Issues Identification Report for the
Carlin Rail Route Option

Status of the Carlin Rail
Route Option

Unlike the Caliente route option, which was taken to the conceptual design level in 1990 (De Leuw Cather 1991), the Carlin route option remains a corridor, not a specific route alignment. Therefore, the resolution of many issues, not the least of which are whether the Carlin route ultimately may be replaced by another viable rail access corridor and whether rail access will be pursued at all by DOE, is not expected for some time. This chapter describes the Carlin route option as it currently stands, the status of the Carlin option in the DOE rail access study process, and what may be expected in future consideration of rail access to Yucca Mountain.

The Carlin Rail Route Option

DOE explored several areas for the Carlin route option (referred to as "Option 8") in order to obtain access to Yucca Mountain from the paired trackage of the SP and UP between Wells and Winnemucca in northern Nevada. The following sections provide, first, an overview of the full extent of the Carlin route option, which traverses Eureka, (possibly) Elko, Lander and Nye Counties; and second, a more detailed description of the Carlin route option as, in its present form, it would traverse Eureka County.


According to DOE's Preliminary Rail Access Study, the checkerboard pattern of private and public land ownership surrounding the railroads across northern Nevada made complete avoidance of private land difficult, leading to a suggested "minimum impact departure point" from the UP/SP paired trackage to be located about five miles west of Carlin. The initial segment passes through "terrain ... so rugged that private developers were uninterested in the land, and as a result, the greater portions of the terrain were left in Bureau of Land Management (BLM) ownership," according to DOE (U.S. Department of Energy 1990, p. 21).

The initial segment proceeds parallel to Nevada State Highway (SH) 278 along the border of Eureka and Elko counties. To minimize contact with private land, the base route would traverse a rugged ridge east of the highway. An alternative ("Option 8A") for an eight-mile portion of the route would be located farther west, beginning about six miles south of the mainline. Although DOE says Option 8A would present much less engineering difficulty than the base route, the alternative would require use of private land closer to SH 278 (U.S. Department of Energy 1990, p. 21).

About 45 miles south of its departure from the mainline, the Carlin option would leave the vicinity of SH 278 and pass southwesterly into the Monitor Valley, crossing U.S. Highway 50 into Lander County. It would follow the Monitor Valley into Nye County and continue on through the Ralston Valley to a junction with the Caliente route south of US 6, about 12 miles east of Tonopah.

As developed in the Preliminary Rail Access Study, the base Carlin route is approximately 365 miles long. About 95 miles of the base route would be in Eureka County.

The Carlin Rail Route Option in Eureka County

The path of the proposed Carlin route within Eureka County, as described here, was approximated based on maps produced by De Leuw Cather as part of the Preliminary Rail Access Study (De Leuw Cather 1991). As such, it does not purport to represent a detailed analysis of feasibility, NEPA compliance, or other considerations, but is used merely as a graphical illustration for use in this discussion.

The Carlin route would depart from the UP/SP paired trackage near the community of Palisade in northeastern Eureka County at a point about halfway between the county line and Palisade. Although it is difficult to determine the exact point of intersection from the maps produced by De Leuw Cather, it appears to be in the vicinity of the Raine Ranch, at a point where the UP and SP rail lines converge to the north of the Humboldt River after emerging from a pair of tunnels. If the route begins to the east of these tunnels, one or more tunnels would be required for the Carlin route to enter Pine Valley to the south; if the route begins to the west of these tunnels, the route would travel through the Raine Ranch's irrigated fields immediately to the south of the Humboldt River, along Pine Creek.

Because the route passes through narrow portions of Pine Valley in the northern segment of the route, it may be difficult to establish right-of-way fences that avoid the highway's right of way. Assuming the route travels through the Raine Ranch property, the route would generally follow Pine Creek on the east side of SH 278, beginning just to the north of mile marker 78. At several points in the first few miles of the route, DOE would encounter one or more choices among several alternatives: significant grade changes; construction through irrigated or otherwise valuable pastures and hay fields; grade crossings on SH 278 (although none is shown on this segment of the route on the conceptual map); and construction on the alluvial fan.

