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Federal approval sought for Montana coal railroad

BILLINGS, Mont. -- Owners of a proposed railroad serving southeastern Montana's coal fields have applied to the federal government to build an 83-mile line carrying up to 20 million tons of fuel annually.

Tuesday's application to the Surface Transportation Board comes after a federal court said in December that prior approvals for the long-stalled Tongue River Railroad were outdated.

The line is owned by BNSF Railway Co., Arch Coal Inc. and billionaire Forrest Mars, Jr.

It would stretch from Miles City south to Ashland, where Arch is seeking to mine a 1.5 billion ton coal reserve.

Construction of the line would take three years and cost $490 million. BNSF spokeswoman Suann Lundsberg says it is up to federal officials when work could begin.

Landowners along the route vow to stop the project.