Rail system fixes will benefit farmers, local officials say

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldMay 22, 2013 

Improvements to Washington state's rail system with the proposal to ship more coal to Asia may benefit Washington farmers, say local officials.

Franklin County potato farmer Randy Mullen said it could make transportation less expensive for some Washington crops, including grain, to be shipped overseas.

And anything that makes transportation more affordable helps increase the competitiveness of Washington's agricultural products, said Mullen, owner of Mullen Farms Inc.

Mullen, the National Potato Council's president, and about 15 Tri-City government and business leaders met Wednesday at Lampson International's Kennewick office with representatives from BNSF Railway Co. and the Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports for a briefing about the proposed coal train terminal projects.

The Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports supports the coal terminal projects that private companies are proposing in Washington state -- including in Boardman and Bellingham -- so coal can be shipped by rail and barge to the coast, where it would be loaded onto ships onto Asia.

The alliance and business leaders say the proposal will add needed jobs.

Opponents, including environmental groups and Indian tribes, say the coal shipments will bring increased noise and pollution and disturb tribal fishing areas and cultural sites.

Franklin County Commissioner Brad Peck said protecting the area's transportation network is a priority.

Rail is an efficient, environmentally friendly way to ship products, Peck said, noting the sheer volume trains can carry helps remove trucks from the road.

Peck said officials were told that rail volume is down by about 25 percent compared with 2006. It sounds like there is more than enough capacity for the proposed increased train traffic from coal.

Mark Kushner, Benton-Franklin Council of Governments transportation chairman, said the Tri-Cities is a transportation hub, with rail, barge, air and highways.

Investment already has been made in the past decade to add more overpasses and underpasses to keep rail traffic from blocking vehicle traffic, he said. Some examples include crossings at Columbia Center Boulevard, Ainsworth Street and Steptoe Street.

-- To submit business news, go to bit.ly/bizformtch.

-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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