By Justin Franz
The backers of Utah’s Uinta Basin Railway have said that construction of the proposed rail line could begin as early as 2021 if the U.S. Surface Transportation Board grants it an exemption from the regular approval process.
A group of local stakeholders calling itself the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition has proposed building an 80 to 100-mile railroad into the remote Uinta Basin to tap into the region’s oil reserves. Currently, oil from the basin has to be trucked out, but local leaders have said that significant savings could be achieved if it was moved by rail. The proposed line would connect with the national rail network near Kyune, Utah, on Union Pacific’s Provo Subdivision.
The coalition said it currently has a preliminary Memorandum of Understanding with Drexel Hamilton Infrastructure and Rio Grande Pacific Corporation, which operates a number of short line railroads, including New Orleans & Gulf Coast Railway and Nebraska Central Railroad, to build and operate the line. Drexel Hamilton would be responsible for financing the project and Rio Grande Pacific would be responsible for running it.
The project, which dates back to 2012, has been subject to a lengthy environmental review. As that process wraps up, the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition is asking the STB to give it an exemption from further federal approvals thus fast-tracking construction. In a petition filed on May 29, attorneys for the coalition argued that construction of the railroad would be in the public’s interest and that it would not have a negative impact on shippers in the region, rather it would help them be more competitive. The attorneys also argue that fast-tracking the project will help the region recover economically following the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. “Though the majority of these impacts should not persist in the long-term, minimizing the impacts by completing federal review and approval processes as efficiently as possible for projects that have the potential to provide substantial economic stimulation is important to state and local economies,” the petition reads.
Multiple routes have been considered and, depending on which one is selected, officials have said it could take 20 to 28 months to complete.