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Central Utah Rail Project

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This page was last updated on September 14, 2015.

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Six County Association of Governments

Overview

The Six County Association of Governments is a voluntary consortium of local governments dedicated to economic development in the member counties of Sevier, Juab, Sanpete, Millard, Piute, and Wayne Counties, Utah.

In July 2001, the Association proposed to built a 43-mile railroad for the transportation of coal from the SUFCO coal mine east of Salina, to a connection with Union Pacific at Levan.

Central Utah Rail Project

Project Description: Construct 45-mile short-line railroad from UP main line west of Levan, Utah to Salina, Utah near I-70. This restores service previously provided by the Marysville branch, which was closed by a landslide and flood in 1983.

Project Benefits: Provide cost-effective alternative to truck transport for existing industries; improve their connections to international seaports; improve their overall competitiveness and preserve jobs and tax revenues; reduce heavy truckloads on area highways; reduce pollution; and improve safety.

Central Utah Short Line Rail Project -- Construction of a short line railroad (43 miles) for the transportation of bulk commodities. A primary reason behind the Central Utah Rail Project is to secure the future of the largest coal mine in Utah, while greatly reducing the community and infrastructure impact of shipping total coal over 80 miles by truck from SUFCO Mine to the Union Pacific main line. The local economic impact of maintaining 500 full-time jobs and preservation of over 28% of Sevier County's tax base is significant. In addition to coal traffic, shipper businesses that stand to benefit are livestock and crop farmers, a gypsum manufacturer, a rock salt mine, forest products and existing businesses. To date, Congress approved Senator Bennett's request of $1,000,000. The project received preliminary approval from the Federal Surface Transportation Board. A feasibility study has been completed, which recommends the project move forward. Interested groups have been briefed and public information meetings held. The environmental review process is now underway. (2003 National Resource Conservation and Development Conference, July 20-23, 2003, San Antonio, Texas)

Timeline

July 30, 2001
The Six County Association of Governments applied to the federal Surface Transportation Board for approval to build a 43-mile rail line between Levan and Salina, Utah. The intention of the new company is to serve shippers in the area, particularly the coal operations of Southern Utah Fuels Co. (SUFCO). (STB Finance Docket 34075, decided April 28, 2004)

October 26, 2001
The new Central Utah Rail Project received initial federal Surface Transportation Board approval for its proposed rail line between Levan and Salina. The STB found that from the economics viewpoint, and the transportation needs viewpoint, the proposed railroad met ball rerquirements of federal law (49 USC 10502 and 49 USC 10901) (Salt Lake Tribune, November 13, 2001; STB Finance Docket 34075, decided April 28, 2004)

Proposed Rail Project In Central Utah Has Feds' Preliminary OK

Plans for construction of a new rail line in central Utah are moving full steam ahead after the federal Surface Transportation Board gave the proposal its tentative approval and a feasibility study concluded it could mean economic stability and industrial growth in the area.

The Central Utah Rail Project, proposed by the Six County Association of Governments, would be a 43-mile line from either Salina or Sigurd in Sevier County north through Sanpete County to either Mills Junction or Levan in Juab County, where it would tie into existing Union Pacific tracks.

The area had rail service until a mudslide during the Utah floods in 1983 wiped out the tracks at Thistle.

Malcolm, Nash, the economic development director for Sevier County and the project's manager, says the proposed short-line railroad is a retention project to provide a less expensive method for transporting coal mined by Southern Utah Fuels Company ., (SUFCO), located about 30 miles east of Salina in Sevier County and Utah's largest coal mine.

The SUFCO Mine is crucial to the area's economic viability. Besides employing about 275 workers, the company also contracts with area trucking firms to deliver the coal to a railroad load-out facility in Levan 82 miles from the mine, making it one of the longest coal-haul routes in the country, Nash said.

Each weekday, the mine produces a steady stream of 600 trucks, each loaded with 43 tons of coal, for the trip to Levan, where it is loaded onto rail cars.

Nash says a new rail line would also benefit other businesses in the county, including a gypsum company and rock-salt extraction company. It would also be an enticement for other businesses to locate in the economically depressed region.

