Federal board rebuffs opposition to rail application


WASHINGTON -- The federal railroad board has said it will consider the Department of Energy's bid to build a nuclear waste rail line to Yucca Mountain, setting aside a Nevada protest that the application was incomplete.

The Surface Transportation Board denied Nevada's demand that it turn away DOE's application to build and operate a 300-mile railroad from Caliente across rural Nevada to the repository site. The board ruled on June 27.

Paul Lamboley, a Reno transportation attorney working for Nevada, said Tuesday the state was considering options for possible appeal.

Attorneys for the state had argued the DOE rail application lacked an operating plan, safety plans and a meaningful analysis of terrorism risks. They questioned the adequacy of environmental material included in the application.

Critics of the proposed nuclear waste repository charge DOE is rushing to get the ball rolling on Yucca Mountain applications before the nuclear-friendly Bush administration leaves office at the end of the year.

But the three-member rail board said DOE had submitted sufficient information to move forward with a more detailed review. The department could not be expected to provide everything at this point, still several years away from operation, they said.

The board also rejected Nevada's complaint that it had no jurisdiction over the Yucca Mountain project.

The Surface Transportation Board regulates "common carrier" railroads that offer services to the public.

The Department of Energy has yet to declare whether to offer use of the Nevada rail to ranchers and farmers or to operate the line as a private railroad.

The distinction could be important. If DOE declares its Nevada line as private rail, it would fall under state jurisdiction and give Nevada officials opportunities to block it through police, water and land use regulations.

In its seven-page ruling, the board said that made little difference at this point whether DOE has made the decision.

"While DOE may not have made a final decision as to whether to have common carrier service on the proposed Caliente line, such uncertainty does not deprive this agency of jurisdiction," the panel said.