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Environmental Matters > Southwest Gulf Railroad in Medina County, TX

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Key Cases: Southwest Gulf Railroad, Construction and Operation, Abstract

On February 27, 2003, Southwest Gulf Railroad Company (SGR) filed a petition with the Surface Transportation Board (STB or Board) seeking the Board’s authorization to construct and operate a new rail line in Medina County, Texas (Finance Docket No. 34284, Southwest Gulf Railroad Company – Construction and Operation Exemption – Medina County, TX). SGR’s proposal involves the construction and operation of a rail line approximately seven miles long from a Vulcan Construction Materials, LP (VCM) proposed limestone quarry to the Union Pacific (UP) rail line near Dunlay, Texas. Operations over the rail line would consist of two round trips or four total train trips per day (two empty trains moving from the UP rail line to the quarry and two loaded trains moving from the quarry to the UP rail line).

The STB issued a decision on May 19, 2003, finding that, from a transportation perspective, the proposed construction and operation met the standards of 49 U.S.C. 10502. In that decision, the STB stated that a further decision would be issued after completion of the environmental review process, making SGR’s construction and operation proposal effective at that time if appropriate, subject to mitigation conditions if necessary.

The STB has worked diligently to ensure that SGR’s rail construction proposal advances in a manner consistent with STB requirements and federal law, including the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act. The STB’s Section of Environmental Analysis (SEA) issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for public review and comment in this proceeding in 2004. The DEIS assessed four potential rail routes for SGR’s proposed rail line to the VCM proposed quarry, as well as the No-Action Alternative (the use of trucks to transport the limestone to the UP rail line if SGR’s rail line were not built).

Based on the comments received on the DEIS, SEA decided to prepare a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) for public review and comment. SEA issued the SDEIS on December 8, 2006. The SDEIS included additional historic property evaluation and analyzed three additional rail routes to the east of the routes originally considered. The SDEIS preliminarily concluded that two of these eastern routes would be environmentally preferable to the routes previously studied in the DEIS because they would avoid or minimize impacts to rural historic landscapes in the project area discovered during the course of the environmental review. The comment period on the SDEIS closed on January 29, 2007.

SEA reviewed all comments and prepared the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), which responds to the comments received on the SDEIS, and the comments previously received on the DEIS. In response to concerns raised during the SDEIS process, the FEIS presents the Modified Eastern Bypass Route, a modification to the Eastern Bypass Route. The modification would follow the same right-of-way as the Eastern Bypass Route, but instead of bisecting the Weiblen property and Castoville West Subdivision, it would closely follow property lines to the extent practicable to minimize adverse impacts to the Weiblen and Castroville West properties, and finally connect to the Proposed Route in the southern end of the alignment before connecting to the UP main line.

SEA has concluded that the Eastern Bypass Route, the Modified Eastern Bypass Route, and the MCEAA Medina Dam Alternative would be the environmentally preferred alignments. Should the Board authorize construction and operation of the proposed rail line, SEA recommends that it authorize all of these routes, subject to the 91 environmental mitigation measures set out in the FEIS. The conditions, which address a number of environmental resource areas, such as groundwater; surface water and wetlands; traffic safety; noise and vibration; biological resources; air quality; land use; and historic preservation, would minimize the potential adverse environmental effects of the construction and operation of the proposal. One of the conditions requires compliance with a Programmatic Agreement, which has been signed by all the necessary parties, setting out a process for addressing potential impacts to historic sites under the Eastern Alternatives.

Issuance of the FEIS completes the Board’s environmental review process. The Board will now make a final decision on the proposed project. In the interest of bringing this matter to closure, the Board will act as promptly as possible.

Click here to view the FEIS