August 16, 11:45 AM click here to comment > 5
An Update on the Economic Impacts of Coal Trains
Last year the Department of Transportation worked with engineers at Parametrix to understand how Seattle traffic would be impacted by the proposal to expand coal train operations in the region. The findings indicated that running as many as 18 coal trains per day through Seattle, each over a mile long, would significantly increase delays along the waterfront and in SODO. Railroad crossings would be blocked an additional one to three hours each day. More coal trains would separate our waterfront from the rest of the City, damaging valuable industrial, maritime, and tourism businesses that require access to and from the waterfront in order to perform their work.
These traffic and safety impacts raised a logical question: How would more coal trains impact our economy? Earlier this year, I asked the Office of Economic Development (OED) to commission a study on the economic impacts of coal trains in the City, with particular focus on waterfront and industrial businesses. OED contracted with Community Attributes, a local firm specializing in economic analysis, to perform this analysis.
The Community Attributes report highlights a number of significant and concerning impacts to the Seattle’s residents and businesses – businesses that are critical to maintaining our diverse economy:
- Congestion at rail crossings is estimated to cause $384,000 to $455,000 annually in lost revenue, costs that are borne by drivers and their employers.
- To off-set these traffic impacts, significant infrastructure improvements may be needed, including a real-time traffic information system for the Fire Department, estimated at $150,000, relocation of Fire Station 14, estimated at $9.5 million plus the cost of land, and a new Lander Street overpass to improve access across the railroad tracks, estimated at $100 million.
- Real estate values along the coal train route would suffer substantially, with potential losses estimated between $270 million and $475 million among commercial, residential, and industrial properties located within 600 feet of the tracks.
- Impacts to waterfront businesses are not quantified but significant. Noise, vibrations, and crossing delays would disrupt businesses near train crossings, particularly hospitality and tourism businesses including hotels, restaurants, and waterfront attractions.
- Environmental and health impacts associated with greenhouse gas emissions, coal dust and increased diesel exhaust are also not quantified but significant.
Eric de Place at Sightline Institute, who provided peer review of the Community Attributes report, has also provided additional perspectiveon the potential economic impacts of coal trains. Sightline believes that Community Attributes overstates the potential increase in jobs and revenues in Seattle and understates the taxpayer cost of major infrastructure improvements that would be needed to mitigate coal train impacts. Mr. de Place notes several instances where he believes the Community Attributes report understates long-term impacts, risks and costs. Sightline also expresses concerns over the information provided by BNSF in the report, pointing out that BNSF has a direct financial interest in the development of coal terminals in Washington. Finally, while Community Attributes outlines how regional benefits from coal export terminals would indirectly accrue to Seattle, it does not account for how regional impacts and costs could affect Seattle.
It is clear that from both of these perspectives that Seattle businesses, residents, and property owners would face unacceptable impacts if coal export facilities are built in the Northwest. Beyond Seattle, it’s critically important that we continue to educate ourselves and others on the global implications of burning coal – a major contributor to local air pollution and worldwide climate change through the effects of greenhouse gasses.
I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Leadership Alliance Against Coal to oppose coal terminals and coal trains in the Northwest. As a part of this effort, we will coordinate with the State Department of Ecology to ensure that the findings of Seattle’s traffic and economic impact studies are incorporated into the environmental analyses required for these proposed terminals.
Posted by: Mayor Mike McGinn