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Rail spur could be expanded, but at huge cost

Nov 12, 2013 - The Associated Press

GILLETTE -- City officials in Gillette are discussing the pros and cons of investing potentially tens of millions into expanding a rail spur to help their local economy.

Some question whether that would be smart because Upton, about 45 miles northeast of Gillette, already has an industrial site with a rail spur. A consultant report completed in March advised against developing a new industrial park or site that would compete with the one in Upton.

Others say Gillette is remote enough that a bigger rail spur would provide benefits. Supporters of expansion include Gillette Mayor Tom Murphy.

The Upton rail spur will support development of rare earth elements in northeast Wyoming, Murphy said, while the expanded Gillette spur would help bring in cheaper fuel for use in Campbell County's coal mines.

"Developing our tiny little rail spur is not going to affect Upton at all," Murphy said.

The existing rail spur was developed in the 1980s, and the city has owned the spur since 2003. The city has agreements with some of adjoining landowners that allow them to use the track to unload from rail cars.

Three companies occasionally use the rail spur siding, City Attorney Charlie Anderson said.

"I don't think we've ever had more than four lot owners who had agreements with us to use the rail spur," he said.

One of the issues with the rail spur now is it's too small. Expanding the spur to include a loop would allow it to accommodate trains with up to 100 cars.

Bruce Facility Planning Consultants, however, concluded that Campbell County shouldn't develop a new industrial park or site that would compete with the Upton site.

"You do have a resource that has a lot of public money in it already in Upton, which has not come anywhere near to approaching its capacity yet," said Jim Bruce, president of the consulting company.

"We are talking about what will ultimately be pretty significant expenditures of money and we just believe that it's prudent to make sure that it's a good investment."

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