BNSF invests $125M in state's track system

Work results in 300 new hires, 100 from the Vancouver area

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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A broad capital investment effort now underway is steering an estimated $125 million in maintenance work and improvements to BNSF Railway's track system in Washington this year, the company announced Monday.

The work will include almost 2,800 miles of track surfacing and undercutting across the state, plus the replacement of about 175 miles of rail and 110,000 railroad ties, according to BNSF.

Crews are focusing much of their attention on the company's Columbia River Gorge line, which connects directly to the Vancouver area. From Vancouver east to Wishram, a stretch of about 100 miles, workers will replace some 26,000 wood ties and 5,700 concrete ties, said BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas. Most of that work was completed earlier this year; the rest is expected to wrap up this fall.

One of the busier stretches of railroad in the region, BNSF's Gorge corridor sees as many as 35 trains pass through in a 24-hour period, Melonas said.

The statewide upgrades resulted in about 300 permanent new hires in Washington, Melonas said. Close to 100 of those came from the Vancouver area, he added.

The work is part of an effort by the private rail company to meet current and future freight needs, and improve safety on its tracks, Melonas said.

"We want to protect the railroad, the public and the environment," he said. "A safe railroad begins with a strong track system."

The Washington investments are among $4.3 billion in capital work this year across BNSF's entire network, which reaches 28 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. The latest round of projects comes as BNSF's freight volumes climb back toward their pre-recession peak in 2006 and 2007.

"BNSF's capital investments in Washington will help ensure our network is prepared for growing demand for freight rail," BNSF CEO Matthew Rose said in a released statement. "We are focused on investing to meet our customers' expectations and on expanding capacity where growth is occurring."

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro; eric.florip@columbian.com.