Steamboat Springs An existing rail line has emerged as potentially the best option to supply coal to the Hayden Station power plant.
Xcel Energy on Monday submitted a preliminary application to Routt County planning for a special-use permit to construct a rail line near Hayden. There are four options outlined in the application, including one that does not involve obtaining property from landowners or building over environmentally sensitive areas.
Xcel partially owns and is in charge of operations at the Hayden Station power plant. For years, Xcel has tried to find a way to get coal to the plant by rail to eliminate the need to truck coal using county roads.
Finding the right place to tie into the existing Union Pacific line along U.S. Highway 40 has not been easy. Obstacles include the highway, the Yampa River, environmentally sensitive areas and private landowners with ranches and working agricultural land.
Xcel's newest option, Alternative 2, became a viable option after discussions between Union Pacific and Xcel.
"We've been putting a lot of pressure on Union Pacific to give in a little," said Michael Diehl, principal agent for siting and land rights with Xcel.
Union Pacific officials originally told Xcel that it could not use the spur because there is no Y-connection and one could not be built, Diehl said. A Y-connection would mean a train could access the spur from the mainline from both the east and west without having to stop and reverse on the mainline. Diehl said Xcel expects future coal for Hayden Station would come from the west, so the existing spur would work. Even if coal came from the east, Diehl said the company would negotiate with Union Pacific.
The Colorado Department of Transportation is moving away from allowing crossings where rail and roads exist at the same grade.
Xcel is proposing building an overpass so highway traffic will not be affected near the crossing just west of where U.S. Highway 40 crosses the Yampa River East of the Hayden Station.
"It has the least amount of impact of all the options," said Hayden Station Manager Gary Gilleland on Monday.
Another option included in the application, 1C, involves tying into the mainline in the Mount Harris Region before it crosses U.S. Highway 40. This option would require a rail bridge across the Yampa River. There could be environmental impacts with this option.
In January 2005, county commissioners turned down Option 2A, but it is again presented as an option. Commissioners rejected 2A because it would have crossed a conservation easement partially owned by the county on the Carpenter Ranch.
Option 2 also goes through the Carpenter Ranch, but it is on existing Xcel right-of-way and is not included in the conservation easement.
With another option, 6D-2, the rail would cross under U.S. Highway 40 and run nearly parallel to existing tracks owned by Peabody Coal Co. just east of Hayden. Diehl said Peabody will not let Xcel use the existing line so a line would have to be built.
"We've been working with Peabody for the past six months very diligently and we haven't really came to any solution," Diehl said.
Routt County Planner Chad Phillips said the county is in the process of hiring a consultant to provide expertise to the county as the rail planning moves forward.
Xcel's pre-application could be reviewed by the Routt County Planning Commission during a public meeting as early as January, Phillips said.