You want proof? You got it...

By Eric Livingston | May 01, 2013


Mr. Pierre’s column “Complaining about the Railroads” came to my attention last week when a friend emailed me a link to it.

After reading it a few times I began to think Mr. Pierre, in his folksy charming way, was just trying to get a raise out some of the readers.  Seeing who might rise to the bait, so to speak.

He went so far as to toss a gauntlet asking for proof that coal dust “might cause any damage to our air quality or the beauty of the expensive properties adjacent to the RR.”

Ok, I’m silly enough to give it a shot.

So, I decided to do a bit of research. I learned there is scientific evidence that might “prove that these trains might cause any damage to our air quality or the beauty of the expensive properties adjacent to the RR.”

In the Journal of Wind Engineering and Industrial Aerodynamics; I found a paper which studied Wind tunnel study of coal dust release from train wagons; authored by A.D. Ferreiraa, P.A. Vaz.  In the second paragraph of the introduction is this statement:

“In terms of chemical composition coal does not represent any major dangerous pollutant but, as considerable coal dust quantities may be lost from train wagons due to Aeolian erosion, they are capable of producing a considerable environmental impact on some residential or agricultural areas, particularly those crossed by the railway or located near to it.”


The International Journal of Coal Geology has this study: Coal dust dispersal around a marine coal terminal (1977–1999), British Columbia: The fate of coal dust in the marine environment by Ryan Johnson and R.M. Bustin.  The last sentence of the abstract is:

“Coal distribution would likely affect those benthic flora and fauna, most susceptible to coal dust coverage and possible anoxic conditions that might arise during coal oxidation within very close proximity (0–100 m) to the coal-loading terminal.”


The second paragraph says this about coal dust:

“However, Roberts Bank is not naturally a deep-seaport and is located in one of the most ecologically important estuaries on the west coast of North America. The construction of the coal terminal has had numerous effects on the local ecology, and the release of coal dust has had a detrimental impact on the region.”

(ed. - Robert Banks is a coal terminal)

It really got interesting when I found these papers:

•               Study on Control of Coal Dust of Coal Trains Travelling Along the Daqin Railway

•               Preparation, Evaluation and Application of Dust Suppressant in Coal Railway Transportation

•               Study on preparation of dust suppressant used in coal transportation

•               How to Use Overlay Agents to Control the Pollution Caused by Stack raised Dust

Yes, these papers are in the English language version of the Journal of the China Railway Society, but what makes these papers so interesting is that the Chinese are painfully aware of the problems of transporting coal via the railroad and the pollution caused by coal dust.

Finally, on the Sightline Institute website ( ) Eric de Place writes:

“Coal dust escapes from the open-top rail cars used for transporting coal and can create safety and congestion problems for rail traffic. In 2005, for example, coal dust that had accumulated in ballast, the layer of crushed rock that supports rail tracks, caused derailments. Coal dust deposits sometimes even cause spontaneous fires.

“The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) has studied the problem and found that as much as a ton of coal can escape from a single loaded coal car, while other reports show that as much as three percent of a coal car’s load, which is typically 100 tons or more, can blow away in transit.


“The US Department of Transportation classifies coal dust as a “pernicious ballast foulant” that can weaken and destabilize rail tracks.”

I figured that was enough research to prove there is scientific evidence that coal dust will pollute.


Eric Livingston

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