.  Coal and trains have a symbiotic relationship.

“Coal was discovered in Wyoming by the Fremont Expedition of 1843. Commercial mining began with the arrival of the railroad.
Nearly 90 percent of the stock in Wyoming Coal was held by heads of the Union Pacific. Wyoming Coal leased the land from the railroad, and then sold their coal to the railroad for a profit. In 1874 a government investigation terminated the agreement between the two companies, at which point Union Pacific took over the mines. By controlling the only means of transporting coal, the Union Pacific established a monopoly on coal production.” http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Wyoming_and_coal#GE_Energy_pushes_coal_gasification_and_exports_to_China

Coal can not just waltz into a port.  It needs a terminal that suits its big bulky needs as it finds its way to the Asian market.  Ports in Washington and Oregon are being looked at but what if a railway was built from Eureka to connect with already existing lines in the east?  Kazam!  Coal would be able to travel to China.

Where would the private funding come from to build this rail?  It’s there in the coal industry, in the rail industry, and perhaps in the pockets of the man who owns a great deal of land around Humboldt Bay.

  1. Anne
    February 2, 2013 at 7:43 pm

    The ramifications of this include degradation of our fragile ecosystem. When will our species retreat from the mindset of growth, expansion, greed?

  2. Anonymous
    February 2, 2013 at 8:01 pm

    Sometime after people are no longer able to ignore their impact on the environment by letting someone else, somewhere else pay the ecological price for all the energy and resources used to produce and deliver to them all the modern amenities they enjoy every day.

  3. February 2, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    Wow, two thoughtful, clear-headed comments right off the get-go. I hope this is a new trend. Could it be that the un-unhinged are taking over?

  4. Ellin
    February 2, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    You may find this map of possible coal routes for export of interest http://projects.oregonlive.com/coal/map.php as well as this quote after the City of Eugene voted against permitting coal trains to pass on its grade crossings …
    ‘It’s a feel-good vote,” said Oregon International Port of Coos Bay spokeswoman Elise Hamner. ‘It doesn’t change anything. Neither the city of Eugene nor the port of Coos Bay can deny interstate commerce to anyone.” http://theworldlink.com/news/local/eugene-says-no-to-coal-in—vote/article_3cdb5d8c-1013-59eb-a31c-2bccc079df1c.html & this really awesome long article with background and company names and so on … http://projects.registerguard.com/web/updates/27644515-41/coal-bay-coos-port-environmental.html.csp

  5. Gogord Gram
    February 2, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    China has been building huge magnificent cities that currently sit almost empty of people.
    Most are in China, but at least one is in Africa. They need to do this in Wyoming. Build a Chinese city in Wyoming, right where all the coal sits, lots of wide open spaces, and a need for more urban infrastructure and people. Then bring in the Chinese who would otherwise use the coal in China to live in Wyoming, manufacture coal equipment, computers, shoes, etc. for export to China.

  6. Steven
    February 2, 2013 at 11:30 pm

    It’s my understanding that Coos Bay has a working railroad to the east. If shipping coal overseas is such a good idea, why isn’t it being shipped through that port?

  7. Kathy
    February 3, 2013 at 5:08 am

    Coos Bay is creating plans to make a terminal that would ship 10 million tons of coal per year. Wyoming currently produces over 400 million tons of coal per year.

  8. Just Watchin
    February 3, 2013 at 6:00 am

    Moviedad……based on Gogord Gram’s comment, looks like you may have spoken too soon.

  9. Rat Zinger
    February 3, 2013 at 7:34 am

    if a railway was built from Eureka to connect with already existing lines in the east? Kazam! Coal would be able to travel to China.

    This cannot be true because Hank has told us repeatedly that commercial rail is a pipe dream. Hank cannot be wrong. In the eyes of the Church of Progressivism, Hank is infallible in all matters of progressive soothsaying.

  10. February 3, 2013 at 8:39 am

    I thought Hank Simms was a conservative Republican?

  11. February 3, 2013 at 8:40 am

    He might still be right. This is California, the Land of NO. I’m skeptical of the east/west rail line for that reason alone. There would be so many legal, regulatory and political obstacles, it would never come close to starting.

