Lawmakers gearing up to battle ‘toxic coal train’ proposed for North Coast line

Secretive plan seeks approval to ship coal from Wyoming and Montana to Humboldt Bay on SMART tracks and abandoned North Coast rail line.

September 3, 2021

Train tracks along Eel River
The Grand Canyon of the Eel is an important acquisition in the protection of the National Wild and Scenic Eel River and the establishment of the Great Redwood Trail (PHOTO: THE WILDLANDS CONSERVANCY)

North Coast lawmakers and environmental groups are bracing for a battle to block a secretive plan to restore an abandoned stretch of North Coast railroad for high-volume coal shipments from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana to Humboldt Bay for overseas export.

A plan state Sen. Mike McGuire is calling the “toxic coal train” would allow transport of coal shipped through Utah and Nevada, west through Sacramento and Vallejo and through the North Bay along the SMART train tracks and beyond to the port at Eureka.

“We’re going to have to do our work and kill this thing,” Congressman Jared Huffman said Friday.

Lawmakers say the proposal, first reported by the Lost Coast Outpost, not only would run tens of millions of tons of coal along unstable ground past critical waterways, but would also extend reliance on coal as a global energy source, and contribute to greenhouse gas production at a time when fossil fuels should be abandoned.

“The train tracks are literally just feet away from the drinking water source for nearly one million Californians — the Russian and Eel River,” said McGuire, D-Healdsburg.

The plan also could mean lengthy waits at critical thoroughfares, as car after car of coal went past on track that cleaves Sonoma County cities. Coal trains in the Powder River Basin can be more than 100 rail cars long.