Uinta Basin Railroad
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This page was last updated on February 28, 2016.
"Uinta Basin Rail is a potential 100-mile rail line designed to provide freight rail service between the Uinta Basin and two national freight rail lines that pass through Utah. The project was being proposed by Duchesne and Uintah counties as a way to enhance economic development through reduced shipping costs and enhanced market access, with technical expertise and analysis provided by UDOT." (Utah Department of Transportation, Uinta Basin Railroad FAQ)
(Most recent listed first)
December 30, 2014
The following comes from Trains Newswire, December 30, 2014:
Utah drops plan to build new oil field railroad -- A bold plan to connect the Uinta Basin oil fields with the national rail network via a new 100-mile railroad has been derailed.
Earlier this month local officials with the Six-County Infrastructure Coalition, which along with the Utah Department of Transportation began studying the possibility of building a new railroading in 2012, decided to drop the plans and not submit an application for an environmental impact statement. The coalition – made up of representatives from Uintah, Duchesne, Daggett, Carbon, and San Juan counties – cited the $5 billion price tag as the reason for ending the project, noting “the return on investment is insufficient to justify the expense of a railroad project."
Instead, local officials say that the region should do more to invest in road improvements and pipelines to serve the ever-expanding Uinta oil fields. A 2013 study states there could be 700 million barrels of untapped crude in the basin, located in the extreme eastern part of the state.
"As we've done the economic study and done a more complete analysis of the cost of the railroad, at this time the economic drivers to make it successful one day are just too risky," State Sen. Kevin Van Tassell tells the Tribune.
In 2013 HDR Inc. began to survey the area and found 26 different routes into the basin. From that list of 26, engineers got the number of routes down to one that had a ruling grade of 2.4 percent. If it had been built, the railroad would have included an 8-mile long tunnel and dozens of bridges.
The proposed line would have been the largest railroad construction project in a generation, when Burlington Northern built a 126-mile line to reach coal reserves in the Powder River Basin.
October 9, 2014
The following comes from Trains Newswire, October 9, 2014:
Utah looks to build new railroad to tap oil boom -- New oil development in eastern Utah could spur the largest railroad-building project in a generation.
The Utah Department of Transportation is looking at building a 100-mile railroad that would connect oil producers in the Uinta Basin with the national rail network. Uinta Basin Rail Project Manager John Thomas tells Trains News Wire that the new rail line would cross a mountain range, and require dozens of bridges and an 8-mile tunnel.
“It’s not flat by any means,” Thomas says. “There is some very challenging topography and geography.”
According to UDOT, oil and gas from the Uinta Basin makes up about 70 percent of the state's output and industry experts suggest that will only grow in the decades to come. A 2013 study stated that there could be upwards of 700 million barrels of untapped crude oil in the basin, located in the extreme eastern end of the state.
In 2012 the state and the Six-County Infrastructure Coalition began studying the needs of the area and found that without adequate transportation oil production may not fully develop. In 2013 HDR Engineering, Inc. began to survey the area and found 26 different routes into the basin. From that list of 26, engineers have gotten the number of routes down to one line that has a ruling grade of 2.4 percent. The route was also selected because it follows three established corridors – U.S. 40, U.S. 191 and Emma Park Road – and thus would have less of an impact on the environment.
According to UDOT, the proposed railroad would split off of Union Pacific's Provo Subdivision near Kyune, west of Helper, on the Solder Summit grade shared by UP and the Utah Railway. From there, the railroad would head east toward Duchesne and Roosevelt. The railroad would include two terminals, one in the middle and one at the end, to serve area oil producers.
Now that the route has been selected, engineers are starting to determine how much it will cost to build the railroad although Thomas says it will likely cost millions.
"The first step was finding out if there was a demand for rail transportation here. Then we had to find a route and now we have to figure out how much it will cost," Thomas says.
UDOT is also starting to work with the Surface Transportation Board to begin the process of writing the Environmental Impact Statement, which would lead to final federal approval of the railroad. In 2013, the Utah State Legislature allocated $3 million to start the EIS study and in 2014 the Utah Transportation Commission contributed another $5.2 million.
If everything goes according to plan the environmental studies will be completed by the end of 2016.
Thomas says it's too early to know when the railroad might be built or who would pay for it. However, he says that UDOT has met with UP, BNSF Railway, and Utah Railway to discuss the project.
"We're still very, very early in this entire process," he says.
If the 100-mile railroad into the Uinta Basin were to be built it would mark the largest railroad construction project in the U.S. since the late 1970s, when Burlington Northern built a 126-mile line between Gillette and Douglas, Wyoming, to reach coal reserves in the Powder River Basin.
June 18, 2014
The following comes from Trains Newswire, June 18, 2014:
Price tag for new Utah oil line: $2 billion -- A Utah Department of Transportation study estimates that a new 100-mile rail line to transport crude oil from the Uinta Basin southwest to Price, Utah would cost roughly $2 billion, the Salt Lake City Tribune reports.
The study examines 26 possible routes, but determines that a routing that would go down Indian Canyon along U.S. 191 south from Duchesne to U.S. 6 near Price, which would require a 10-mile tunnel, was the only route that was feasible. It could connect with other rail lines near Price, and take oil to Wasatch Front refineries or elsewhere in the nation to expand Utah energy markets.
An earlier state study said that without the rail route or alternatives such as new pipelines or freeways, $30 billion worth of oil and gas might remain undeveloped in the basin during the next 30 years because of transportation constraints. It said that could cost Utah’s economy $10 billion and prevent creation of nearly 27,000 jobs.
