Montana’s Tongue River Railroad put on hold

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HELENA, Mont. – Plans to build the $400 million Tongue River Railroad to haul coal from a proposed mine on the Montana-Wyoming border have been put on indefinite hold because of delays in obtaining a mining permit and a weakening coal market.

The Tongue River Railroad Co. requested the Surface Transportation Board suspend the permitting process for the 42-mile line that would run from the proposed Otter Creek Mine in the Powder River Basin to Colstrip. From there, coal trains would connect with BNSF Railway.

The Tongue River Railroad is jointly owned by BNSF, Otter Creek mine owner Arch Coal Inc. and a limited liability company called TRRC Financing. A statement said the railroad believed production at the Otter Creek mine might start by January 2017, but “with mine permitting delays and near-term market weakness, that timeline now appears unachievable.”

BNSF spokesman Matt Jones tells the Associated Press that his company plans to renew the application once the Montana Department of Environmental Quality has issued a mine permit for Otter Creek, and after any subsequent lawsuits are resolved.

“We have not withdrawn the application,” Jones says. “The TRRC has simply submitted a request to suspend the permitting process due largely to the ongoing delays to the mine permitting process.”

The proposed railroad has faced years of opposition from southeastern Montana landowners and tribal members who say the project would harm cultural sites and resources.

The Surface Transportation Board has had some version of the Tongue River Railroad project before it since 1979. Tongue River filed a revised application in 2012 the same year the Otter Creek mine application was submitted.

The reserves at Otter Creek near Ashland hold an estimated 1.4 million tons of coal. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality said in March it would not move forward on Arch Coal’s mining permit until the company addressed hundreds of deficiencies in its application.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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