Team named for biggest rail-freight project in US since the 70s

The Freedom Bridge in Duchesne County, Utah (Staplegunther/CC BY-SA 3.0)
Rail freight operator the Rio Grande Pacific Corporation has named the engineering and construction team that will complete the $1.4bn Uinta Basin Railway, a 137km line that will provide the first common-carrier railway service for northeastern Utah.

The railway, the largest project of its type to be carried out in the US since the late 1970s, is mainly aimed at transporting crude oil, although it will also carry cargo for mining, agricultural, construction and manufacturing industries in the region.

Aecom, the US’ largest engineer, will deliver the final design of the railway, minus the tunnels, which will be designed by Japan’s Obayashi Corporation.

A joint venture between Sweden’s Skanska and civil engineer WW Clyde will lay the track. WW Clyde is the largest locally owned heavy civil contractor in the state of Utah and has constructed a substantial portion of its major transportation infrastructure since 1926.

Rio Grande notes in a press statement that a selection criterion for the project was the contractors’ commitment to give first nation and local communities preferential access to its jobs.

The scheme was authorised by the US Surface Transportation Board in December 2021 after being proposed in 2018 by the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition in Utah.

Spencer Cox, the governor of Utah, said in a tweet following the December vote: “This will serve the economic interests of residents and businesses in Carbon, Duchesne, and Uintah Counties and all of Utah for years to come.”

Mike McKee, the executive director of the Seven County Coalition, added that there had been “superb cooperation” between stakeholders, tribes, federal, state and local agencies, as well as elected officials and the public.

However, the scheme has been criticised by environmental groups. An article published in Mother Jones earlier this month noted that there were somewhere between 50 and 321 billion barrels of oil, plus an estimated 14 to 15 billion barrels of tar sands locked in the Uinta Basin, and that these have not been exploited owing to its remoteness.

It said: “Environmentalists warn that the railway could have immediate and long-term catastrophic effects by facilitating an increase in oil production that could pump as much as 53 million pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually.”

The Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation is an equity partner in the railway.

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