- Associated Press - Saturday, February 8, 2014

DURANGO, Colo. (AP) - A proposed rail line from Farmington to Thoreau, N.M., has piqued interest on both sides of the border from firms interested in shipping products in and out of the Four Corners.

Businesses have long complained there is primarily only one way to move large amounts of products in the region, by truck.

New Mexico Tech is conducting a feasibility study to see if the project can be engineered effectively and to verify there’s adequate demand for rail. The proposed line would roughly follow N.M. Highway 371, which plunges south from Farmington to Thoreau, about 120 miles, passing through Navajo lands.

At present, there is no serious discussion of extending the rail line into Colorado.

BNSF Railway Co. and the Navajo Nation have been involved in discussions regarding the line, which would connect with an existing BNSF rail line.

Some are skeptical that a rail line is a realistic possibility, but if the project forges ahead, it could open new markets to isolated Four Corners producers and reduce the costs of importing products.

A range of major businesses could benefit, including natural-gas producers and the Navajo Nation, economic development officials said.

In Colorado’s La Plata County, the King II Mine in Hesperus is emblematic of an industrial operation that could benefit from rail.

The King II Mine, owned by GCC Energy LLC, produces 700,000 tons of coal per year. About 80 percent of it is trucked to a rail line at Gallup, N.M., while the rest is trucked directly to customers. To move the coal, the Hesperus mine sends out 85 to 90 trucks each weekday.

“Currently, we move coal by truck to Gallup and load it on rail there,” said Trent Peterson, vice president of the mine. “So putting rail in Farmington would put it 120 miles closer or something like that, which would cut our transportation costs significantly.”

The King II Mine supports 120 jobs in the county.

The Navajo Nation has several industrial businesses that could use rail.

The tribe recently completed the purchase of Navajo Mine, a coal mine that feeds Four Corners Power Plant west of Farmington. A rail line could open the market for Navajo Mine’s coal beyond just the adjacent power plant.

Likewise, the tribe’s agribusiness entity, Navajo Agricultural Products Industry, known as NAPI, could more easily transport its potatoes, flour and other products out of the region.

La Plata County businesses could benefit from rail in other ways.

“It could help with material and product costs for getting here,” Roger Zalneraitis, executive director of the La Plata County Economic Development Alliance, said in an email message. “Rail demand is on the rise throughout the U.S., in part because it is offering a competitive price for shipping. Our hunch is that inbound product prices could drop as a result of having a more affordable transportation option than truck traffic.”

Zalneraitis said rail could also benefit the natural-gas and oil industry by reducing costs to get equipment to the San Juan Basin and potentially opening new manufacturing opportunities.

Car dealers are also interested to see if rail can cut their costs, said Kim Carpenter, chief executive of San Juan County, N.M.

Yet some are skeptical the project, estimated to cost around $300 million, will ever make it past the drawing board because of the cost.

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Information from: Durango Herald, https://www.durangoherald.com


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