Beginning at a point about six miles south of the mainline, the base alignment (Option 8) travels southeast into Elko County near the Tomera Ranch and then back into Eureka County near the Bailey Ranch; the alternative alignment (Option 8A) travels more southerly to the east of SH 278, totally within Eureka County. The two options converge about eight miles south-southeast of the point of divergence. In addition to the moderate cut-and-fill potential along the entire route, DOE's alignment choices as described above would persist at least to a point immediately to the east of SH 278 at about mile marker 68, where Option 8A is shown to depart gradually from the highway along the alluvial fan to the south- southeast. The route would then approach the Elko County line just east of the Slanowski Ranch, to its maximum eastern extent under Option 8A at a point where the options converge, then back to the southwest through several washes toward SH 278. Between mile markers 51 and 52 near Sheep Creek Road, the route would travel due west, cross the highway, and then veer to the southwest parallel to the highway about a quarter-mile to the west for about four miles. For the next six miles, the route would gradually turn to about a mile west of the highway, until it crosses J-D Ranch and West Road, or County Road (CR) M-111.

At this point, the route veers more sharply to the west and west-southwest, crossing Henderson Creek about two miles south of the J-D Ranch. From this point, the route travels southwest through the Denay Valley, crossing Roberts Creek Road (CR M-108) about two miles east of Denay Creek near Tonkin Springs. From there, the route continues parallel to CR M-108 toward Tonkin Summit. The climb up Tonkin Summit begins at an elevation of about 6,553 feet and reaches an elevation of 6,938 feet at the summit over the space of about 2.3 miles, an average grade of 3.2 percent along the road. In the last half mile of the ascent, the average rate reaches about 4.4 percent. If DOE adheres to the maximum grade of 2.5 percent, the Carlin route would have to depart from the road to the summit, requiring a number of bridges and substantial cut and fill along the route.

After reaching Tonkin Summit, the route parallels the Bartine to JD Ranch Road (CR M-107), descending into the Monitor Valley. After descending, the route turns to the south, continuing about one to two miles west of CR M-107, crossing a series of creeks, past 3-Bar Ranch and then past Atlas Gold Bar Mine, both to the east of the route. After passing the mine, the route veers more to the south- southwest, then south through Bean Flat, crossing US 50 about one mile east of the Lander County line, entering Lander County about three miles south-southwest of the US 50 crossing.

The DOE Rail Access Study To Date

The DOE rail access study process began with the Preliminary Rail Access Study, which evaluated ten potential rail route options and recommended three options for further study. Subsequently, work progressed sufficiently to complete a conceptual design for the Caliente route, including preliminary alignment and costs. However, budget constraints and an emphasis on characterization of the Yucca Mountain site itself have curtailed DOE's conceptual design efforts since work was conducted on the Caliente route. The following sections provide an overview of DOE's Preliminary Rail Access and Conceptual Design studies and how they affect the current status of the Carlin route option.

Preliminary Rail Access Study

The Preliminary Rail Access Study (U.S. Department of Energy 1990) used several criteria to identify general areas offering potential Yucca Mountain rail access route options. Reconnaissance of this information base led to the identification of ten route options. Once potential route options were identified, the options were evaluated according to somewhat more specific criteria. Alternatives within each major option were also developed wherever possible during the Preliminary Rail Access Study. Two alternatives were identified within the major Carlin route option and were given some consideration. One alternative avoids most private lands but crosses rugged terrain; the other trades a more favorable topography for potentially more conflict with private lands.

The first stage of the process described above led to the inclusion of the Carlin Rail Route Option as one of ten major rail options to be given a preliminary evaluation. The second stage of the process led to the recommendation, based on the preliminary evaluation, that the Carlin route named Option 8 and two other route options, Option 3 - Jean, and Option 7 - Caliente be subjected to further study at the level of a "conceptual design study." The initial identification of ten potential route options and the selection of three for further study represent the outcome of the Preliminary Rail Access Study.

The choices reflect a determination by DOE that each of the three selected route options offers the potential to find an alignment within the general route corridor that is feasible in engineering terms and has less potential land use conflict relative to the other seven route options. In addition, it was noted that among the three selected route options, the Carlin route offers a potential direct linkage to two regional railroads, in contrast to the other two route options that are linked to only one regional railroad (U.S. Department of Energy 1990, p. 32).

Conceptual Design Report

Following the completion of the Preliminary Rail Access Study, conceptual design study of the Caliente route was conducted. Conceptual design study involved development of the conceptual design for the Caliente route option, environmental screening to aid in route siting, and a cost estimate for the conceptual route option. The results of the study were published in 1991 as a draft Conceptual Design Report on the Caliente Route (De Leuw Cather 1991).

