The Interbay and Ballard communities are two of many that will be impacted by an increase in coal trains, should SSA Marine be able to get through red tape and build a coal exporting port near Bellingham, Wash., at Cherry Point. What will be the full impact to us as Seattle citizens if we increase the number of coal trains from three or four now, to 12 or more later? 

This is their current plan of developers SSA Marine with respect to its proposed coal-export terminal. 


Local impacts

First on the list, coal is a dirty source of energy. If Washington state becomes the biggest coal exporter in the United States, it suggests that we are OK with playing a role in the further pollution of our global environment. 

This spring, the Seattle City Council adopted a resolution that states coal exporting runs in direct opposition to Seattle’s mission to create a better environment and to develop more “green” sources of energy, and they would like to see this proposal stopped.

Second to consider are the health ramifications of coal dust. As trains travel from Colorado along the Columbia River and along our rail lines in Ballard, they are dropping coal dust through the cars they are shipped in, which impacts rail safety. 

A second coal-dust concern comes from the dust blowing off the top of the uncovered cars. The coal is unstable, combustible and cannot be covered.

The impact of coal dust, known to be toxic, is unhealthy and may be linked to lung cancer and asthma and is a byproduct of shipping coal through our area. A group of more than 200 doctors have signed a petition against coal trains coming through our state due to these health concerns.

Third, and maybe the biggest, concern is that more coal trains translates to more congestion and traffic snarls. The coal trains generally are 100- to 125-cars long and take between five and 10 minutes to pass through our area, with five diesel engines used due to the heavy weight of the coal, to push them through town, through Interbay, through Ballard and through Golden Gardens Park. If we add an additional, nine full trains daily — which is the initial number proposed in connection with the Cherry Point facility — that would add more than 1,000 full cars of coal and related coal dust daily coming through our community. 

It also adds 1,000 empty cars that would then be run back either on the same tracks or on another route to go back to Colorado to refill with additional coal loads. 

When you think about traffic slow-downs for us regular commuters, but also for emergency vehicles who are called to crisis situations such as fires and medical emergencies, you need to ask if this type of delay — which would add at least one to two hours a day of stopping at tracks before being able to cross — really makes sense? 

None of these delays will be addressed by the coal companies or shipping port developers; yet, we would be expected to adjust our schedules with no compensation for the changes made to what is already a pretty congested traffic scene here in Seattle. 

We should weigh carefully the impact of more traffic delays so that coal trains can ship their loads to China.


Time to act

The time to step in and learn more about this and take a stance is now. Once the coal companies and SSA Marine have come through with their plans to develop their exporting port, it will be too late to be heard or make a change to their development plans. 

For additional information, contact The Sierra Club (206-378-0114 or or 

Liz Talley is an associate broker with Windermere Real Estate–Ballard. To comment on this column, write to