New Train Track for GPT Trains Would Impact Waterfront Access, Blvd. Park and GP Redevelopment

New Report: “Gateway Pacific Terminal Train Impacts on the Bellingham Waterfront

Primary Documents:
Download Report Briefing
Impacts and Opportunities Map
Map Key
Press Release

Supplemental Documents:
Download TSM Bellingham Rail Study
Download TSM Inland Rail Study

Download Annotated Report Bibliography
Download WSDOT RR Policy Concerns

Read Media Coverage Now:
Press Page 

BNSF and City Responses:
Responses to Waterfront Impacts Study 


Key Report Findings:

  • Gateway Pacific Terminal will require increasing rail capacity in the current Bow to Ferndale bottleneck.
  • Construction of a new siding along Bellingham’s waterfront is the preferred solution.
  • A new waterfront siding will significantly affect access to parks, recreation areas and businesses.
  • Gateway Pacific Terminal train traffic will impact future passenger rail and local business uses.

About This Report:

In the fall of 2011 Communitywise Bellingham (CWB) asked individual Bellingham City Council members to identify what aspects of the Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) project needed clarifying information. The top issues for City Council members were 1) economic implications—the subject of CWB’s first report to the City Council—and 2) potential train traffic impacts in the City.

In response to these issues, CWB began reviewing Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) documents and other official reports on train traffic and rail infrastructure through Bellingham. We discovered that the rail section between Bow and Ferndale will form a major bottleneck for the increased train traffic that is needed for GPT to operate.  The preferred plan to address this bottleneck is the construction of a new siding extending a second rail line along a major section of the Bellingham waterfront. This need for a new siding came as a surprise to CWB.  This component of the project is not found in GPT documents nor has Burlington North Santa Fe (BNSF) disclosed it. This missing component was found “hiding in plain sight” within WSDOT technical appendices.”

In order to be certain that this information was not out of date and determine if newer technologies for managing train traffic, like Positive Train Control, could be employed to avoid the new siding, CWB commissioned a complete review by Transit Safety Management (TSM): “Potential Local Direct Effects Of Increased Coal Train Traffic On BNSF Railway Through Bellingham.”

Because of the major waterfront impacts of the new siding and huge associated mitigation costs, CWB commissioned a second TSM study to evaluate the BNSF claim that an alternative inland route was “impractical”: “Coal Train Routing Alternatives In Skagit and Whatcom.”

These reports present in full the railroad operational and technical principles governing, 1) analysis of train routes, 2) increasing a segment’s capacity and 3) locating sidings. The two reports apply the latest State and County data to these principles in forming their conclusions.

Report Conclusions:

The goal of presenting this information is to ensure that the public and local jurisdictions are aware of these well-established but little understood facts. It has been easy for policy makers to read the abstract concept of a “siding extension” and not realize what it really entails. That is where we began with our research.

The impacts of the new siding required for an additional 18 trains per day to GPT are very significant. The siding is clearly necessary for the terminal to operate as specified in GPT’s plans. As such, we believe the siding should have been included in the permit application. At a minimum, the City and the EIS agencies must act to ensure that this Bellingham siding—which may be the single largest cause of off-site GPT impacts—is detailed in the same manner as the project’s other railroad construction and included in the scope of the EIS.

Additionally, the question of who will pay for the mitigation measures related to this siding must be addressed.  These costs could be substantial, and taxpayers could be asked to foot the bill.

CWB could not hope to identify all impacts or envision all opportunities to mitigate them. We do not present our accompanying map and discussion as either proscriptive or exhaustive. We do hope that it will help spark community discussion about the best ways to protect our decades-long achievements and continuing plans to “Connect Bellingham with the Bay.”


Click to the map to enlarge it in a seperate window.  Download the map key to read about the impacts.

Click on the image to enlarge it in a separate window.  Click here for PDFs of the Map and Map Key. 

The Communitywise Bellingham Report Series:

In March 2012, we will begin publishing a series of reports examining the potential environmental and economic impacts of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal. The intention is to provide a solid, independently researched resource for the community.