Studies of the Carlin and Jean route options were intended to follow, as funding became available. However, conceptual design studies of the Carlin and Jean route options, which were to consist of the same scope of work, have not been undertaken as of this writing because the work has not been funded through the DOE budget process. Furthermore, funding for these studies has not been requested and therefore is not anticipated to be available during the federal fiscal year 1994 beginning October 1, 1993.

Despite the delay, DOE's intention to conduct conceptual design studies of the Carlin and Jean route options has not changed, according to DOE. Once funding is obtained, further conceptual design work will be performed. At that time the question will arise: Which of the remaining two route options will be studied first?

Limited funding became available in fiscal year 1990 to begin conceptual design work. At that point in time, the first task assigned to the subcontractor, De Leuw Cather, was to determine which of the three potential rail route options Caliente, Carlin, and Jean would be studied first. It was decided by the DOE to have De Leuw Cather begin with the Caliente route option first based upon the desire of the community leaders in the City of Caliente and Lincoln County (De Leuw Cather 1991, p. 1-3).

If funding is made available in the future to resume conceptual design work, but funding is provided at a level adequate only to proceed with the remaining studies one at a time, it has not been decided at this time which of the two remaining options would be studied first, according to DOE (Grassmeier 1993). The experience of the first round of conceptual design work, as reported by De Leuw Cather, indicates that the desires of community leaders expressed to DOE and its contractors in a concerted and legitimate fashion may influence the DOE's decision as to the priority for study of remaining route options.

Future Consideration of the Carlin Rail Route Option

The completion of the conceptual design study process for the Caliente, Carlin, and Jean route options will not conclude DOE's obligation to study the issue of rail-based transportation of waste to Yucca Mountain. Transportation issues, including modes and routes to be used, must be fully and openly addressed under the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) as they apply to DOE's pursuit in the future of approval to site and build a repository at Yucca Mountain. In a sense, the issue of what is a proper rail route to Yucca Mountain or, indeed, whether to provide rail access at all, is an issue which, to paraphrase a popular saying, may not reach closure until the issue is closed.

That said, it should be acknowledged that DOE's current intention is to include rail access for transportation of waste to Yucca Mountain in the potential repository-related transportation system within Nevada. There are many variables that will affect the final configuration of the transportation system. Some are geographic: the location of utilities where waste is currently stored, the location of prospective monitored retrievable storage (MRS) or interim storage (IS) sites, whether and when MRS and IS sites may be included in the system, containerization strategies, etc. In spite of many uncertainties, DOE remains committed to a rail transport alternative at this time (U.S. Department of Energy n.d.).

The Preliminary Rail Access and Conceptual Design studies may not close the book on alternative route options. The initial ten potential route options (plus within-option alternatives) and the selection of three for further study represent the outcome of the Preliminary Rail Access Study. When conceptual design work is completed, the field may be narrowed to a preferred, more specifically aligned option that can be contrasted with feasible but less attractive alternatives. Even so, routes that have been screened out will continue to be monitored and, should conditions change, will remain available for re-evaluation, according to DOE (De Leuw Cather 1991, p. 1-1). Also, recommendations made by local communities have been and will continue to be included in route selection activities (De Leuw Cather 1991, p. 1-3).

The issue of transportation rail access route options and other elements of the transportation system will be included as a topic of public hearings that will be held during the preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Yucca Mountain Project, if and when the site is determined to be suitable for a repository and DOE proceeds in its attempt to obtain the required license to build and operate one. Under NEPA, licensing of a repository at Yucca Mountain will have to be accompanied by preparation and submittal of an adequate EIS.

DOE's preferred and alternative route options defined during conceptual design will be presented for public consideration as part of the EIS "scoping" process, a period of public review and comment during which issues of concern to all parties with an interest in the Yucca Mountain Project must be identified, recorded, and evaluated for potential consideration in the EIS. To allow for adequate and informed consideration during scoping, the physical and operating characteristics of each alternative alignment, as well as associated potential impacts, must be presented. Then these characteristics and their potential impacts must be adequately assessed in the EIS.

Since an EIS must be completed and a license for the facility approved before work can begin on a repository at Yucca Mountain, no development activity would occur on the rail access facilities, which are part and parcel of the Yucca Mountain Project, until the EIS is complete and the license approved. However, construction of rail access facilities may be one of the first activities undertaken as part of the prospective repository construction program, since DOE anticipates that rail access to the site ought to be made available within two years of site approval in order to support site development activities (U.S. Department of Energy 1990, p. vii).


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Last Updated 08/2003