"First and foremost, a rail line would keep the coal mine competitive in an industry where the difference between securing a contract or losing one can be by pennies," says Nash. "A railroad near Interstate 70 would also enhance the transportation structure in central Utah, possibly creating an intermodal hub that could come together at a distribution center with access to markets across the country.''

A rail line would also make the area highways safer, reduce pollution and reduce highway deterioration. The Utah Department of Transportation says improvements costing up to $40 million are needed for state Route 28 because of coal traffic.

The Six County Association of Governments, which includes Sevier, Sanpete, Piute, Millard, Wayne and Juab counties, with headquarters in Richfield, proposed the rail line a year and a half ago. Nash says the project is expected to cost around $75 million and will likely be paid for with revenue bonds.

The decision by the Surface Transportation Board, which regulates the country's railroads, exempts the project from normal regulatory procedures because the project does not threaten shippers, is of limited scope and would foster sound economic conditions.

Nash says the exemption allows the project to proceed with an environmental study. Four alternative routes have been suggested for the project with the preferred route following the Sevier River Valley through western Sanpete County. The Six County Association is searching for a firm to conduct the environmental work it hopes to pay for with a $1.7 million federal grant.

SUFCO officials are supportive of a rail line, said Deck Slone, a spokesman for St. Louis-based Arch Coal Inc., which owns 65 percent of the mine through its subsidiary, Canyon Fuels.

The distance it must currently haul its coal puts the mine at a significant disadvantage, said Slone. The long-term viability of the mine would be greatly improved by a rail spur, he added.

He said the mine produces about 7 million tons of low-sulphur coal a year, which is shipped by rail from Levan to the Intermountain Power Project in Millard County and to a power generating facility near Las Vegas.

The rail line would cut trucking distance in half, says Sloan. Shipping costs from such a cut means the company would be better able to compete while allowing for potential expansion of the mining operation. The only reason the mine can compete now is because thick, uniform coal seams and long-wall mining machines make the operation one of the most efficient in the country, said Slone.

Once a route for the line is established, Slone said SUFCO would have to spend at least $10 million to build a new loading facility at Salina or Sigurd.

July 19, 2002
Projected cost of the Central Utah Rail Project was reported to be $70 million.

November 2003
KSL-TV Channel 5 reported the following on November 30, 2003:

Train Could Replace Trucks in Salina

John Hollenhorst Reporting

Imagine what it would be like to have a big coal-truck drive past your house once every minute, on average, 24 hours a day. That's exactly what people some people in Central Utah have lived with for a long time, and now a possible change is in the works.

The proposal is for Utah's first major new railroad in decades. And how's this for efficiency? One coal train would replace 750 trucks. That would make a huge difference in downtown Salina.

Roughly 750 truckloads of coal head north each day. 750 empty trucks make the return trip. They're hauling coal from the Sufco Mine East of Salina to a loading facility on the Union Pacific railroad near Levan. On average, one big truck a minute drives past homes and businesses, including Mom's Cafe.

Most people don't seem to mind because all that noise is the sound of money.

Marie Hawkins/Mom's Café: "And you know, there's not a lot of industry around here. So the coal trucks have been very good for Salina. The noise? We don't, it don't bother us. But the vibration, we have to straighten our pictures once in awhile. But that's about it."

But officials from six counties have been studying the idea of building a 45-mile railroad line from Salina to the Union Pacific Main Line. That would substantially reduce truck hauling on city streets. It would cost something like 75 million dollars. But county officials say it offers other economic benefits.

Malcolm Nash, Sevier County Economic Development Director: "The potential is attracting other industry to our area and diversifying our economy."

Russ Cowley, Six County Assoc. of Governments: "I would guess it would have to be some kind of public-private process. The commissioners would have to look at that to see if there was a benefit to own it publicly. Or maybe it would end up being a privately owned railroad. We don't know those answers."

The idea has been under study locally for several years. Now a federal agency is doing an Environmental Impact Study.

