Plans are moving forward to build a 100-mile rail line from Duchesne, through the wild Uinta Basin, and into Price. KUER’s Judy Fahys reports on the ambitious and expensive proposal to move Utah energy products into the market.
The Uinta Basin rail project is a big idea. And its price tag is big, too – as much as $4 billion. But state transportation officials estimate an even bigger financial cost if Uinta Basin oil can’t get to Wasatch Front refineries and buyers outside the state.
John Thomas manages the project for the Utah Department of Transportation.
“The Uinta Basin Economic and Transportation Study analyzed the relationship between transportation and energy production,” he said, “and what we found was that our transportation systems do not meet the demand for energy production. And we estimated around $30 billion in lost production over the next 30 years due to transportation.”
Officials with UDOT considered many possible routes over the rugged terrain from the Uinta Basin energy fields to the national railroad lines at Price. Thomas says the engineering is challenging because the route can’t be too steep or twisty.
“What we learned evaluating 26 different alternatives and about 4,100 miles of alignments, the terrain and topography in and out of the basin was very challenging and found that there’s really only one feasible corridor in and out of the basin.”
That route through Indian Farm Canyon will require digging a ten-mile tunnel, which would make it one of the longest in the nation.
On Thursday, officials from the federal Surface Transportation Board are set to visit the area. That board’s approval is important because it will oversee the next step, an in-depth study on environmental impacts.
Stephen Bloch is legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. He questions the rail line’s impact, especially on air quality.
“It’s serious, and we’re taking it at face value. There’s a huge price tag to subsidize this thing. It’s not clear who would operate it. I think there’s a lot of unanswered questions.”
Supporters hope that the environmental impact review gets underway by the end of the year. They expect it to take two years to complete.