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Rail News: Passenger Rail

BNSF, Amtrak and Sound Transit work with Washington DOT to address recurring mudslides


Four partners involved in rail service and safety along a corridor between Seattle and Everett, Wash., late last month agreed to jointly determine the root causes and potential solutions to mudslides that caused a record number of Amtrak Cascades and Sounder service disruptions this winter.

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), BNSF Railway Co., Sound Transit and Amtrak plan to analyze mudslides from a broader perspective and work to preserve the line between Seattle and Everett, which serves as a crucial corridor for freight-, commuter- and intercity passenger-rail services.

"This collaboration will help us shift the focus from short-term responses to repeat mudslide occurrences to a long-range solution for this vital transportation corridor," said WSDOT Secretary Paula Hammond in a prepared statement.

As the line's owner, BNSF temporarily suspends passenger service when a mudslide occurs or a high-level mudslide threat exists. Amtrak and Sound Transit provide alternate transportation for services impacted by mudslides.

"Safety must remain our highest priority," said BNSF Assistant Vice President of Passenger Operations D.J. Mitchell. "BNSF is committed to operating passenger trains in a manner that always places the safety of passengers first and to continue to work with our passenger-rail partners on reducing the long-term risks of mudslides."

WSDOT and BNSF plan to continue working together to reduce the near-term potential for mudslides through current strategies, including more frequent preventative maintenance, immediate repairs and stabilization work on affected slopes, better drainage and deeper ditches next to tracks, and the addition of water-retention areas. They also will focus on long-term engineering and design work, and determining appropriate slide-prevention solutions.

Some potential improvements are in the design phase and construction is slated to start later this year. But the work represents only a small part of the significant investments needed to virtually eliminate mudslides, WSDOT and BNSF officials said.

WSDOT will continue to work with the three partners to identify and pursue state and federal funding, along with BNSF support, to pay for long-term stabilization projects.

"The challenge remains to fully understand the factors contributing to frequent mudslides in this corridor," WSDOT officials said. "The four rail partners will review recent slope studies, historical slide data and updated analyses, with a goal of drawing preliminary conclusions about underlying conditions or combinations of factors contributing to slides."