What Coal Trains Mean for Property Values

New analysis: hundreds of millions in property losses from coal exports.
This post is part of the research project: Northwest Coal & Oil Exports

In June, Sightline wrote about the possibility that coal trains could damage property values in the Northwest based on an economics research paper that focused on southern California.

Now, we’re very pleased to see that Climate Solutions is publishing a detailed analysis of the losses that coal trains would inflict. Ross Macfarlane has the details:

Paul Zemtseff, an experienced appraiser and valuation consultant with the Eastman Company, looked at impacts from the coal train traffic to properties within 600 feet of the proposed route in Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish, King and Pierce Counties. He concluded that properties near the coal trains would likely experience very significant impacts, including increased traffic congestion, noise, vibration, safety concerns, pollution, and stigma.

Given the tremendous value of property near the proposed coal train route in Northwest Washington, the report concludes that even a one percent drop in the properties studied would equal approximately $265,000,000 in lost value.  This loss may also translate into lost revenues for the state and local governments as the tax base declines. Zemtseff also concludes that his analysis is conservative…

Go read the rest of what Ross has to say.

As Ross points out, a one percent drop yields hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. Yet the expert valuation of properties near the main coal route finds that, depending on the location and type of property, the losses would likely be at least 5 percent—and they could range as high as 15 or 20 percent.

Coal export proponents claim they’re offering an economic benefit but—as the property value issue shows—closer inspection reveals that the proposals are much more likely to be very harmful to the region’s economy.

We are a community-supported resource and we can’t do this work without you!



  1. Washy says:

    Really?? Ok I’m going to try to be nice about this. The railroad was here loooong before all these houses and property owners where, so don’t try to sell off that property values will be lower cause of coal trains, they’re already lower for the most part cause the railroad is there.. Why are you bring up issues that are truly none issues, there isn’t any difference in a coal train, grain train or an intermodal train, they all do the same sounds and everything you mentioned.. And why would you quote something from California?? This isn’t California and I hope to god these two states never end up like that!!

    • Eric de Place says:

      I bring up California because, as far as I know, it’s the only other place where people have actually studied the effects of increased freight rail traffic on property values. Those findings were borne out in the appraisal analysis done in the Puget Sound region. To my mind, those two pieces of evidence should give us pause.

      Plus it’s just common sense. How could a huge increase in rail traffic NOT decrease nearby property values?

      The real question, I think, is whether it could result in a dimunition in assessed property values enough to reduce property taxes by more than the coal terminals would generate. It could very well turn out that the coal projects will actually result in lower tax collections.

    • maureen says:

      I agree the railroad has been in place for almost a century in southern BC; however, the increase in coal trains is much more recent. We have seen it go from 4/day to 18/day, with the projection of 22 every 24 hours as shipping ports plan to increase export of US coal through Canadian ports.

      This increase has already diminished our quality of life: horns blowing throughout the night without any consideration of residents nearby; vibrations from heavy trains with 128 cars and 4 engines that have broken our window seals and cracked our plaster; traffic delays blocking access to the only road into our village (what do we do in an emergency?); shipping coal through our pristine Salish Sea, Gulf and San Juan Islands; dirt/dust from open coal cars infiltrating our home . . . the list goes on.

      • chloe scarf says:

        Hello Maureen,
        i live and work in Crescent Beach,30km south of Vancouver,and we recently became privy to the bnsf’s plans to up the coal trains from 2 a day,to 8 or more.We had speakers from Bellingham and Vancouver come to our business and speak to a full house.We are finally getting some momentum here with alerting people to what we have to look forward to-which it sounds to me,you are having more than your fill of! Would you be willing to skyppe chat to a group of us down here?I presume you are in the interior of southemn b.c.?

  2. Phil says:

    Hi Eric

    Thanks for posting this information. I will take some time looking into this.

    In terms of the comment regarding the train being here loooong before. I have heard this argument several times and I have the same answer. The trains up to 7 years ago were rarely more than 60-70 car trains. Loooong before the trains were 20 car trains. Now we have seen trains as long as 150 cars which can take, depending on speed limit restrictions in urban areas up to 10 minutes to pass. This not only impacts property values but puts peoples lives in danger if there was a medical emergency.

    The little choo choo is no longer and the 21st Century Industrial trains carrying toxic chemicals and open coal cars with drifting dusts carrying into people’s home is the new norm.

    By the way, there was a USGS study in 1999 on the geochemistry of Powder River Basin coal and they found numerous trace elements of heavy metals and radioactive particles in “medium” to “high” concentrations in most test sites. What is the impact from these coal dusts on human health? Most symptoms will not be evident for years well beyond the decision makers terms of office but for developing young people it may be sooner than later.

Leave a Comment

Please keep it civil and constructive. Our editors reserve the right to monitor inappropriate comments and personal attacks.


You may add a link with HTML: <a href="URL">text to display</a>