San Juan County commissions feasibility study for return of rail service

HDR Engineering Inc. receives contract to identify best alignment for project

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — A long-discussed idea to return rail service to the Farmington area took another step forward this week when the San Juan County Commission awarded a contract to an Albuquerque firm to perform a feasibility study of the project.

HDR Engineering Inc. was awarded the contract during the commission's Jan. 18 meeting. The company's fee will be paid for from a $2 million Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development grant administered through the U.S. Department of Transportation that the county received in September 2020.

Diana Chapman, the county's chief procurement officer, said a request for proposals regarding the study was sent to more than 40 firms last fall, and two responded. A committee made up of local economic development officials studied the proposals and recommended that the contract be awarded to HDR.

County spokesman Devin Neeley said the purpose of the study is to identify the best right of way and alignment for a railroad spur between Farmington and the Interstate 40 corridor. The project has been talked about by government officials throughout San Juan County for years, and county officials made it one of their highest-priority items when they adopted a list of planning initiatives for the next five years in 2021.

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Officials have estimated the price tag for a new railroad spur at anywhere between $100 million and $250 million, according to The Daily Times archives. But they believe such an investment would pay dividends in terms of being able to attract more manufacturing to the county and diversifying its economy.

Neeley said when the feasibility study is complete, county officials likely will begin searching for grant money or try to determine if there is any interest in the creation of a public-private partnership to get the rail spur built. County officials previously have said the best route forward for the project is for the county to partner with a private industry, perhaps in the petrochemical field, to build the spur, which the company, not the county, would own.

County officials signed a memorandum of understanding with Navajo Nation leaders in 2020 to work together on the project.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.