Tongue River Railroad gets final okay

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WASHINGTON - While Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern's proposal to build a new line into Wyoming's Powder River Basin has been grabbing headlines, another proposal for a new railroad has quietly been working its way through the approval process for the last 20 years. Yesterday the Federal Surface Transportation Board announced that it had granted final approval to BNSF-owned Tongue River Railroad Inc. to construct approximately 17.3 miles of new railroad line in Montana, known as Tongue River III or the "Western Alignment," subject to environmental mitigation conditions.

Tongue River previously submitted two related applications that were considered and approved by the STB and its predecessor, the Interstate Commerce Commission, in 1986 and 1996, respectively (Tongue River I and Tongue River II). The proposed Western Alignment is an alternative routing for the southernmost portion of the 41-mile, Ashland-Decker alignment approved in Tongue River II, known as the "Four Mile Creek Alternative." Tongue River plans to build a 41-mile line between Ashland and Decker, Mont., which would connect with an 89-mile Tongue River line between Miles City and Ashland. Together, this 130-mile line would provide a shorter route than BNSF's current line to transport coal from the Montana portion of the Powder River Basin (PRB) to eastern destinations. Currently, BNSF trains serving the Montana PRB have to go south from Decker, Mont., 14 miles to Dutch, near Sheridan, Wyo. From there trains head north to Huntley, Mont., before turning east toward Miles City, a total of 294 miles. The Tongue River's route would be 177 miles shorter.

The Board's decision found that the Western Alignment is a superior route to the portion of the Four Mile Creek Alternative that it would replace. The decision states, "The Western Alignment is shorter and less steep and also minimizes [environmental] impacts to the Tongue River Canyon, an environmentally sensitive 10-mile section of the Tongue River." The decision also imposes a new set of environmental conditions on the authority granted in Tongue II and Tongue I.
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