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Home / News & Reviews / News Wire / STB clears path for Uinta Basin Railway project

STB clears path for Uinta Basin Railway project

By | December 16, 2021

Board decision grants exemption allowing construction and operation of Utah project

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Map showing proposed rail route in Utah
Map showing proposed rail route in Utah
A Surface Transportation Board map shows the chosen route for the Uinta Basin Railway, the Whitmore Park Alternative, which received final STB approval Wednesday. (STB Office of Environmental Analysis)

WASHINGTON — A Surface Transportation Board decision has cleared the way for construction of Utah’s Uinta Basin Railway.

In a decision issued Wednesday, the board granted the exemption sought by the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition to construct the 85-mile line to connect oilfields in western Utah to the national rail network at a junction with Union Pacific at Kyune, Utah, subject to environmental mitigation conditions proposed by the STB’s Office of Environmental Analysis.

The coalition requested the exemption in May 2020 for a project it says will cost $1.2 billion to $1.3 billion, and will mostly be used to ship crude oil and frac sand. The project is supported by the state’s two U.S. senators and five members of the House of Representatives, as well as the Ute Indian Tribe and a number of state officials. It has been opposed by a number of environmental organizations.

While noting that the project “is likely to produce unavoidable environmental impacts,” the board found that the chosen route, the Whitmore Park Alternative, and the mitigation efforts, will minimize those impacts, and that the line will have “substantial transportation and economic benefits. … In sum, the transportation merits of the project outweigh the environmental impacts.”

Wednesday’s decision follows an earlier board ruling concluding the proposal meets the statutory standards for exemption [see “Digest: STB ruling supports transportation aspect of Uinta Basin project,” Trains News Wire, Jan. 5, 2021] as well as issuance of the Final Environmental Impact Statement in August [see “Final environmental statement released …,” News Wire, Aug. 6, 2021].

14 thoughts on “STB clears path for Uinta Basin Railway project

  1. I still don’t see the economic value of the oil they are fracking out of this basin. It has very low economic value ($7-$15 a barrel less that WTI), has the consistency of the tar sand oil in Alberta and both CN and CPKC just signed a major deal to bring tar sand oil to the Petro Coast which will drop its pricing. It is high in sulfur, requires remediation to be shipped anywhere, and needs more energy to be refined to a usable product than typical mid-grade crudes.

    And they want to spend over a 1 billion USD just to get the product out of the Uinta. It just doesn’t make sense.

    1. Well John, at least the oil is in North America and not coming from regimes that promote terrorism or oppression and is not effected by geopolitical swings.
      p.s. the raw form is really oil sands in Alberta, tar sand is a nick name given by the early workforce to the area.

    2. This is a public-private partnership and they may not view return on investment the same as a solely private project would. By adding a rail line, it sounds like the 7 Counties Infrastructure group behind it thinks oil production will quadruple, and that it’ll become feasible to ship to refineries other than those in Salt Lake City. So even if the line doesn’t itself make money in a 4-month window or whatever the PSR people demand on every dollar invested, it’ll spur a lot of economic activity.

      They’re currently trucking in all their frac sand, and the biggest sand trucks carry 27 tons of sand. Compare that to a Small Cube Covered Hopper from Freight Car America and its sweet 116.5-ton capacity. It’s kind of amazing they’ve been able to make a profit trucking in all the materials needed while trucking out the product.

      I imagine they’re also hoping the rail line makes more projects feasible, such as tapping into the phosphate, limestone, and Bauxite deposits in the region. These may not justify building the line on their own but could benefit immensely once the line is built.

      1. “…and that it’ll become feasible to ship to refineries other than those in Salt Lake City…”

        Exactly!

    3. The value in it is mixing the thick oil from Utah with the thin oil from Oklahoma and getting a mix that the refineries prefer.

  2. A couple years ago I had the chance to take a drive from the Electrics at Dinosaur to catch the old Grande near Price. I remember thinking Duchesne was gorgeous, and the canyon was breathtaking…but it was missing something. And that something was a railroad. I don’t want to get too excited, but this could potentially be one great spot if it does get built.

    It appears from their website that they’re planning on building a loop adjacent to Highway 191, which will be almost entirely inside a tunnel (the 4th tunnel going eastbound from Kyune).

    Who doesn’t love Mountain Railroading!

    1. Yes indeed Mr. Schmollinger absolutely nothing beats mountain railroading, Colorado and Utah were my favourite spots years ago nothing could get the heart racing better than following the Rio Grande through the mountains.
      My favourite memory was following and photographing a coal train over Tennessee Pass, 19 units, four on the front, ten in the middle and just for good measure five more pushing on the back,….ah mountain railroading,

      1. That had to have sounded and looked great!

        There’s even some talk about Tennessee Pass in regards to this route, although the Rio Grande Pacific recently said if it did lease the line and open the Pass back up it wouldn’t haul crude over it. And with the miles and miles of 3% grade that makes some sense, even if it is unfortunate…But it does make you wonder why UP kept it around if at the time potential traffic does show up the community can keep it off? And why would RGP push for it otherwise? I imagine that is a court fight the RR would win, but may not be worth.

        On the Rio Grande you’d now potentially see UP, BNSF, Utah, Uinta Basin, and Amtrak. Not Aspen Gold but at least some variety!

        1. Union Pacific still owns the Tennessee Pass line and has a lease to Rio Grande Pacific. UP rail-banked it when they closed the pass and the lease to an aggregate company and the Railroad to the Royal Gorge is on an open ended lease with a termination clause that gives everyone a chance to negotiate a settlement or continuance for all.

          1. Also remember it was Union Pacific’s legal corp that kept that Joker from the east from forcing the STB to cause the sale of that line to them, when all they really wanted to do was tear it up for scrap, not agriculture like they said they wanted it for…

  3. UP keeps Tennessee Pass, even though unused, to keep any one else from it, or to control whomever might get to use it. Same reason they don’t sell the coast line in Calif even though they don’t really use it.

  4. “It has been opposed by a number of environmental organizations.”
    It seems so typical anymore that so many people KNOW more than the people who would actually benefit and who actually live there. And those people are just rubes who don’t know what is best for them. Give it a break.

    1. Well said. The environmentalists and their congressional puppets only care about the west so they can drive their SUV’s through the National Parks and Monuments at their leisure…

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