Rail Yard Lawsuit Seeks to Protect Vulnerable Kansas Communities

Diesel Pollution from Proposed Project Could Further Exacerbate Region's Poor Air Quality

GARDNER, Kansas (February 1, 2010) -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ approval of a mega rail yard 30 miles southwest of Kansas City fails to address human health impacts from significantly increased diesel pollution, according to a lawsuit filed today by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“There are homes and schools less than a mile away from this rail yard’s cargo transfer facility,” said Melissa Lin Perrella, NRDC attorney. “The thousands of trucks expected to move in and out of that rail yard every day will produce toxic diesel fumes that could pose serious health problems for the surrounding communities, including increased rates of asthma, respiratory disease and cancer. The Army Corps has a responsibility to protect people from these health impacts.”

The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway intermodal facility, designed to transfer cargo between trains and trucks, expects to shuttle cargo by truck throughout the Kansas City region and will generate tons of diesel pollution through an estimated 33,500 daily vehicle trips and other operations. The 500-acre intermodal yard is nearly ten times the size of the railway’s existing intermodal facility near Gardner and will handle nearly 900,000 annual “lifts” -- cargo transfers to or from a train to truck -- and 110 trains daily by 2030. The new rail yard will operate twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and will facilitate the construction of an adjacent logistics park with warehousing capacity up to 12 million square feet.

In 2009, the state of Kansas found that air quality in the Kansas City metropolitan area, where the rail yard will be built, exceeded federal air quality standards for ozone, a harmful air pollutant and primary component of smog. Adding thousands of diesel-powered trucks to the area and using diesel locomotives and equipment to lift containers off and on trucks will contribute to Kansas’ existing air pollution problem.

To protect residents from significant levels of toxic diesel pollution, NRDC is asking Kansas District Court to freeze a permit issued by the Corps and require a full Environmental Impact Statement before allowing the railway to move forward with the project. The EIS should evaluate the extent to which these industrial operations will increase traffic and pollution locally and throughout the region.

“The Corps needs to fully evaluate this project’s pollution impacts so that we can make sure the railway takes all necessary measures to cut pollution and protect public health,” said Lin Perrella. 

Measures exist now to ensure the Gardner rail yard operations are cleaner for people and the local environment. Solutions include the use of locomotives, trucks, and equipment that meet the most stringent EPA emissions standards as well as the use of electric vehicles. Idling of locomotives, trucks, and equipment can be reduced through idling control devices, idling restrictions, and truck electrification stops, all of which reduce air pollution and save fuel. Fleet modernization programs can be adopted to progressively retire older, more polluting vehicles and put newer, cleaner models into service. Many of these measures have been successfully implemented by other similar facilities.

“This type of rail yard operation doesn’t have to lead to worse air quality,” said Lin Perrella. “The railway has a menu of pollution-control solutions at its fingertips.”

The Corps’ initial environmental review for the project indicates that air quality impacts have been understudied and unreported. In some instances, entire categories of analysis have been omitted, such as the extent to which the project will increase cancer risk for workers and nearby communities.

NRDC’s lawsuit follows a similar lawsuit filed earlier this year by the Kansas Natural Resource Council, Hillsdale Environmental Loss Prevention, Inc., and private citizens. That lawsuit focuses on the project’s water quality and air quality impacts.

Related links:

Melissa Lin Perrella’s blog on the Gardner, Kansas project: Army Corps Concludes No Significant Impacts From Major Railyard Proposed For Kansas