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AREMA honors BNSF with Hay Award for 2011 flood-recovery efforts


Earlier this week, the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AREMA) presented the 14th annual Dr. William W. Hay Award for Excellence to BNSF Railway Co. for the Class I's efforts to repair and rebuild infrastructure last year to recover from Northern Plains floods.

AREMA presented the award Sept. 17 at the association's annual conference and exposition in Chicago. The Hay Award recognizes outstanding achievement in railway engineering, and is presented to honor the memory and accomplishments of William Walter Hay, an AREMA member, leader and professional railroader in military transportation and private industry. Winners are judged by three criteria: innovation in developing or applying new concepts, products or practices; enhancing safety; and service performance and reliability.

BNSF was honored for its work in overcoming floods that occurred in spring 2011, when record snowmelt and rain in the Northern Plains caused tributaries and rivers to rise to record levels.

Although the railroad had dealt with "catastrophic flooding" on parts of its network before, the 2011 floods were the "most severe" in the railroad's history because of the length of time that abnormally high river water levels in the Missouri River Basin kept significant parts of the Class I's network out of service, BNSF and AREMA officials said during the conference.

During the conference's general session, BNSF Assistant Vice President of Engineering Services Robert Boileau conducted a presentation describing how the railroad dealt with the floods.

"We're very proud of our efforts in battling these floods, which were really unprecedented," Boileau said, adding that BNSF blankets a good part of the Missouri River reservoir system.

In early June 2011, BNSF sent crews from four states to the Creston Subdivision in Iowa to raise track as high as eight feet in some cases, and build berms and levees to protect track and filled bridges, Boileau said. The subdivision is a main east-west artery between Denver and Chicago, and is crucial for moving coal from the Powder River Basin to points east.

BNSF coordinated its efforts with several agencies and engineering consultants to develop ways to maintain and service during the event. In addition to monitoring daily weather reports and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers" flood predictions, the team also applied GIS and reconnaissance solutions, and evaluated hundreds of photos.

One of the biggest projects that summer was restoring service to the St. Joseph Subdivision, which entailed building four new bridges and lengthening a fifth bridge in the Big Lake, Mo., area. About 20 miles of track was under water at times, most of which crews raised up to five feet so that trains carrying rock, rip rap and ballast could carry loads needed for other flooded areas.

Safety was paramount to the entire flood-recovery process, Boileau told the AREMA audience. In all, BNSF registered only one injury during the project.

"We're very proud of that," he said.

Julie Sneider

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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