    Funny, though, isn’t it? Propose spending billions of dollars more, for a train to send people up and down to the state to places they already go, that gets lots of support. Propose a rail line to bring commerce to the state and county, everybody gets in a huff over it.

  12. Crying
    February 3, 2013 at 8:55 am

    Posts 1,2 and 3 are perfect examples of Fred’s labeling of California as the “Land of NO”.

    Our economy is in the toilet. California will never be the economic powerhouse it once was. Welfare, cozy government jobs and retirees are all that is in our future. People who need good jobs will have to move out of state.

  13. 24
    February 3, 2013 at 10:05 am

    It is interesting the progressives say the train won’t work, then complain about a product that would make it work. Rather than tear it apart the idea, how about figuring out a way to make it work that doesn’t hurt the environment? That way we could have jobs, and a nice environment.

  14. Anonymous
    February 3, 2013 at 10:08 am

    “Propose spending billions of dollars more, for a train to send people up and down to the state to places they already go, that gets lots of support.”

    It’s exactly because these are “places they already go” that the high-speed passenger rail might actually work well. Flying is a pain in the neck these days, with lots of waiting at the airport (and sometimes on the tarmac), unpredictable delays / missed connections, security checks, etc. If you can get from point A to point B by high-speed rail nearly as fast (when you factor in all the waiting/delays/etc. at the airports) and do so much more comfortably on a train where you can get up and walk around anytime you want, then you’ve got a business model that has real potential. Whether it’s worth all the money that will be spent to make it happen, and whether it’s really something we can afford at this time, well, those are legitimate questions. But there’s certainly a good reason why the place to try it is where it would connect large population centers that are “places they already go.”

  15. Anonymous
    February 3, 2013 at 10:12 am

    Just to be clear, that’s a response to Fred’s comment about the high-speed passenger rail, not the local proposal for an East-West freight line. As far as I know there is no plan for the latter to include passenger service, and certainly not the high-speed variety. While it would be lovely to have passenger service here locally, it seems highly unlikely there would be anywhere near enough ridership to support it, at least not until gas prices double or triple.

  16. Dan
    February 3, 2013 at 10:16 am

    A way to get our economy, out of the toilet is to revitalize our antiquated infrastructure.
    We do not need to go to war to kick start our economy, the American Society of Engineers
    figures that our existing infrastructure needs
    two-trillion dollars of updates and improvements
    just to bring us to par.
    We handed banksters more than that, they passed it out as bonus pay.
    Speed rail north to south people-movers. East west at this latitude? Nuts.

  17. February 3, 2013 at 10:21 am

    Anonymous :
    “Propose spending billions of dollars more, for a train to send people up and down to the state to places they already go, that gets lots of support.”
    It’s exactly because these are “places they already go” that the high-speed passenger rail might actually work well. Flying is a pain in the neck these days, with lots of waiting at the airport (and sometimes on the tarmac), unpredictable delays / missed connections, security checks, etc. If you can get from point A to point B by high-speed rail nearly as fast (when you factor in all the waiting/delays/etc. at the airports) and do so much more comfortably on a train where you can get up and walk around anytime you want, then you’ve got a business model that has real potential. Whether it’s worth all the money that will be spent to make it happen, and whether it’s really something we can afford at this time, well, those are legitimate questions. But there’s certainly a good reason why the place to try it is where it would connect large population centers that are “places they already go.”

    All your arguments against flying could, and will, be used against HSR. Fying is, and by most accounts will, remain cheaper and quicker than HSR. The congestion and security checks will certainly be part of HSR, assuming enough people use it. You can count on the security hassles, regardless, as word has it DHS is already doing security stuff at rail stations.

    In the end, we’ll be spending billions to send people to the same places they already go to do the same things they’re already doing. It’s not going to create any commerce and will be a drain on state coffers even in a best case scenario.

    At least a rail line for commercial purposes will bring jobs, money (and, yes, tax revenue) to the state. I’m not saying the east/west line pencils out, but it’s worth at least considering. If it ended up working out it would be an asset to the state, unlike HSR.

