"Our engineering team did some preliminary research and determined it can be efficiently operated," she said.
Rancher Clint McRae, who owns a ranch near Colstrip, said the new route would cut through his property for eight miles or more, setting the stage for his cattle operation to be severely disrupted.
If approved, the railroad would be able to use eminent domain to acquire the land it needs.
"I am not the least bit interested in having a private, for-profit corporation use the power of eminent domain to condemn my private land so we can export coal to China," McRae said. "This is nothing more than an underhanded attempt to slide something under the radar."
Economists have projected that the mine and railroad combined could generate almost 2,000 temporary construction jobs and several hundred permanent mining jobs. McRae and others have warned that would come at the expense of rural communities along the line, and they say burning the coal could worsen climate change.
In an application for the project submitted in October, month, the railroad relied in part on information from the original proposal for the line from 1983. The Surface Transportation Board said in a Nov. 1 decision that it wanted up-to-date information, including more details on the line's ownership structure.