Proposed Montana Coal Railroad Under Scrutiny

A coal train traveling near Billings, MT. Picture by Jackie Yamanaka.

(Billings, MT – YPR) – The federal Surface Transportation Board is hosting a series of public meetings this week in Montana on a proposed railroad that could expand coal mining and perhaps lead to more coal exports to Asia.

The meetings are part of an environmental review for the proposed Tongue River Railroad (TRR).

The proposed TRR route. Map provided by BNSF

The 83-mile line would extend from Miles City, MT to the proposed Otter Creek Coal tracts. The TRR developers estimate the railroad would haul up to 20 million tons of coal annually or about half of Montana’s current coal production.

The long-stalled proposal has faced decades of delays due to court and funding challenges.

Some southeastern Montana landowners and environmental groups have opposed the railroad, saying it will industrialize a rural agricultural area and the burning of coal will worsen climate change. The TRR backers say the project will boost the economy.

It now has new owners:  The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, Arch Coal Inc., and billionaire Forrest Mars, Jr.

Arch Coal is seeking to build a coal mine at the southern end of the railroad, near Ashland, MT at Otter Creek.

The deadline for public comments on the TRR proposal is December 6, 2012.