    As an aside, as I might have stated here before, I still doubt Humboldt Bay is big enough to handle the traffic that would support any rail line. Better minds than mine disagree. I don’t have a problem with them looking into it, depending on how much their “studies” cost.

  18. February 3, 2013 at 10:24 am

    Anonymous :
    Just to be clear, that’s a response to Fred’s comment about the high-speed passenger rail, not the local proposal for an East-West freight line./snipped/ it seems highly unlikely there would be anywhere near enough ridership to support it, at least not until gas prices double or triple.

    They’ve already cut back bus service to the area so it would be dreaming to think trains could afford to do passenger service.

  19. Dan
    February 3, 2013 at 10:38 am

    Fred, the people-mover speed rail, goes from
    San Diego to Seattle, with east west spurs
    you question demand?

  20. February 3, 2013 at 10:40 am

    Dan :
    Fred, the people-mover speed rail, goes from
    San Diego to Seattle, with east west spurs
    you question demand?

    Yep. We already have rail service up and down the state. In other words, already taking people up and down the state. It may not be as fast as some claim HSR will be, but it’s there, working and probably still heavily subsidized.

  21. Anonymous
    February 3, 2013 at 11:55 am

    “Fying is, and by most accounts will, remain cheaper and quicker than HSR.

    On some routes yes, on other routes, no. For a trip from New York to Los Angeles, I don’t see how HSR would ever compete in terms of speed, at least not with current technology, and perhaps never, assuming air travel speeds increase too. But for somewhat shorter distances between highly-populated areas where potential ridership is high and given the ability of existing rail technology to achieve a near parity (and on some routes an actual advantage) in overall travel time, there’s no reason why it couldn’t.

    For example, the California HSR would get you from San Francisco to Los Angeles (432 miles) in about 2 hours 38 minutes (an average speed of about 164 mph).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_High-Speed_Rail

    Meanwhile a direct flight from SF to LA takes about 1 1/2 hours. So the difference in airport waiting time would only have to be about an hour before the times will be about the same. )And that doesn’t even include the unpredictable delays, weather-related groundings, and waits-on-the tarmac that occur with air travel.)

    And remember that rail travel does not necessarily have to actually be quicker than air travel, it just needs to get somewhat closer to the speed of air travel (and at a comparable cost), because a lot of people don’t like flying anyway, and only do it because of the large difference in speed that currently exists.

    “The congestion and security checks will certainly be part of HSR, assuming enough people use it. You can count on the security hassles, regardless, as word has it DHS is already doing security stuff at rail stations.”

    Well, it might go that way for political / bureacratic / budget-padding / fiefdom-building reasons, but it certainly doesn’t need to be that way, given one key difference between trains and airplanes — you can’t commandeer a train and fly it into a skyscraper or a nuke plant.

  22. Anonymous
    February 3, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    Again, I don’t claim any certainty as to how well the whole California HSR will work out in the short-term. I can foresee a scenario under which the large capital costs are put in, but the full potential in terms of ridership are not realized, or at least not realized soon enough, in which case the whole thing will end up looking like (and perhaps being) a costly boondoggle, at least in the short-term.

    But I can also foresee a scenario under which the ridership does materialize, and the economies of scale of a long train full of passengers makes it possible to achieve lower costs than air travel over many major inter-city routes.

    After all, there is a reason HSR is used in various places around the world: Within a certain distance, and between points where there is a very large amount of passenger traffic, it’s just inherently way efficient to put people on a high-speed train and scoot them along to their destination on the ground, than it is to put groups them on a series of jets and lob them through the air one at a time.

    And remember, unless somehow the amount of inter-city travel stops growing, then if that growth (and hopefully some of the existing traffic) isn’t accommodated with rail infrastructure, it will have to be accommodated with increased airport and highway infrastructure. Those things aren’t free either.

  23. Pandora
    February 3, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    Why, Mr. Anonymous, your knowledge overflows this dull blog. You must be ready for a blog of your own.

  24. jtimmons88
    February 3, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    Coos Bay definitely has the jump on us and will get the business unless our local folks can make the case that our Bay is a shorter distance to the Asian ports.

