STB: Proposed Uinta Basin Railway Would Have Environmental Impacts

A rendering of the proposed Uinta Basin Railway along U.S. Highway 191 in eastern Utah. Courtesy of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board. 

STB: Proposed Uinta Basin Railway Would Have Environmental Impacts

By Railfan & Railroad Staff

SALT LAKE CITY — The construction of the proposed Uinta Basin Railway in eastern Utah could have major environmental impacts, according to a draft Environmental Impact Statement released by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board late last week. 

The new railroad would branch off Union Pacific’s Provo Subdivision to reach about 100 miles into the remote Uinta Basin to tap oil reserves. Drexel Hamilton Infrastructure Partners is partnering with Texas-based Rio Grande Pacific to build and run the railroad, which is being backed by Utah’s Seven County Infrastructure Coalition. It would be the first major railroad building project in the United States in decades. 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. 

A map of the different routes looked at by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

The project has made big progress this year, including the hiring of Drexel Hamilton and Rio Grande Pacific, to develop and operate the railroad. However, the environmental assessment could delay progress. 

The STB looked at three different routes from Kyune northeast into the Uinta Basin (south of Roosevelt, Utah). The 88-mile Whitmore Park Alternative was identified as the preferred route in the report because it avoids sensitive sage grouse habitat and some residential areas. However, that alignment would still impact surface and groundwater reserves, animal habitats and recreational access. Environmental groups have also noted that the STB report only looks at the impact of the railroad’s construction, not the increase in oil production that will be spurred by it. 

Earlier this year, the project’s backers said that construction could begin as early as 2021 and the railroad could be in operation by 2023. 

The full draft Environmental Impact Statement can be read online. The STB is accepting public comment on it through Dec. 14. 

A drawing of one of the tunnels that would needed to be built on the Uinta Basin Railway.

The proposed railroad northeast of Kyune, Utah.

This article was posted on: November 3, 2020