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Originally published November 5, 2012 at 8:22 PM | Page modified November 5, 2012 at 9:46 PM

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Report: Coal trains would snarl Seattle traffic

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn says coal trains would cause increased traffic delays for drivers and pedestrians at eight Seattle intersections, if an export terminal is built near Bellingham.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

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Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said Monday he'll help unite other Northwest officials to oppose coal exports, as he released a report saying coal trains would increase traffic congestion in the city.

Four street crossings between Belltown and the waterfront, and four crossings in Sodo, would be blocked as many as 18 times a day for an average of five minutes, said the analysis by consulting firm Parametrix.

McGinn is responding to a proposal to ship coal from Wyoming to the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point, north of Bellingham. He and City Councilmember Mike O'Brien wasted little time going to the larger issue: They don't want Washington state to act as an enabler for global warming.

"We need to be looking at the environmental impact of coal pollution," McGinn said. "Even if it is burned in China, it has impacts here."

Global warming is expected to raise temperatures in the Northwest 3 degrees Fahrenheit by the 2040s and raise sea level 5 inches by the 2050s, says a University of Washington summary of scientific reports. Coal-export proponents say the terminal would provide 294 to 430 permanent jobs, and 1,715 to 2,115 jobs during construction.

The site could handle five round-trip trains per day at first, with a long-term capacity of nine daily trains.

Supporters, including BNSF Railway CEO Matt Rose, have argued that if the coal doesn't move through Cherry Point, it would simply go someplace else.

Already, three or four coal trains a day travel along Puget Sound and cross the border to a port near Tsawwassen, B.C., said Jeff Johnson, president of the Washington State Labor Council, who supports the added jobs.

As for how train movements might affect Seattle, the Parametrix study said slowdowns would become worse at spots such as South Holgate Street and South Lander Street in Sodo, when a combination of freight and coal trains might occur at around 6 p.m. "They might have to wait for more than one train," consultant John Perlic said.

Firefighters at three nearby stations could be hindered from reaching the waterfront, the report said.

Full, heavy trains probably would arrive through the relatively flat Columbia Gorge and turn north toward Seattle. But the return trains would be empty and lighter and could cross the Cascades through Stevens Pass, missing Seattle, said BNSF Railway spokeswoman Suann Lundsberg

That would cut the number passing through Seattle by half.

Parametrix is the firm that earlier this year said a new Sonics area would cause minimal traffic problems in Sodo.

McGinn on Monday noted that the expected 6,000 car round-trips to an arena would happen mainly in the evenings when traffic is waning. "In both cases, we're looking at what the data tell us," he said.

Other cities including Edmonds and Marysville have raised safety worries about train traffic near their main streets.

A public meeting about the upcoming environmental-impact study is scheduled for Nov. 13 at North Seattle Community College, from 4 to 7 p.m.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @mikelindblom.

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