December 24, 2003
STB issued its draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the construction of the Central Utah Rail Project. Public meetings were held at Salina on October 22-23, 2003 in Salina and Gunnison as part of the environmental impact process, which was begun in September 2003. (STB Finance Docket 34075, decided April 28, 2004)

April 28, 2004
STB issued its guiding "Final Scope" for the EIS for the construction of the Central Utah Rail Project. (STB Finance Docket 34075, decided April 28, 2004)

September 16, 2004
Utah Senator Bob Bennett submitted to the Senate Appropriations Committe, an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2005 Transportation Appropriations Bill calling for "$400,000 for the Central Utah Rail Project. The appropriated funds will be used to finish the Environmental Impact Statement for the project, which will begin at Sigurd in Sevier County and terminate at Levan in Juab County. The rail line will be used primarily for the shipment of commodities, such as coal, salt and turkey feed. This will help eliminate the use of heavy coal trucks along State Route 89." (Press release, Senator Bob Bennett, September 16, 2004)

May 2006
A new freight line for Utah? -- The Federal Railroad Administration has awarded a grant totaling $1,008,948 to the Six County Association of Governments in Utah for an environmental impact analysis of the proposed 43-mile Utah Central Valley Rail Line. The line would extend from coal mines in Salina to a connection with Union Pacific near Levan. Its main traffic would be two 100-car coal trains a day. The counties involved are Juab, Millard, Sevier, Sanpete, Piute, and Wayne. (Railway Age, May 2006, page 6)

June 29, 2007
STB released its draft environmental impact statement, with the comment period ending on August 22, 2007.

Update, May 2015

The following comes from Progressive Railroading, May 28, 2015:

The Surface Transportation Board's Office of Environmental Analysis (OEA) has issued a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the proposed construction and operation of a 43-mile rail line between Levan and Salina, Utah, the agency announced late last week.

The Six County Association of Governments, an association of central Utah local governments, is seeking approval to construct and operate the line, which would run from a proposed coal transfer facility in Salina to a connection with a Union Pacific Railroad mainline near Levan. The rail line would allow allow coal currently being shipped by truck to be transported by rail.

OEA worked with the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prepare the FEIS, according to an OEA press release.

The line would provide rail access to local industries, primarily the Southern Utah Fuel Company coal mine owned by Bowie Resources, OEA officials said in the FEIS.

The agency identified Alternative B3/B2 as the environmentally preferable alternative for the proposed rail line because it would have the least impact on water resources, including wetlands and associated biological resources, the statement said.

The following comes from Railway Track & Structures, May 29, 2015:

STB releases FEIS for proposed Utah line -- The Surface Transportation Board's Office of Environmental Analysis (OEA) has issued a Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed construction and operation of a 43-mile rail line between Levan and Salina, Utah. Approval to construct and operate the line is being sought by the Six County Association of Governments' (Six Counties), an association of local governments located in central Utah.

The rail line would run from a proposed coal transfer facility in Salina to a connection with a Union Pacific mainline near Levan and would allow coal currently being shipped by truck to be transported by rail. OEA worked with two cooperating agencies, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, on the Final EIS.

The Final EIS sets forth OEA's final recommendations to the board on an environmentally preferred alternative route and mitigation measures to minimize environmental impacts, based on OEA's consultation with federal, state and local agencies and input from citizens and organizations in Utah. Issuance of the Final EIS completes the environmental review process, following a 2007 Draft EIS and a 2014 Supplemental Draft EIS. The board now will decide whether to grant final approval for the proposal. In reaching a final decision, the board will take into consideration the Draft EIS, Supplemental DEIS and Final EIS, including OEA's final recommendations.

Map

Central Utah Rail Project -- A Google Map that shows the major points along the route of the planned Central Utah Rail Project to provide lower transportation costs to coal mines in central Utah.

More Information

STB Documents -- A search page for documents at the federal Surface Transportation Board -- search on 34075 to find all documents pertaining to STB Finance Docket 34075, "Six County Association Of Governments - Rail Line Between Levan And Salina, UT"

STB Final Approval -- A link to a PDF of the final STB decision, dated August 31, 2015.

Six County Utah Rail web site -- A dedicated web site for the Six County Association of Governments and its proposed rail line; includes a link to the Final EIS.

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