November 17, 2021 - TRA Newswire -

Fort Worth-based Rio Grande Pacific Corporation (RGP) will be part of a public-private partnership to build and operate a new 85 mile long rail line in Utah to benefit the Ute Indian Tribe.

The Surface Transportation Board granted final approval this week to the $1.4 billion Uinta Basin Railway project. The decision culminated years of work to create a rail connection for Utah's oil-producing counties that had been shipping the Uinta Basin's crude oil exclusively by truck to Salt Lake City refineries. A consortium called the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition was formed in 2014 and called the federal STB decision a boon to rural economic development. The Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation relies on oil and gas production as a revenue source.

The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), released in November, showed that Drexel Hamilton Infrastructure Partners will finance the project and Rio Grande Pacific Corp. will operate the line. The 85-mile railroad would connect Myton and Leland Bench to Union Pacific's line at Price Canyon. The railway website says the Uinta Basin Railway will increase opportunities and competitiveness for agriculture and livestock producers, landowners, contractors, miners and oil and gas producers.

The Ute Indian Tribe is expected to be an equity partner in the project. In the STB filing the tribe's business committee vice chair Edred Secakuku wrote "Royalties derived from these minerals enable the Tribal government to provide critical services to its membership of almost 3,000 members. The highs and lows of commodity markets, economic cycles and geopolitical turmoil all pose risks to this vital source of funding used for education, health, policing, public works, housing, food services, natural resources and sovereign defense. The Uinta Basin Railroad enhances and expands access to both national and international markets which reduces these risks.”

The STB's 4-1 decision was marked by dissention from Martin Oberman. The Surface Transportation Board member said that the railway's only purpose is to move oil and drilling materials that will add to the forecasted climate disaster, according to Oberman. Other environmental groups are expected to contest the decision. Utah Governor Spencer J. Cox tweeted "we’re thrilled that the Surface Transportation Board has approved a new rail line in Utah! This will serve the economic interests of residents and businesses in Carbon, Duchesne, and Uintah Counties and all of Utah for years to come."