Potential rail line through Craig moves forward in planning with new supervisor
The Rio Grande Pacific Corporation has hired a railroad veteran to lead a massive new rail line project that could connect the energy markets of Colorado and Utah.
According to a news release, Rio Grande Pacific hired Mark Hemphill to lead the construction and development of the new Uinta Basin Railway — an “estimated 1.5 billion new-build railway that will serve northeastern Utah’s energy, mineral, and agricultural industries when completed in late 2022 to early 2023.”
In a notice of intent filed June 19 with the federal Surface Transportation Board, the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition in Utah announced it is considering a 185-mile stretch of railroad from Myton, Utah to Craig. The Craig route is one two alternative routes being considered by the coalition.
“The other proposed alternative would extend eastward from the terminus points near Myton and Leland Bench to a connection with a UP rail line near Craig, Colorado, and would cross Uintah and Duchesne Counties in Utah, as well as Moffat and Rio Blanco counties in Colorado (Craig Route),” the coalition said in its notice, which asks for a public comment period and to begin the process of an environmental impact statement.
According to a Uintah Basin Standard and Vernal Express report in June, the initial cost estimates released by the coalition were in the $5 billion range for the Indian Canyon route, which would include a three-mile long tunnel near the summit. However, that estimate was recently revised to $1.5 billion by the coalition’s financial partner Drexel Hamilton, a New York investment bank that pledged between $5 million and $15 million toward completion of the rail line, the Utah media reported.
In a June 14 news release, the coalition announced it received a $21.4 million grant from the Utah Community Impact Board to pay for the environmental impact statement
“The state grant will enable the coalition to move forward with the project’s regulatory review, including the U.S. Surface Transportation Board’s preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement,” the coalition said in the news release. “The private partner, Drexel Hamilton Infrastructure Partners, LP, will finance construction of the railway, and has formed a joint venture with Rio Grande Pacific Corporation for operation and maintenance of the railway. The Coalition and Drexel Hamilton are also continuing discussions with the Ute Indian Tribe as a potential equity partner to the project.”
In its notice of intent, the coalition said multiple trains will use the railway to carry mostly energy-related cargo.
“The Coalition anticipates that shippers would use the proposed rail line to transport crude oil, gilsonite, coal, and other mineral and agricultural products out of the Uintah Basin to markets across the United States,” the notice of intent said. “The proposed rail line could also be used to move products and commodities, such as fracturing sand, proppant, steel, and machinery, to markets in the Uintah Basin.”
Moffat County Commissioners have the rail line on their radar. In their June 25 meeting, commissioners approved a letter to the Surface Transportation Board demanding they be consulted after the surface transportation board invited only “entities with federal permitting jurisdiction to participate as cooperating agencies.”
The letter goes on to assert Moffat County “has significant experience working with energy transmission companies, natural gas developers, wind and solar energy, transportation planning, wildlife migration and sensitive species planning…” across multiple government agencies and “…only wishes to participate as a cooperating agency in order ensure that the issues germane to Moffat County are adequately addressed — for example socioeconomic analysis of Moffat County, permit issues, assessment and tax base analysis, and public land uses that may be impacted by the railway.”
In its recent news release, Rio Grande Pacific Corporation said Hemphill got some of his experience helping to rebuild the war-torn railways of Iraq.
“Hemphill led studies of the railway since 2014 as a consultant to public and private clients seeking to advance the railway project, as HDR Engineering, Inc.’s Director of Railway Consulting Services. Hemphill brings more than 38 years of railroad industry experience to Rio Grande Pacific, including rebuilding the war- and looting-damaged Iraqi Republic Railways in 2005-2006.”
Robert Bach, president of Texas-based Rio Grande Pacific, said Hemphill is the right man for the job.
“Simply put, Mark Hemphill is a perfect fit for the job ahead – to lead the development, build out and, ultimately, operate and maintain what will be a world-class new railroad serving the people and industries of Utah’s Uinta Basin,” he said.
Uintah Basin Standard and Vernal Express reporter John Thompson contributed to this report.
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