"They are trying to fast-track this with minimal analysis," he said. "That's why they didn't disclose the full purpose of the railroad. The route now points like an arrow to the West Coast."

Railroad attorneys wrote in their application that the railroad "has the potential to transport additional coal from the considerable coal resources that are located (in the area) and will service any mines developed in the area."

They added that there are no known mines in the works at present beyond Arch's planned Otter Creek Mine.

The Surface Transportation Board on Tuesday announced it had accepted the railroad proposal for consideration. Agency spokesman Dennis Watson could not immediately say Thursday what bearing that action could have on the petition from opponents.

First proposed in the 1980s, backers of the railroad struggled for years to line up financing until being bought out in 2011 by BNSF Railway Co., Arch Coal, Inc. and candy-industry billionaire Forrest Mars, Jr.

Last month, the co-owners unveiled a new route for the line, through Colstrip instead of Miles City.

BNSF, which would operate the line, said the Colstrip route would have fewer impacts than the original route through Miles City.

In separate proceedings involving Otter Creek, Montana regulators will host three public meetings next week to establish the scope of the state's environmental review for the mine.

Meetings are scheduled on Jan. 16 at 6 p.m. in Broadus and on Jan. 17 at 2 p.m. in Ashland and at 6 p.m. in Lame Deer.

__

Surface Transportation Board: www.stb.dot.gov

Montana Department of Environmental Quality: www.deq.mt.gov

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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