Monday, July 30, 2012

Will the railroad return to the Uintah Basin?

Founded in 1902, the Uintah Railway transported passengers, livestock and wool between Mack, Colo., and Watson, Utah. The primary cargo hauled over the winding, narrow-gauge track however was Gilsonite — a natural asphalt found only in the Uintah Basin that was used in lacquer paints and electrical insulators.

But when Gilsonite prices went off the rails in the late 1930s, so did the Uintah Railway.

Now, based in part on a desire to cut the number of double-tanker trucks hauling crude oil out of the Uintah Basin, officials at the state and local level will study the current and future transportation needs of the region.

One possibility on the table? A new railroad system.

One double-tanker truck leaves the Uintah Basin every three minutes, according to Cheri McCurdy, executive director of the Uintah Transportation Special Service District.

The district McCurdy heads has $700,000 from the state Community Impact Board — which allocates a portion of the tax money Utah collects on oil and gas production in the state — to commit to the regional transportation study. An additional $200,000 is coming from the Utah Department of Transportation, and Duchesne County and its transportation district are kicking in another $200,000.

Possible transportation modes for meeting the demands identified in the report will be evaluated in a future phase of the study. And while rail is definitely one possibility that will be considered, according to UDOT spokeswoman Mindy Nelson, it's not the only option that will be evaluated. Deseret News