I’m going to be charitable and assume that Congressman Rick Larsen (or someone on is staff) is confused, misinformed, or really bad at arithmetic.

Here’s what he wrote to a constituent concerned about the coal export terminal proposed for Cherry Point:

According to project proponents, at full capacity the Gateway Pacific cargo terminal facility could result in 2 to 18 additional trains travelling [sic] through Bellingham per day in either direction.

It’s hard to know what to do with this.

There’s simply no disputing that, at full capacity the site would result in 18 trains per day, at minimum. That’s what’s in the official documents of the project proponents. (See page 4-51 here and numerous other places, but note that the proponents like to give figures only for loaded trains.)

How on earth Larsen gets to two trains is beyond me. It’s beyond logic too.

Is he assuming that the facility might be built at full capacity but not operate at full capacity? If so, then the lower figure should be zero. (And, in any case, that would be an amazingly disingenuous reply to someone concerned about train traffic.)

• ##### Our work is made possible by the generosity of people like you!

Thanks to Joseph Greene & Nancy Flint Greene for supporting a sustainable Cascadia.

• Or is he assuming that the number of trains would vary from day to day? That’s probably right, but there’s still no getting around the fact that, at full capacity, the facility would result in an average of 18 trains per day. For every day at full capacity when the site generates 2 trains, there will be other days when it generates more than 18 trains. That’s how math works.

If you’re concerned about how much rail traffic will be generated by coal terminals, you can go with what the project proponents say, or you can work out the math for yourself. But what you can’t do, unfortunately, is trust Larsen’s understanding of the biggest issue in his district.

Nit picking postscript: If anything, the 18 trains per day figure used by the project proponents is too low. Some arithmetic shows why. 48 million tons of coal per year works out to 131,507 tons per day. Move that coal in 125-car rail cars each carrying 110 tons of coal and you’ve got 9.6 trains loaded with coal per day. When you count both full and empty trains, you double that figure: so we’re looking at a bit more than 19 trains per day, on average, in either direction. And even these figures are actually too modest because they don’t count the additional 6 million tons per year of unspecified dry bulk commodities the terminal proponents are planning, and they don’t factor in that the rail cars will actually hold less coal (102 tons or 109 tons per car, depending on destination). So you could plausibly argue that the right number is 21 or 22 trains per day. But 2? That’s nuts.