Montana coal line stalled

THE US statutory body with jurisdiction over railroad mergers and issues has ordered the companies behind southeast Montana’s Tongue River Railroad to submit a new application for the coal-carrying line.
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Alison Middleton

The Surface Transportation Board said it took into account a number of recently changed circumstances, which would allow it to complete its review of Tongue River Railroad Company’s plans for a new railroad line.

Arch, BNSF Railway and billionaire candy magnate Forrest Mars, Jr jointly own the railroad company, which recently announced revised plans for the location of the line, a change of ownership of the railroad, and stated that the purpose and need for the proposed line had changed.

Mars is a former opponent whose Montana ranch was in the path of the line until he bought a one-third interest in the railroad, local press reports state. The line has since been shortened from 130 miles to 80 miles.

STB’s statement also noted a decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit last year. The court said federal officials failed to consider the impact of Arch Coal’s proposed Otter Creek mine near Ashland.

It noted the court had made it clear TRRC may not proceed without a further environmental review and said it would “conduct a new environment review of that plan consistent with the Ninth Circuit’s decision in these cases”

“The board is requiring TRRC to file a revised application that presents fully TRRC's new proposal to build a rail line between Miles City and Ashland. The agency will conduct a new environmental review of that plan consistent with the Ninth Circuit's decision regarding these cases,” STB added in its statement.

“In addition, the board is dismissing the Tongue River proceedings concerning related lines that TRRC no longer intends to construct.”

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