Four Corners Freight Rail Study Team plans public meetings in Shiprock, Farmington

The Daily Times staff
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — A group studying the economic feasibility of building a freight rail line between Gallup and the Four Corners region will hold meetings this week in Shiprock and Farmington to shine some light on what it is doing.

“The Four Corners Freight Rail Study Team will be holding Public Information meetings to introduce the study to the community and share information on what the project benefits are, the funding and the study timeline,” a Sept. 12 announcement from the group said.

The first meeting takes place Tuesday, Sept. 13, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Phil L. Thomas Performing Arts Center on U.S. Highway 64 in Shiprock.

The second meeting will be Wednesday, Sept. 14, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Farmington Civic Center, 200 W. Arrington St.

The issue is being studied by San Juan County, the Navajo Nation and the Federal Railroad Administration, the news release said.

"Despite 140,000 route miles, the U.S. freight rail network does not currently serve San Juan County, the Navajo Nation or the greater Four Corners region," according to the website https://4cornersfreightrail.com/. "This Feasibility Study will develop activities and alternatives for a proposed new rail line between San Juan County near Shiprock with a connection to the BNSF Railway near Gallup and Thoreau."

The news release said the service “would not only add freight rail to the region but could also potentially reduce commercial traffic, decrease the potential for traffic accidents, and open up the doors of economic opportunity to the region.”

San Juan County has received a $2 million federal grant to study freight rail service to the county.

“In September of 2020 a Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, or BUILD, grant was awarded by the US Department of Transportation,” San Juan County noted in a September 2021 news release. “In February of 2020, San Juan County entered a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Navajo Nation to take steps in planning for the possibility of freight rail service.”

Over the years, many public officials have weighed in on the importance of the project to the region’s economy.

“Rail service has been discussed in our area for decades,” San Juan County Commissioner John Beckstead said in the county’s September 2021 release, “Today, the San Juan County Commission can take steps to create jobs for San Juan County and the Navajo Nation, moving full-steam ahead to build a diverse economy for the future.”

A map provided by San Juan County shows existing railroad tracks and defines the rail corridor study area.

The BUILD grant program is a nationwide program that provides funding for roads, bridges, transit, rail, ports and intermodal transportation, according to The Daily Times archives.

The U.S. Department of Transportation said when the grant was offered that the railroad would reduce the amount of freight traffic on highways in the northwest corner of the state, which will make those highways safer and reduce the amount of maintenance needed on those roads, according to The Daily Times archives.

The grant money was to be used in two phases, the first to fund an economic feasibility study and then for a design and construction study, which would examine right of way, alignment and access.