BNSF toils to cap off Transcon double-track work by year’s end

Crews are installing 10 miles of double track along the Southern Transcon route between Ellinor and Bazaar, Kansas. The work is slated for completion by year’s end. BNSF Railway Co.

Established by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway in the 1880s and stretching about 2,200 miles, the Southern Transcon route is vital to BNSF Railway Co. It’s the primary route for the Class I’s intermodal franchise for containers moving between southern California and Chicago.

That means capacity is key to ensure the Transcon’s infrastructure meets BNSF’s and shippers’ needs. Over the past few decades, the Class I has added long double-, triple- or quadruple-track stretches on the busiest parts of the Transcon or at chokepoints.

Current double-track work is concentrated in the Emporia Subdivision, one of BNSF’s 11 subdivisions that’s named for the nearby city in Kansas. Running from Wellington to Kansas City, the sub will host the last segment of the Transcon to gain double track.

The railroad began the multiyear project in 2019 to install about 50 miles of adjacent track next to a single mainline on portions of the Emporia Subdivision. After the last section of adjacent track is installed, the route will be more fluid with a shorter and faster connection than the current overflow route through Newton, Kansas.

A 10-mile portion of double track between Chelsea and Aikman, Kansas, was completed in 2020. By 2021’s end, another 10 miles is expected to be placed in service between Ellinor and Bazaar, Kansas.

The entire multiyear project involves the installation of 267,000 track feet of rail, 133,000 concrete ties and 316,000 net tons of ballast, and the construction of 19 bridges. BNSF is using its own track and signal construction crews to install all track and signal components, wrote BNSF Assistant Vice President of Engineering Services and Structures Craig Rasmussen in an email.

“We have contractor support to assist with the civil work, such as earthwork and grading,” he said.

Emporia Subdivision project The multiyear Emporia Subdivision project involves the installation of 267,000 track feet of rail, 133,000 concrete ties and 316,000 net tons of ballast, as well as the construction of 19 bridges. BNSF Railway Co.

BNSF aims to invest in its network to drive efficiencies and productivity, with the ultimate goal to add capacity where customers need it most, Rasmussen said.

“To do this, we balance the installation of additional tracks by investing in our terminals, crew change points and fueling locations, which ensures overall network fluidity,” he said.

BNSF officials characterize the addition of a second main track to the Transcon as comparable to converting a single-lane road with bi-directional traffic into a divided highway.

“The same volume can move through in a much less time, which improves our overall network velocity and fuel efficiency, and reduces the impact that our routine maintenance programs have on the flow of traffic,” said Rasmussen.

The Emporia Subdivision double-track project includes a high number of drainage structures — more than 100. In addition, there are geological challenges in the form of in situ, high plastic clays, and large quantities of limestone and shale excavation. 

“We used an alternative project delivery method known as construction manager/general contractor to develop creative solutions for these challenges,” said Rasmussen. “During the preconstruction phase of the project, our team sought geotechnical expertise from contractors to help design solutions that would account for the sustainability of the asset well into the future.” 

Ultimately, the approach will help reduce the total cost of ownership by taking into account future infrastructure maintenance.

After work in the Emporia Subdivision is completed, two smaller portions of the Transcon will remain as single track.

“Both are river crossings, one over the Missouri River at Sibley, Missouri, and the other over the Salt Fork River at Alva, Oklahoma,” said Rasmussen.