UDOT told the Utah Transportation Commission it now plans to begin a formal environmental impact statement to further evaluate the route. UDOT hopes to have a draft EIS in 2016 and a final version in 2017. Among the topics the EIS will evaluate is how the rail line could affect traffic on U.S. 40, which now has a steady stream of tank trucks 24 hours a day to Wasatch Front refineries.
The following comes from an article in the February 11, 2000 issue of the Salt Lake Lake Tribune:
There is a serious proposal afoot to build a new rail line to tap into the phosphate and coal fields of northeastern Utah and northwestern Colorado--the Uintah Basin. Currently, the closest any railroad comes is the Axial mine trackage off the far west end of UP/SP/D&RGW's Craig branch (which is separated from the basin by some rough topography) and the isolated electrified Deseret Western coal hauling line.
- Congress has authorized $1 million for study.
- The link could be build within three years, according to economic developers.
- The link would allow "a $300 million complex of mines and factories to crank up in northeastern Utah," proposed by Illinois-based Universal Chemical and Mineral Corp.
- Most of the new trackage (92 miles) would be built in Colorado, but would tie into the Deseret Western, which already runs into Utah.
- Route is expected to cost at least $1 million per mile (typical cost for new rail construction), would be built either with federal or private funds and would be operated by a private railroad company.
- The railroad line is projected to carry at least 10 million tons of goods out of Utah annually, including phosphate and gypsum board. (10,000,000 tons per year, would be approximately four trains per day, two loaded and two empty.)
- The route would generally follow the White River through Rangely, Colorado, then (probably) go up Piceance Creek to Rio Blanco, then descend Government Creek to Rifle, Colorado, joining the UP/SP/D&RGW mainline.
- Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, Sen. Bob Bennett, Uintah County and the Ute Indian Tribe have all written letters to federal and Colorado officials supporting the project. No idea about level of political support in Colorado.
- Article mentions that some Vernal residents aren't too keen on the project, not wanting more "boom-and-bust mineral extraction" and fearing new mining will harm groundwater.
- "The Uinta Basin almost got railroad service in 1895, when a line to connect Craig, Colo., with Salt Lake City was halted by bankruptcy before entering the state, Kuhn said. Such a line is unlikely now because access through Provo Canyon would probably not be granted."
D&RG and UP both announce that they will build into the Uintah Basin; D&RG from Soldiers Summit, UP from Park City Branch. (The Sun, October 15, 1915)
December 3, 1915
Union Pacific will build a line into the Uintah Basin. (Coal Index: News-Advocate, December 3, 1915)
December 24, 1915
Union Pacific's project was confirmed by R. S. Lovett. Work to start in spring. (Coal Index: News-Advocate, December 24, 1915)
The survey for D&RG's extension into the Uintah Basin ran from Myton to Independence, east to the confluence of the Dry Gulch and Uintah Rivers, one mile south of Fort Duchesne, over Sandridge, then east. (The Sun, December 17, 1915)
After the survey was completed, the decision for the construction of D&RG's Uintah Branch was up to the directors in New York City. The officers of the road were in New York making a presentation during the meeting to determine the annual budget. (The Sun, December 31, 1915)
D&RG filed a proposed route with the U.S. Land Office in vernal for its branch into the Uintah Basin. (The Sun, February 25, 1916, p.2, "From Colton To Uintah Country")
D&RG is considering a separate corporation to build its road into the Uintah Basin. The construction was expected to cost $5 million. SP,LA&SL announced that it would send surveyors into the Uintah Basin, as soon as snows permit. (The Sun, March 31, 1916, p.7)
SP,LA&SL announced that it would send surveyors into the Uintah Basin, as soon as snows permit. D&RG is considering a separate corporation to build its road into the Uintah Basin. The construction of the D&RG line was expected to cost $5 million. (The Sun, March 31, 1916, p.7)
Simon Bamberger organized his Salt Lake & Denver Railroad to build across the Uinta Basin, connecting with the Denver & Salt Lake at Craig, Colorado, and with Union Pacific at Provo, Utah.
D&RGW board of directors approved construction of 131 miles of new railroad line from Soldiers Summit to Vernal. (Coal Index: The Sun, May 23, 1925, p.1)
July 10, 1925
Estimated cost of the D&RGW project was reported as $6,195,500.00. (Coal Index: The Sun, July 10, 1925, p.2)
The Sun of Price, Utah, carried a story that the Wall Street Journal had covered the dispute before the ICC for the Salt Lake and Denver to build from Provo to Craig, Colorado. (Coal Index: The Sun, September 25, 1925)
January 29, 1926
The ICC denied the application to stop construction due to insufficient study. (Coal Index: The Sun, January 29, 1926, p.1)
Uinta vs. Uintah
Uinta is applied to natural features and to the Uinta Utes -- Uinta Basin, Uinta River, Uinta Mountains, Uinta National Forest, etc.
Uintah (a variant of Uinta) is applied to political entities -- Uintah County, Uintah School District, Uintah & Ouray Reservation, etc.
References to Uinta Basin should use Uinta -- not Uintah -- as it is a natural feature. Names from the name of a physical feature should retain the natural feature spelling. Thus it should be Uinta Basin Railroad.
Google Map of Uinta Basin Railroad -- A map derived from the preferred route information published in the Feasibility Study completed in June 2014.