  25. Anonymous
    February 3, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    What happened the last time a Humboldt rail line was built to support a single natural commodity? Once the demand to ship the commodity (timber) declined, upkeep of the tracks and the expense of moving trains around was no longer viable.
    Consider that coal remains one of the dirtiest ways to obtain energy. Coal’s future is clouded by concerns for global climate and local air pollution – we’ve all seen what it’s doing in China. Secondly, natural gas is much cleaner, more abundant, and less intrusive (the fracking debate aside – at least it’s not an open pit). Most of the US coal is lower grade and resides in the arid west where it is strip-mined. The US Energy Information Administration estimates that coal is responsible for over 40% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions and that coal contributes more to climate change than any other fossil fuel. It pollutes at every stage of its production and use, and processing consumes huge amounts of fresh water (which is a precious commodity in the aird west).
    Regardless of your environmental perspective, if you build an expensive rail system based primarily on one commodity and the demand for the commodity declines, then you’re stuck with a railroad in disrepair. Sound familiar? There are plenty of reasons why the demand for coal may shrink dramatically in the next decade (just about the time a coal train rail is completed). If we don’t have a plan B for the rail, then we’re just putting ourselves back in the same situation that exists today – a railroad with nothing significant to ship.

  26. 24
    February 3, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    Well, that train did run almost a hundred years. The same argument you make for being a potential useless asset can be made against the high speed rail system as well – see google cars.

  27. Not A Native
    February 3, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    Fred likes YES. To borrow from Robert Frost, it doesn’t matter how the world ends, maximum economic expansion or maximum population expansion. Either will suffice.

    Here’s Fred’s ideal land of YES

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/02/02/china-mountain-flattening/1881505/

  28. February 3, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    Not A Native :
    Fred likes YES. To borrow from Robert Frost, it doesn’t matter how the world ends, maximum economic expansion or maximum population expansion. Either will suffice.
    Here’s Fred’s ideal land of YES
    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/02/02/china-mountain-flattening/1881505/

    Thanks for making my point. You oppose any thought of bringing commerce to the area, as do enough Californian’s to make sure it doesn’t happen.

  29. February 4, 2013 at 9:17 am

    Good Idea! Put one giant coal terminal in Eureka, because we’re going to fight all 6 terminals proposed here in the Pacific NW. YOU can have literally TONS of toxic coal dust in your air, water and fish…no big deal it’s just arsenic and mercury poisoning. Oh, and the dust also abrades and damages the train tracks so your community can pay for that, too. The few jobs this industry generates will be well worth it. All that coal burning in China won’t affect you! You can put your buildings on stilts! And when the trade winds blow the foul air over just stay indoors….

  30. Anonymous
    February 5, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    jonnel covault :
    Good Idea! Put one giant coal terminal in Eureka, because we’re going to fight all 6 terminals proposed here in the Pacific NW. YOU can have literally TONS of toxic coal dust in your air, water and fish…no big deal it’s just arsenic and mercury poisoning. Oh, and the dust also abrades and damages the train tracks so your community can pay for that, too. The few jobs this industry generates will be well worth it. All that coal burning in China won’t affect you! You can put your buildings on stilts! And when the trade winds blow the foul air over just stay indoors….

    You are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

  31. olmanriver
    February 20, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    This is a 1%er’s wet dream.

    Bad to be downwind though: (from 2004): “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently reported that a third of the country’s lakes and nearly a quarter of its rivers are now so polluted with mercury that children and pregnant women are advised to limit or avoid eating fish caught there. Warnings about mercury, a highly toxic metal used in things ranging from dental fillings to watch batteries, have been issued by 45 states and cover four of the five Great Lakes. Some scientists now say 30% or more of the mercury settling into U.S. ground soil and waterways comes from other countries – in particular, China.”

  32. That Other Anonymous
    February 27, 2013 at 11:10 pm

    “Green’ strategists hired by coal companies to push train proposals.

    Several prominent local strategists with “green” reputations are now pushing a set of controversial proposals to make the Pacific Northwest the continent’s biggest coal exporter.

    http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2020421425_coalstrategistsxml.html

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