BNSF Railway CEO sounds off on Pacific Northwest coal-export debate [The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.]By Aaron Corvin, The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Aug. 23--BNSF Railway Chairman and CEO Matthew Rose dropped by The Columbian's office Thursday to weigh in on his company's involvement in plans to export coal from the Pacific Northwest to overseas markets.
"We owe you as a community more information," Rose said of his swing through Washington state this week, including visits to Spokane, Vancouver, Bellingham and Seattle.
Those cities are among others in Washington and Oregon that have expressed concerns about proposals to build coal-export terminals in both states, including everything from increased coal-train traffic and coal dust to an upsurge in carbon dioxide emissions in energy-hungry countries such as China.
Rose has led Fort Worth, Texas-based BNSF Railway since 2000. His boss is billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who acquired the railroad in 2010 through his Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
Rose said there's been "widespread speculation" about the potential increase in coal-train traffic through the Pacific Northwest driven by half a dozen proposals to construct coal-export operations. Some estimates have pinned the traffic increase at 60 to 100 trains a day, he said, but "I promise you, that's nowhere in the realm of seriousness. It's not realistic."
For one thing, Rose said, one of the six proposed coal terminals has been shelved. It would have exported as much as 5 million tons of coal a year from the Port of Grays Harbor to Asia.
What's more, Rose said, he doesn't expect all of the other five terminals to be built. "Five facilities, I do not believe, will ever be built," he said. "The market will sort that out."
What's likelier is that the market will support the development of two, "maybe three" coal terminals, Rose said.
That would put the total amount of potential coal exports from the Pacific Northwest at roughly 50 million to 100 million tons annually, he said. That contrasts with some estimates that pegged it at 150 million tons or more annually.
As a result, Rose said, he expects there would be an additional eight to 12 coal-hauling trains -- maybe 12 to 16 -- running through the Columbia River Gorge to export facilities in the Northwest. The coal would arrive by rail, or rail and barge, from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming.
"That's a real issue," Rose said of those additional trains. "We don't deny that eight trains a day or 10 trains a day is going to be an issue."
Rose said train traffic in Clark County would be affected by proposed coal terminals in Whatcom and Cowlitz counties. He estimated the projects would add six to 10 coal-bearing trains to rails running through the county.
Currently, about three to four coal trains a day pass through Clark County.
As to the issue of increased train traffic creating transportation chokepoints, Rose said BNSF understands those issues, including the concerns of emergency responders, and would be part of any solution.
The railroad would help the cities "work through that," he said.
Columbian staff writer Eric Florip contributed to this story
Aaron Corvin: http://twitter.com/col_econ; http://on.fb.me/AaronCorvin; 360-735-4518; firstname.lastname@example.org
This story will be updated
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