Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bill to block Montana short line growth stalls

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Montana House Bill 422, advanced by those seeking to weigh down short line Tongue River Railroad’s efforts to extend its right-of-way to coal deposits, has stalled. The bill, backed by some state landowners and by environmentalists, seeks to make eminent domain procedures more difficult.

Billings, Mont.-based Tongue River Railroad Co. is pursuing right-of-way acquisition from Miles City,  Mont., a potential exchange point with BNSF, to the Montana-Wyoming border, in order to tap coal deposits located in the Tongue River Valley. The extension also would be a precursor to offering a potential new route to and from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.

The state House Federal Relations, Energy and Telecommunications Committee is deadlocked over the bill, while the state Senate is expected to be even more resistant to the proposal.

South Dakota last week gave its conditional approval to efforts by the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railway to extend its right-of-way to the Powder River Basin, easing eminent domain issues within that state. DM&E parent Canadian Pacific, however, has not made a definite commitment to extending DM&E’s reach.