Northwest New Mexico Eyes New Freight Rail ServiceWritten by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
HDR will study the feasibility of new freight rail service serving San Juan County, N.Mex., which would include an interchange with BNSF.
The proposed greenfield rail line would connect the Farmington, N.Mex., area to BNSF near Gallup, N.Mex., approximately 120 miles south.
San Juan County selected HDR for the Four Corners Freight Rail project study, which will be funded by a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The county in February 2020 signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Navajo Nation to plan for rail development, and the partners in September 2020 secured the grant to support pre-National Environmental Policy Act project development and alternatives analysis for the rail line. (The grant in 2020 was known as Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development or BUILD; it was recently renamed Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity, or RAISE Discretionary Grant.)
This project is slated to “help reduce the amount of freight traffic on U.S. 491, U.S. 550 and other regional collector and local roads,” according to the USDOT. “This will decrease the potential for accidents and possible injuries and fatalities. This reduction in heavy truck traffic will also improve the state of good repair on the roads by reducing the maintenance requirements along the roadways. The upgraded connection to the existing BNSF freight network will improve the efficiency of the freight network and the movement of people. San Juan County and Navajo Nation officials signed a Memorandum of understanding to memorialize their partnership in planning for and ultimately constructing a railroad spur and a petrochemical industrial complex in San Juan County, demonstrating strong partnerships.”
“Rail service has been discussed in our area for decades,” San Juan County Commission Chairman John Beckstead said during the BUILD award acceptance announcement in 2021. The award he noted, would allow the San Juan County Commission to take steps to create jobs for the county and the Navajo Nation, and “to build a diverse economy for the future.”
According to HDR, the study will produce an economic feasibility analysis examining freight traffic demand and other factors, as well as an alternatives analysis to identify possible routes and design options. HDR will also provide preliminary engineering, environmental review and stakeholder coordination.
“The Four Corners Freight Rail project has the potential to transform the communities along its route for the better, creating valuable new opportunities for San Juan County and Navajo Nation residents,” HDR U.S. Director of Rail Planning and Project Lead Kevin Keller said. “Our diversified team has extensive rail expertise including economic analyses, environmental studies and strategic stakeholder engagement programs to help drive innovation, collaboration and program delivery.”