By Mark Lambrecht, Executive Director, Treasure State Resource Industry Association
We’ve seen a lot of hand-wringing over coal trains lately. But frankly, railroads are an essential part of Montana’s growth, more now than probably since the first tracks were laid in the state more than 100 years ago. Whether coal trains, grain trains, lumber trains, or oil trains—it’s all GOOD for Montana. It’s a sign that more people are working, more wealth is being created, our economy is strengthening and our tax base is expanding.
The fact is, the increase in rail traffic our state is experiencing is related to the growth in a number of industries, not just coal—that’s exciting news for Montana.
Recently the Montana Department of Commerce released export data for 2012 showing a record year for exports of Montana products to foreign markets. Last year Montana exported more grain and more energy than in any previous year. Predominately, these Montana commodities left the state by rail as the first step in their journey to foreign markets.
The growing demand for Montana commodities around the world means more capital flowing into our state and accelerating job creation. When we take advantage of Montana’s natural resource wealth—be it agriculture, minerals, timber or energy—we create prosperity that benefits all Montanans.
Domestic demand for Montana products has also increased rail traffic. Recent data from the Association of American Railroads demonstrate oil shipments by rail have doubled in the last two years nationwide. It is estimated that over 200,000 rail car loads of oil will be shipped in 2013, up from just 80,000 four years ago. Most of that increase in rail traffic is coming from the Bakken oil field in Montana and North Dakota.
The increased availability of rail for oil shipments has been one reason for the Bakken’s rapid increase in output—providing new opportunities for mineral holders in Montana and the companies looking to extract that oil. The incredible economic stories we’ve all heard coming out of the Bakken exemplify what can happen when we responsibly develop our resources. It would not happen if we didn’t have adequate transportation.
Rail transportation is good for Montana. As a remote, rural state, Montana needs access to domestic and international markets. Rail transportation is competitive, safe, environmentally friendly and increasingly makes our resources available to the world. Whether it’s coal or other minerals, cattle, wheat, lumber or Montana oil, our best chance for creating jobs and generating tax revenue for critical public services depends on railroads.
Without rail transportation, Montana’s valuable resources will remain locked here and the jobs and economic benefits they can provide will not happen.
Mark Lambrecht is Executive Director of the Treasure State Resource Industry Association in Helena. The mission of the Treasure State Resource Industry Association is to establish and maintain coalitions to promote and advocate for responsible natural resource development and reasonable environmental regulation in Montana.