In recent weeks, information has been circulating that sorely misrepresents the Uinta Basin Railway, its partners and the future of this economically sound piece of infrastructure. While we understand that project opponents feel the need to be heard, we also strongly feel that to allow the misinformation to continue without truthful intervention is a disservice to the communities that will greatly benefit from rail service. So, let’s take a moment to dispel the myths and rumors by having a factual discussion.

What is the Uinta Basin Railway?

Before diving into this particular railway, let us first state this: railways and railroads are nothing new. These types of infrastructure lines exist throughout our nation purely for the benefit of its citizens. Railways help address transportation issues, increase commercial revenue and diversity, and allow for exports and imports of products that we use every single day. Railroads have been built numerous times before and will continue to be built to support our country’s ever changing economy.

The Uinta Basin Railway provides new infrastructure that will solve the long-standing freight transportation challenges in the region by connecting to the national railway network. The approximately 85-mile-long proposed rail line will connect two termini, near Kyune and Leland Bench in eastern Utah. This common-carrier railway will move goods in a safe and cost-effective way to enable economic stability, sustainable communities and enriched quality of life.

What is the timeline?

In early 2019, the project proponents entered a public-private partnership. The public partner, the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition, and the private partner, DHIP Group, set forward with the common goal to make the railway a reality. Later that year, the two entities announced their intentions to plan, build and operate a railway to transport goods into and out of the Uinta Basin.

While the waxy crude, which is uniquely extracted in the basin, will be a leading export, other goods will include agriculture (alfalfa hay, corn barley, oats, etc.) and mining products or other manufactured goods. The U.S. Surface Transportation Board and its Office of Environmental Analysis evaluated the transportation merits of the project and prepared a full Environmental Impact Statement under the National Environmental Policy Act.

After several years and evaluation of several alternative routes, the Whitmore Park Alternative was the selected route, allowing for the new railway to be constructed and operated by Uinta Basin Railway wholly within the state of Utah, subject to voluntary and agreed-to mitigation conditions.

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Environmental concerns, debunked

Opponents of the Uinta Basin Railway are determined to halt its progress and thus terminate the benefits that the railway would provide not just to Utahns, but to Americans. The most common misconception is about the Uinta Basin waxy crude itself. Recently, misinformation has been spread that the Basin’s waxy crude would be hauled as a liquid, susceptible to spills. However, that assumption simply is not factual. The crude becomes a solid when it cools below its pour point of 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, the railroad operators will transport this commodity as a solid, not a liquid. There are only two times that the crude is a liquid; the first, when it is heated and loaded into the railcars and, the second, when it is reheated with steam back above the 110 degree pour point so it can be unloaded and processed at its destination.

In short, Uinta Basin waxy crude is transported as a solid, not a flammable or hazardous liquid. It does not present an environmental concern if there were a derailment. Think of it as transporting a candle.

Furthermore, it is also important to realize how low the risk of derailment and spills is. The environmental impact statement for the Uinta Basin Railway Project predicts less than one accident per year on the downline rail segments. Just 25% of those accidents, the statement says, would result in spills. That’s one spill every four years, setting aside the fact that any waxy crude would be below 110 degrees and thus, not posing a significant threat to the environment.

In the unlikely case that there was a derailment, clean-up crews would pick up any discharged waxy crude with shovels because after all, the waxy crude is a solid and would have the consistency of a “bunch of candles.” It would not seep into the ground due to the temperature needed for it to transform back to a liquid, and it would also float on the water. An environmental catastrophe that project opponents fear is highly unlikely.

Finally, the route through Colorado that Eagle County, and other communities seem to be so concerned about has existed for more than a century. Like all rail lines in the country, it currently carries hazardous substances, which present much more risk than the Uinta Basin waxy crude ever will. Finally, not all Uinta Basin waxy crude is destined to traverse through Colorado. A percentage of trains will travel to points east and south on the national railway network.

Benefits of the railway

The safe and cost-effective railway is anticipated to increase economic opportunity and competitiveness for the main industries in the region including agriculture, livestock producers, miners, and oil and gas producers. The railway will also enable economic stability through high-paying jobs and steady employment, creating sustainable communities where families can thrive together within the region.

Why rail? Why now?

Freight transportation is currently limited to large trucks traveling on two-lane highways with intermittent passing lanes. This can lead to increased congestion, maintenance costs, significant safety risks and disruption of flow of traffic by snowstorms and accidents. By connecting to the national railway network, businesses in the region can move goods in a safe, cost-effective way, reducing the number of long-haul trucks on the road.

The Uinta Basin Railway brings hope and promise to rural, eastern Utah, its counties and the citizens in neighboring states. Additionally, the greater expansion of the railway network will only benefit our nation. We encourage Utahns, and beyond, to visit our website: www.uintabasinrailway.com for accurate information about the project. We hope project proponents are able to speak the truth by sharing the overwhelming benefits the railway will bring to us all.

Keith Heaton is the executive director for the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition. Mark Michel is the managing partner for DHIP Group. The Seven County Infrastructure Coalition and DHIP Group formed a public-private partnership to purchase the exclusive development and ownership rights to the Uinta Basin Railway.