Rail transportation experts to speak at NW Business Club

Speakers will discuss the impacts of increased rail traffic on the Portland-to-Vancouver, B.C. rail corridor, at an upcoming Northwest Business Club meeting.
The club announced that on Wednesday, Aug. 10, it’ll have the following people speaking:
  • Bruce Agnew, director of the Cascadia Center for Regional Development. The center promotes high-speed passenger rail between Eugene, Ore., and Vancouver, B.C.
  • Jim Miller, executive director of the Whatcom Council of Governments, a transportation-planning agenda.
From the club:
The current rail issue is centered on the proposed shipment of coal to Cherry Point, especially the impact of long slow moving coal trains on commerce passing along the Bellingham waterfront. A better comprehension of the rail system, its management and goals will help us understand possible effects of future changes
When: 11:45 a.m. (lunch buffet starts), noon (meeting starts) on Aug. 10Where: Elks Lodge, 710 S. Samish WayCost: $10 for annual members, $15 for others.

Read more at the Bellingham Herald’s Political Blog

Why the South Fork?

Whatcom County residents need to realize that the majority of Bellingham folk and its economic development community prefer to see the “Coal Train” go anywhere but through Bellingham. If you think the “Coal Train” will absolutely go up the coast and an alternative roundabout farmland route to the Cherry Point Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) is impossible, then you need to improve your chess game.  Gee whiz, the spokeswoman for BNSF Railway told Mayor Pike that the Coal Train was destined to go through Bellingham?  And didn’t Ken Opplinger, president of the Bellingham Chamber of Commerce helplessly declare that those trains headed to British Columbia were  going through Bellingham one way or another.

We are being played by BNSF.  Forget what apologist Opplinger swears to, because coal trains to Canada are easily routed through Great Falls Montana from the coal fields in Wyoming.  If you want the truth ask the Great Falls police, who dealt with 13 derailed coal cars returning from BC at 3:00 AM October 14, 2010.

BNSF has a problem coping with “diminished capacity”.  Anticipating an exploding Asian appetite for coal via GPT, with an additional twenty to thirty trains per day over and above its daily freight and passenger service, their single track from Mt. Vernon to Bellingham is a choke point  destined for expansion should GPT be approved.  For this reason alone people living along the Farm Land Route in Whatcom County have something to worry about.

BNSF may assert that Bellingham is the only route and the alternative route: Skagit County, the South Fork Valley, Sumas, Lynden and Ferndale is uncalled for, but those who safeguard the South Fork Valley know they do as they please. Do they dare eschew the Farm Land route in writing?  Over a 20  year period BNSF, old hand that it is in getting its way, cleverly used “delayed stage timing” as a tactic to sidestep environmental review of its Tongue River Project in Montana, thus transforming a once bucolic farmland into an industrial nightmare. It could happen here.and it is realistic to ensure that this alternative route be included in any environmental review of GPT.

Whether the train goes through Bellingham or the Farm Land route all of us will  have to engage these environmental challenges. Unique to the Farm Land route however will be the modernization of the rail and highway corridor from Wickersham to Ferndale.  Today there are 91 public railroad crossings throughout Whatcom County.  Unless this county is to look like a third world country most of these crossings will be upgraded with improved warning lights and gates.  In many cases, especially along Hwy 9, overpasses will be the only solution for the prompt passage of emergency vehicles. Indeed the whole state faces this problem.

It was Senator, then Representative Doug Ericksen, (the current candidate for Whatcom County Executive ) whose Transportation Committee ten years ago, enthusiastically commissioned the study for “Commerce Corridor” from Sumas to Tenino.  This was a dry run for what confronts us today.  To the sponsor’s surprise the study concluded that this highway/rail project was basically unaffordable and unacceptable. To wit, numerous environmental issues, one for example in the South Fork Valley above the Samish River headwaters was  insurmountable.
The Commerce Corridor study never attempted to envision the long term impact on the people along the corridor.  Although building overpasses at critical intersections would necessarily obliterate a few small towns, causing some dislocation and create the need for relocating and redeveloping, Acme, Van Zandt and Nooksack, the study did not anticipate the infrastructure and zoning changes that it could trigger.  It all came under the heading of progress.

One does not have to be a conspiracy theorist to think the mile and a half long coal train is destined to travel through the South Fork Valley.  The handwriting is on the wall.  Anything detrimental about it is equally detrimental to everyone in the county and the state.  The bankrupting cost of build out will fall to the taxpayer and once again the common folk will be footing the bill for those who would make us do it for them

Railroads and Coal

It was great seeing everyone gathered for the McKibbon event tonight, committed to standing up for what we believe is right and doing our part to stop coal exports from Cherry Point (and beyond). Thank you to REsources for hosting the event.

We’d like to share a video with you that is put out by Freight Rail Work to promote Railroads and Coal as a Unique Partnership. While this is intended to be a promotional video, you may feel otherwise. We’d love to hear your thoughts, because we certainly have our opinion.

Also, a reminder that Mayor Pike of Bellingham will hold a listening session regarding the coal terminal at 6pm on Wed, June 1 in the large courtroom in Municipal Court. 

Early next week we will begin much more regular posts to this blog with the intention of sharing a scope of materials that we find to be particularly interesting and relevant to the proposed GP Terminal at Cherry Point. Some of these posts will elaborate on the “Dirty Trail” tidbits we shared on our banner tonight, as well as other bits of information such as the video shared above. We will also continue updates on action items.

Please consider subscribing to our blog in the right column so that you are notified when updates are made to the site. In addition, our listserv is conservatively used for announcing events and working group meetings.

Upcoming Events: Bill McKibben and Mayor Pike


RE Sources is hosting Bill McKibben at the Fairhaven Village Green on Tuesday, May 31st at 5:00pm.  The event starts with an information fair and a performance by local band Mille and The Mentshn at 5pm, Bill will take the stage at 7:00. This event is free and open to the public. Invite your friends and neighbors! Click here for more information.

The following evening, Mayor Pike of Bellingham will hold a listening session regarding the coal terminal at 6pm on Wed, June 1 in the large courtroom in Municipal Court. It is important for county residents to make a showing at both the McKibben event and at the listening session to be sure that our voices and concerns are adequately represented and expressed. For those of us living along the alternative or inland route, you might want to brief your self on Mayor Pike’s firm stance towards BNSF considering this route for coal transport and prepare to speak at the meeting in response to similar assumptions.

While BNSF followed Pike’s public comments with their own public announcement claiming that the shoreline route is the only practical route to the proposed GP terminal,we’ll be posting a few facts here on why we don’t trust BNSF. For now, consider attending these events to speak up and defend Whatcom county-wide from the proposals currently on the table from SSA Marine and BNSF.


NOTE: Our bi-monthly working group meeting for Tuesday May 17th has been RELOCATED to the Van Zandt Community Hall, 7-9. Please extend the invitation to neighbors across communities and counties.

You have probably learned that BNSF execs have been all over town announcing that the coal trains in route to the proposed GP coal export terminal will go through Bellingham and will not go through the South Fork Valley.  While this announcement may seem logical to those familiar with the environmental and structural realities of the route, it is bittersweet. Oh…and talk is cheap and dangerous.

The fact is that there is no shortage of coal to be shipped. If the GP Terminal is built and afterwards BNSF decides to add the Highway 9 route, it is just an internal routing decision rather than a permitted action. It is up to us to continue making our case to be included in the Environmental Impact Statement [EIS] for the proposed GP coal terminal. This announcement should not pacify us to stop taking actions to shape the public policies and decisions that will affect our businesses, land, air, water, and quality of life.

The Highway 9 route is, as always, an alternative route. Each time the Shoreline tracks are shut down [because of mudslides] or overloaded [because of increased rail traffic], trains reroute to the Highway 9 route. Presumably, this will happen more and more frequently when coal trains extending 1.5 miles long become frequent to our region.

SafeGuard the South Fork is taking the stance that ‘announcements’ of this or that by BNSF, SSA, or anyone else should not dissuade collective citizen power and strength by residents in Whatcom and Skagit County concerned about Big Coal turning our communities into a transportation corridor for their Asian markets. 

Writing Letters: The "Inland" Route?

Due to technicalities wherein county government might find itself in a quasi-judicial status sooner than we think, we need concerned citizens to share their opinions with two media outlets immediately: the Whatcom County Council and Executive Pete Kremen. Once they have a permit for the Gateway Pacific Terminal [GPT] in hand they have a quasi-judicial status and cannot receive any input from the public. This means we have to get letters in right away. Tell everyone you know to write! write! write! now! While they are still allowed to listen!

Our affiliate, RESources has a useful fact sheet available. Additionally, SGSF is in the process of developing a similar list of county impacts, so please email and send us any information you regard as worthwhile.

Don’t be bashful about writing to Bellingham Mayor, Dan Pike, who has done his best to tacitly support the coal terminal while simultaneously steering the coal train and its unnecessary impacts onto Skagit and Foothills folk! His so called “inland route” conjures up some desolate void out in the middle of nowhere … “away from population centers.” In actuality, his comment foists these mile and a half long monstrosities on the many population centers of Mt. Vernon, Burlington, Sedro Woolley, Acme, Deming, Nooksack, Lynden, Sumas, and Blaine. Thank you NOT Mr. Mayor. 

Truth be told, intricate interstate commerce legislation allows railroads, such as the Burlington Northern Santa Fe [BNSF], tremendous leeway to do what is in their most profitable interest and if GPT gets permitted the train will eventually be looping around the entire county.

Choose your targets friends and neighbors: GPT or BNSF. Which reminds me! There is an online petition available urging elected officials to support No Coal to China for Northwest Ports.