Lynden, good morning. You may be starting to hear rumors of coal trains coming near you. There is no nice way to tell you - and it is not even possible to be sure. Those who know are not saying, and the rest of us have to find bits and pieces of information here and there. Hopefully, you will not blame the messengers, myself and others. We are letting the cat out of the bag with the thinking that the sooner you know, the sooner you can decide if it is a concern to you.
What we're finding out is that you will probably have double railroad tracks going right past your lovely rural town in the near future. Your days of quiet will be over when a dozen or more coal trains a day rumble past on their way to Cherry Point, and then rumble back on their way to Wyoming for another load of coal. Twenty-four to thirty trains a day. Twenty-four hours a day - for the next 20 to 50 years. At least one every half hour. One guess is the tracks will be just north of town - across that wonderful farm land. But where it goes is not up to you. They might be just south of town. SSA Marine and Burlington Northern/Santa Fe know. And they are not talking.
Don't blame anyone in Bellingham. The SSA Marine Coal Port folks - with help from local uber-environmentalist hero, Craig Cole - are trying to set this up so Bellingham can be blamed for moving the coal train route to the north county. A normal political method of doing things: get the peasants fighting each other while the nobility escapes blame. With very quiet - almost secret - help from our two U.S. Senators and our governor. And they all probably know about the north county rail line plans.
In the 1990s, a local government did a $130,000 study of an east-west county rail route. I tried to get a look at it. They hid it. But it was the basis for running coal trains across Canada, through Sumas, past Lynden, and on to Custer and Cherry Point. Rumors of them coming up the South Fork Valley are bogus, as you will see below.
SSA Marine has never intended to run coal trains through Bellingham. They can't do it because there will be too many trains each day. When running so many trains - each over a mile long - double tracks are needed the entire way, and they need to be open continuously. These huge coal trains do not like to stop. The route through Bellingham, or up the South Fork Valley, have three choke points that cause problems.
1. It is not feasible to build a second track along Chuckanut. This impacts only the Bellingham route.
2. The Cascade Tunnel is also a one-track choke point. This impacts both the Bellingham and South Fork Valley routes.
3. And finally, the frequent land slides that close the coastal rail line between Seattle and Everett. This impacts both routes.
Canada has an excess of rail capacity, and double tracks in spades. The route from Wyoming or Montana up across Canada is the best route to Cherry Point. Then, dropping down at Sumas for the run across the county is definitely the way to efficiently move coal. Going into Vancouver and then south is way too congested.
But - if the SSA Marine folks and Craig Coal mention this cross-county route, the county folks might oppose the coal port. Really oppose it. So the plan is probably to keep it quiet until it is too late. I asked Craig directly about this at one of his dog and pony shows - and he did not answer my question. After the meeting, I went to ask him again. At that point he got angry, red in the face, and started poking his finger at me, telling me I was a troublemaker. Sigh. Perhaps I am. Seeking the truth can cause trouble for secret projects.
For a few years, I lived a couple miles from the largest coal loading port in the world, Lambert's Point in Norfolk, Virginia. The trains ran non-stop, day and night. Then there was all the noise and dust from dumping the coal. Now we're looking at a coal facility here that will develop to be as large or larger. Bellingham will be protected, upwind, with no coal trains running through it. Lynden, Sumas and Ferndale will have to deal with the rumble that goes on day and night - without stop.
Anybody else have any bits of information to help us piece together what is actually going to be built? The Environmental Impact Statement is useless for what they're planning. Anyone care to challenge SSA Marine, Craig Cole, BNSF, Pete Kremen, Sen. Cantwell, Sen. Murray, Gov. Gregoire or Mayor Pike to actually tell us the truth of where the coal trains will travel? Again, they all probably know.