Facts about the Gateway Pacific Terminal and how you can help this important project

Diagram of proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal

Washington state is one of the most trade engaged economies in the nation, with at least 40 percent of all jobs in Washington state tied to international trade. 

According to the Washington State Department of Commerce, exports drive Washington state’s economy, accounting for more than 30 percent of economic growth over the past decade and contributing to almost half of the new jobs created over the past 30 years. 

Just 17 miles south of the Canadian border at Cherry Point, Wash., SSA Marine is proposing to build a bulk export terminal that would help American producers export dry bulk commodities, such as grain, potash and coal to Asian markets. 

A boost to Whatcom County’s economy

Whatcom County continues to lose ground to the rest of Washington state. Personal income and hourly wages are falling farther behind the state averages. Unemployment is high, and 1,400 industrial jobs have vanished since 2007, when the Georgia-Pacific mill – the last large factory in Bellingham – closed after 150 years. Construction of the Gateway project would bring the following benefits: 

• At full build out, it will create 4,400 jobs and provide $92 million in tax revenue for state and local services (over an estimated two-year construction period). 

• Once in full operations, it will create 1,250 ongoing jobs and generate more than $11 million per year in state and local tax revenue. 

Gateway Pacific Terminal supportersServing a new terminal

BNSF will serve GPT and needs to make improvements to an existing six-mile rail spur in Custer, Wash. This rail spur today serves existing industrial customers at Cherry Point, and the proposed improvements would enable BNSF to serve new customer demands in the areas. 

BNSF’s improvements must go through an environmental review process. The permitting agencies have determined BNSF’s improvements should be included in GPT’s environmental review process. 

The facts about rail and GPT

While GPT will be designed to handle a variety of bulk commodities, it is the terminal’s proposed capacity to handle up to 48 million tons of coal that project opponents have used to create scare tactics to frighten communities along BNSF’s lines from Wyoming to Bellingham. 

Opponents have misrepresented or exaggerated train count numbers, coal dust, diesel locomotive air emissions, and traffic delays at grade crossings to prevent the terminal from being permitted. 

However, in the process of trying to stop the terminal with misinformation about trains,  opponents are jeopardizing one of our nation’s best ways to grow and become greener. How you can help 

Rail is the environmentally preferred way to move large volumes of freight in the world and is up to four times as fuel efficient as moving freight by highway. Simply by moving more freight by rail, we can help solve some of our nation’s biggest issues by reducing highway congestion and air emissions, and improving fuel efficiency. 

Gateway Pacific Terminal supportersTrain counts

There are five proposed export facilities in Oregon and Washington. While it is highly unlikely all five will be built, BNSF only has exclusive access to one of the proposed facilities, GPT. The others are either jointly served by more than one railroad or served by another railroad.

Project opponents have taken the full capacity of all facilities, assumed all freight would be originated on BNSF (when both the Union Pacific and BNSF have access to Powder River Basin mines), and then assumed all freight would take the same route inbound and outbound to all facilities. 

These assumptions are simply not credible.

The facts:

• GPT would be designed to handle one to nine loaded trains per day. These trains could range from 110-150 cars in length. 

• BNSF has three major east-west routes through Washington, and exact routing of loads and empties would depend on several factors, such as customer needs, weather, and freight volume. 

Coal dust

Opponents have claimed thousands of tons of coal dust are released in transit on BNSF lines every day, polluting the air and water. 

The facts:

• BNSF led the effort to identify coal dust as a track maintenance issue in the Powder River Basin where coal trains are loaded, and BNSF has led the effort requiring shippers to eliminate the issue. 

• Before this project was announced, BNSF was not aware of any resident raising concerns about coal dust to the Northwest Clear Air Agency, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency or the Spokane Clean Air Agency. 

• BNSF now requires its customers to treat coal carloads with a surface crusting agent to prevent dust. Peabody, the first customer at GPT, has committed to treat all coal exported through Cherry Point with a sealant to eliminate any potential concerns about coal dust in the state of Washington.

Gateway Pacific Terminal supporter Brad Owens
“We have approximately 30% unemployment in the local construction industry. This project would provide approximately 4,400 jobs at full capacity. These are jobs that pay a good wage and provide health care and pensions for their families.”
-Public testimony from Brad Owens, President of the NW WA Building & Construction Trades Council

Grade crossings

Opponents have claimed that longer and more frequent trains will increase delays at grade crossings including emergency vehicles, and that tax payers bear the burden of improving grade crossings.

The facts:

• Vehicle traffic in the U.S. has quadrupled since 1960 while the number of locomotives and freight cars has declined by 1/3, according to U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. 

• Washington state’s population and vehicle traffic have more than doubled since 1970. 

• It is the growing populations in Washington state, the U.S. and the rest of the world that are driving the significant increases in vehicle traffic and the demand to move more freight by rail. 

• BNSF believes there are long term solutions to these growing congestion problems. BNSF has a program that has worked with states and communities to eliminate more than 5,000 at-grade crossings since 2000, and BNSF has long called for a national transportation policy that involves communities, states, the federal government and different modes of transportation, including railroads, to improve our nation’s freight and passenger mobility. 

• The chance of an emergency vehicle having to cross the intersection at the exact time a train is passing is very low. Delays caused by traffic on the highways are more likely. 

• In the event a train is stopped at a crossing, BNSF has posted emergency contact numbers at all public grade crossings for contacting a 24-hour operations center during crossing emergencies.

Funding of infrastructure

Opponents like to state that communities and tax payers should not pay for needed rail improvements to handle the increased freight. 

The facts:

• All upgrades to Washington state freight railroad infrastructure are paid for by private capital from the freight railroads, not by taxpayer dollars. 

• BNSF has invested more than $36.5 billion since 2000 to maintain and expand its network to accommodate current and future freight volumes. In fact BNSF has added more than 1,000 miles of 2nd, 3rd and 4th main track (not including sidings) to its system since 1996.

How you can help

GPT has just started its environmental review process, and we need your help to advocate for rail and for jobs for Whatcom County. 

There are several ways you can participate. 

In person

You can attend a public scoping meeting and submit a comment vocally, to a court reporter or in writing. Here's a schedule of upcoming meetings.


You can submit a public comment on the agencies’ website.

In writing

You can send a letter of support via email or mail. Here is a sample letter of support.


Subject: Docket number COE-2012-0016: Proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal draft EIS scoping comments

Dear Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Ecology and Whatcom County Council:

I support the Gateway Pacific Terminal and request a fair review of the proposal that will put thousands of local residents back to work and be designed in a way that will protect the environment. This project would positively affect my community by creating much needed family-wage jobs, increasing local tax revenue, and utilizing a site that has been zoned for heavy industry for decades. Please ensure compliance with Washington’s high environmental standards, but avoid unnecessary delays.

Sincerely, [Your Name] [Your Address] [Your City, State & Zip]


Click here to fill out a form and send the support letter.


Want to send a copy of this letter, or a letter in your own words, into the EIS Scoping authorities by traditional mail? Please do! You can send your thoughts to this address via postal mail:

GPT/BNSF Custer Spur EIS
c/o CH2M Hill
1100 112th Avenue Northeast, Suite 400
Bellevue, WA 98004

For more information on the project, please visit the project website.

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