Heavy Traffic Still Aheadby Terry Whiteside
Western Organization of Resource Councils, February 2014
. . .
BNSF's Route Via Columbia River Gorge
BNSF's Route Via Columbia River Gorge
The BNSF's Vancouver-Pasco line, which follows the Columbia River along the north side of the Columbia River Gorge, is used by double-stack intermodal container trains moving east, grain trains moving west, and other carload traffic. The line is operating today at about 80 percent of practical capacity with an estimated capacity of 40 trains per day (Washington State 2010-2030 Freight Rail Plan, page 3-28).
. . .
Other Major Rail Congestion Areas
In addition to these major choke points and bottlenecks, several other sections in the routings are already congested and may not be able to adequately handle the expected large volumes of export coal.
Spokane to Pasco (BNSF --149.4 miles)
After all potential BNSF PRB to PNW export coal trains converge on Spokane, the loaded trains can either move west to Everett, WA, via the Cascade Tunnel at Stevens Pass, or south to Pasco, Washington. Since BNSF's line from Spokane to Everett is already congested as a result of capacity issues associated with the Cascade tunnel, it is likely that the majority of the loaded coal trains and all of the empty coal trains moving through Spokane would move over BNSF's line from Spokane to Pasco.
BNSF's 149.4-mile line from Spokane to Pasco currently averages approximately 45 trains per day and has a capacity of approximately 60 trains per day.86 Washington's draft State Rail Plan indicates that this line has the highest utilization in the state and operates at "87 percent of the practical line capacity" (p.35).
If the proposed PNW export coal terminals are built and operate at full (100%) capacity, we calculate that by 2018 approximately 71.1 million tons of coal from the PRB to PNW would move over this line segment and by 2023 this coal volume could increase to 110.51 million tons. Coal trains bound for the proposed Longview terminals (Longview and County Coal Washington) would use this line segment, as it is part of the shortest route to Longview. Although the Cascade Tunnel route offers the shortest distance to the proposed Cherry Point terminal and the current and proposed terminals in British Columbia, because of capacity issues, we have assumed that only 50% of the loaded trains and no empty trains would move over the line from Spokane to Everett and that the remaining 50% of the loaded trains and 100% of the empty trains to and from Cherry Point and the British Columbia terminals would move over the line from Spokane to Pasco.
As a result, the number of loaded and empty coal trains over this line could increase by 30.72 per day by 2018 and by over 50 trains per day by 2023, which, combined with current level of 45 trains per day, would greatly exceed its capacity of 60 trains per day. This line would likely see more empty trains than loaded trains as a result of BNSF's recent implementation of directional routing. BNSF's Directional Routing over the "Iron Triangle"
In order to reduce rail congestion in the PNW, in 2012, BNSF started directional routing over certain lines, which has been called the "Iron Triangle."87 Essentially, BNSF runs bulk unit trains in a clockwise loop, with westbound traffic moving over BNSF's 219.8-mile line between Pasco and Vancouver, Washington, and then north over BNSF's 155.1-mile line from Vancouver to Auburn and then east over the BNSF's 227.5-mile Stampede Pass lines from Auburn to Pasco. This directional routing is illustrated below (Figure 26).
Washington's draft State Rail Plan maintains that BNSF's use of directional routing has significantly increased the capacity of the Stampede Pass line from Auburn to Pasco:
Since 2012, BNSF's directional running of empty bulk trains on the Stampede Pass route (Auburn-Pasco via Yakima) has vastly enhanced rail capacity over the previous bidirectional rail operation--by almost 300 percent--from about 10 trains per day to 39 trains per day. At present, this route handles approximately 4-6 trains per day. (p.35)
Pasco to Vancouver (Columbia River Gorge) (BNSF -- 219.8 Miles)
One of the most significant areas of potential rail congestion is BNSF's 219.8-mile line between Pasco and Vancouver, Washington, which follows the Columbia River along the north side of the Columbia River Gorge. The line is currently used by double-stack intermodal container trains moving east and grain trains moving west to PNW export grain terminals. The line currently handles approximately 45 trains per day and has a current capacity of approximately 60 trains per day.88
If proposed PNW export coal terminals are built and operate at full (100%) capacity, we calculate that by 2018 approximately 72 million tons of coal from the PRB to PNW (13.22 loaded trains per day), would move over this 219.8-mile line segment, and by 2023 this coal volume could increase to nearly 111 million tons (20.35 loaded trains per day). For this report, it has been assumed that this line would be only be used for loaded coal trains and that the empty trains would move back via the Stampede Pass route.
In addition to the potential increase in PRB to PNW loaded export coal trains, this line has already seen an increase in loaded crude oil trains from Bakken to the PNW. Tesoro/Savage's proposed oil unit-train unloading facility in Vancouver, WA would be the largest such facility in the PNW, with a proposed capacity of 360,000 barrels per day, and oil trains to the large Vancouver facility and other PNW facilities would likely move over this line. We estimate that as many as 8 loaded oil trains per day (which are, obviously, more hazardous than empty oil trains) would move over this route. The combination of the loaded coal and oil trains would constrain the existing capacity over this line.
. . .
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs