Sightline Daily | News & Views for a Sustainable Northwest
By Eric de Place and Marcia Baker, February 20, 2014
[This post is part of the research project: Northwest Coal Exports]
Amid all the debate about the risk of coal trains spreading coal dust into areas near the railroad tracks, it’s often forgotten that the subject is controversial even within the industry. How to control coal dust—or whether it can be done at all to a meaningful degree—has been the subject of a long-running dispute between those who ship the coal and those who carry it. The coal companies or utilities that ship the coal are on one side and the railroads that carry it are on the other.
The controversy developed originally not because either side was concerned about the spread of coal dust into neighboring communities or rivers, but because coal dust accumulation had become so severe in places that it actually destabilized tracks, resulting in derailments or trackside fires. In response, the railways began levying fees on the coal shippers to cover the costs of treating the coal with a chemical spray designed to reduce dust emissions. The coal shippers objected, arguing that the fee was unfair and that the coal dust control techniques are ineffective.