Night-time ban on Fenoco coal railway, Colombia

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In January 2015 Colombia’s constitutional court ruled that Fenoco’s coal railway to Puerto Nuevo coal terminal could not be used between 10:30pm and 4:30am due to the noise and dust impacts on the residents of the town of Bosconia.[1]

The railway is owned and used by Drummond, Glencore’s subsidiary Prodeco and Colombian Natural Resources (CNR), which at the time was owned by Goldman Sachs.

The ban came into effect on February 13. 2015.[2] Residents wanted the railway rerouted around the town.[3]

Background

In December 2012 it was reported that the Regional Autonomous Corporation of Cesar, the regional environmental regulator, ordered Fenoco to end rail transport between 10:30 pm and 4:30 am where the railway was less than 100 meters from residential communities. At the time it was reported that Fenoco carried about 160,000 tonnes a day on the rail line. The December 10 resolution, designed to ensure residents sleep was not disrupted, stated "this preventive measure will be lifted once the causes are found to have disappeared."[4]

Reuters reported Fenoco was banned from running trains at night near populated areas in early 2013 by environmental regulators but the decision was overturned shortly afterwards.[1]

The Wall Street Journal reported in early 2014 that "as many as 26 trains" a day pass through Bosconia. It was reported that residents have petitioned the government and companies to relocate the rail line due to concerns about respiratory problems from coal dust from the uncovered rail wagons while vibrations from trains were reported to be cracking the walls of houses. Drummond claimed that dampening and compacting the coal in the open rail wagons was sufficient control measure while Prodeco described its anti-pollution control measures as being planting tree barriers and cleaning roads frequently.[5]

The January 2015's constitutional court decision was in response to a complaint filed by 139 residents of Bosconia about the noise and the health impacts of dust from the coal wagons.[1]

Just a week after the ban came into effect, Fenoco and the Mines and Energy Ministry applied to the Constitutional Court to overturn a court decision banning the night-time operation of coal trains. Fenoco argued the night-time rail ban could cut exports by Drummond, Glencore and CNR by approximately 14 to 16 million tonnes a year.[2]

Fenoco President Patrick Ross told Bloomberg that “we’re complying with the order … A night curfew has been implemented and we are taking the necessary steps to mitigate the noise.”[2]

The President of Drummond’s Colombian subsidiary, Jose Linares, told Bloomberg that to reduce noise Fenoco had taken to greasing the tracks and avoiding the use of whistles near Bosconia.[6]

In a bid to circumvent the ban, Fenoco sought to build noise barriers in the hope of persuading a regional tribunal to overturn a ban on night-time coal trains. However, Bosconia residents blockaded the works after having been told about the plan for the noise barriers – comprising gabions which are rock filled wire cages – the day before Fenoco commenced construction. The head of corporate mining at the Mines and Energy Ministry, Pedro Enrique Perico, told reporters at the Colombia Mining Association that Fenoco had said that they would call police in to end the blockade. [3] [7]

In late September 2015 a Colombian court has temporarily lifted a night-time curfew on Fenoco’s coal railway to allow for testing the effectives of noise control measures. The regional environmental agency has until October 30 to file a report on results of a 15-day trial on the railway noise levels.[8]

Ban extended

Subsequently, Colombia’s Constitutional Court extended the six-hour overnight coal train ban from Bosconia township to also include three municipalities in the neighbouring province of Magdalena. The May 27 ruling was in response to a complaint by three communities over noise pollution. The court has also ordered Fenoco to suspend construction on a second track for three months in Magdalena while it investigated whether the local communities had been properly consulted over the increase in track capacity.[9]

Fenoco President Patrick Ross said that the extension of the night-time ban "basically extends the curfew for another 90 kilometers ... So you can’t stage trains just outside Bosconia like we did before and then run trains as soon as the flag goes up.”[9]

The Mines and Energy Minister, Tomas Gonzalez, complained the decision was "very grave" for the coal industry. Gonzalez flagged that there may be ways to ensure the restrictions were just temporary. “Community rights in terms of noise and the environment do not need to clash with the development that coal brings. There are ways to make them compatible,” he said.[9]

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