BNSF Railway's plans in Kansas City raise environmental concerns

Monday, September 7, 2009 | 5:09 p.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY — Air-quality experts in Kansas City have joined other groups raising concerns about a BNSF Railway proposal to build a freight center in Johnson County.

The Kansas City Star reports that experts with the Mid-America Regional Council say diesel emissions from the rail project near Gardner would increase air pollution in the area, where it already exceeds federal air standards.

MARC has submitted its concerns about the air-quality issues in public comments to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The corps is deciding whether to allow the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway to build a $750 million freight hub. The intermodal facility would allow the movement of goods between trucks and trains.

MARC is challenging an initial conclusion from the corps that the only serious pollution issue from the freight hub would be dust from vehicles using the site.

Officials contend diesel emissions from the rail yard would increase the level of fine particles of pollution, which are considered more hazardous than dust and other larger particles of pollution because they can enter the body more easily and cause respiratory problems.

BNSF Railway has said the initial report from the corps shows that ozone-threatening emissions from the rail yard would decrease substantially in the hub's first two decades of operation.

The project won't result in "significant changes to ozone-causing emissions in the greater Kansas City area," the railroad said in a statement.

The railroad company also said it is working to reduce pollution at the site. Locomotives and trucks won't idle as much and cranes used there will be powered by electricity, not diesel fuel.

But MARC experts told the corps in a letter sent last month that activity at the rail yard will create health problems. They said diesel exhaust includes fine particles that can aggravate asthma, cause irregular heartbeats and possibly even cause early death to people with heart or lung disease.

The BNSF project "is introducing that kind of pollution to an area that doesn't have that kind of pollution other than from the interstate," said Amanda Graor, a senior air quality planner at MARC.

Environmental concerns prompted a few hundred residents to attend a meeting of national environmentalists last month to discuss the project's health risks.

The forum came weeks after the corps said the rail yard would have some moderate to significant adverse effects on air quality, traffic and streams, but BNSF was working to reduce any impact.

The report found the chance of contracting cancer from pollution from the rail yard was less than a person's overall chance of developing cancer in a typical lifetime.

In a public comment period that ended Aug. 16, environmentalists argued that federal regulators underestimated the number of trucks that would use the hub and the amount of pollution they would cause.

They also said the corps didn't fully assess the cancer risk and other rail projects had caused significantly more diesel emissions than the corps was predicting from the Gardner hub.

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Charles Dudley Jr September 7, 2009 | 5:33 p.m.

What would be nice is a light to medium rail system linking KC,Columbia,Jeff City,Lebanon,St Louis,Springfield on a loop system and as Green Friendly as possible.

We will probably never seen such a thing in our lifetime but it would be nice.

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock September 7, 2009 | 6:53 p.m.

Trains as a whole emit less pollution than cars ever would. They can haul more freight per gallon than over the road trucks.

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