railroad

STEPHANIE JOYCE / WYOMING PUBLIC RADIO

 

Just before midnight on a recent evening, Chris Loman was still busy checking people in and out of the Oak Tree Inn in Gillette, Wyoming. She asked one guest about his wife and ribbed another about a past visit.

“They’re like family to me,” Loman said. “And I am to them.”

The Oak Tree Inn is not a typical hotel. It has private rooms, key cards, and fresh towels, but most of its guests work for BNSF, one of the nation’s largest railroads. Until recently, the entire hotel was under contract to the railroad.

Department of Energy EIA

The number of train cars carrying coal on U.S. railroads has dropped thanks to falling demand and warmer-than-usual winter temperatures.

Total train traffic during the first week of February was down slightly, just 1.4%, from the same week last year. But the number of train cars carrying coal plummeted by around 30%. Transportation analyst Tony Hatch says railway companies are trying to diversify by transporting new products.

User TumblingRun / Flickr

As the coal industry faces deep uncertainty over its future, coal-hauling Union Pacific railroad is going full steam ahead in investing in rail infrastructure in Wyoming.

Union Pacific is working on a $13.5 million project to update rail infrastructure between Laramie and Hanna. The railroad is repairing road crossings and replacing ties and rails. Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis says updates like these keep the track in good working condition.

Stephanie Joyce

The red smokestacks of the Comanche power plant outside of Pueblo, Colorado can be seen from miles away. The plant supplies power to communities along the Front Range, including Denver, and consumes hundreds of tons of coal an hour in the process. That coal arrives in mile-long trains from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin and is stockpiled at the plant. Normally, that pile would be a hundred feet tall, according to Xcel Energy fuel supply manager Craig Romer. But right now, it’s less than a third of that.

Construction will begin Wednesday in Cheyenne on a new quiet zone at West Lincolnway and Southwest Drive’s railroad crossing, where train noise will be kept to a minimum. The area around the intersection is home to several hotels and motels. New railroad crossing gates and a barrier wall will block cars from sneaking around the shut gates and across the tracks.

credit Andrew Goodson via Flickr

Another rail loading facility for crude oil opened in Wyoming last week, bringing the total to at least seven.

Seventy- thousand barrels of Wyoming oil rolled out of the Black Thunder terminal in the Powder River Basin, headed for a refinery on the East Coast.

“We believe that the location of this particular terminal may be a little more unique to the business as it is in the heart of the basin," says  Steven Huckaby, CEO of Meritage Midstream, the company behind the crude loading facility. "It has a great location advantage to some other terminals."

Hundreds of thousands of tank cars full of crude oil snake across the nation each year, and the number is only increasing.  In the last five years, the number has jumped 14-fold. Along with that, there’s been an increased number of accidents, derailments and spills.

Willow Belden

A facility is slated to be built in the town of Fort Laramie that would load oil onto rail cars. Assuming the project gets the necessary permits from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, it’s expected to be completed by the end of the year. Transporting oil by train is becoming increasingly popular, and experts say this facility and others like it will help the energy industry thrive. But local residents fear that a new industrial site could bring problems to their community. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden reports.

A documentary about the construction of the transcontinental railroad is set to air on Wyoming PBS this weekend. The film will show how the building of the railroad shaped Wyoming into the place it is today. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden spoke with the film’s producer, Tom Manning. He says before the railroad was built, there was no Wyoming. The film, “End of Track,” premieres on PBS on March 10th at 7 p.m.