BNSF replacing bridge over Washougal River

Work part of $235M plan for its rail system in Washington

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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Replacement of a century-old railroad bridge over the Washougal River is part of a $235 million capital plan for its Washington rail system, BNSF Railway officials announced Thursday.

The money will go toward expanding rail capacity as well as maintaining and upgrading track facilities.

The Washington portion of the work is part of a billion-dollar capital plan along BNSF Railway's Northern Corridor between the Pacific Northwest and Chicago.

Some of the maintenance work was recently completed in the Columbia River Gorge, while work on one upcoming Clark County project — the Washougal River bridge — begins this year and could extend into early 2016.

Replacing the railroad bridge is budgeted at about $10 million, BNSF Railway spokesman Gus Melonas said.

The 550-foot-long bridge, which is in Camas, was built in 1908; it has been upgraded over the years.

The track will not close for the project; the construction work will be done around the daily train traffic, Melonas said. The bridge replacement will be finished in late 2015 or early 2016, he said.

Some Vancouver-based crews already have been busy along the Columbia River, east of Vancouver.

"Recently, as many as 200 regional track crew personnel working through Vancouver replaced rails and ties through the Columbia River Gorge," Melonas said.

The track replacement near Wishram, about 100 miles east of Vancouver, eliminates part of the soundtrack of rail travel, by the way.

"It's a seamless rail, continuously welded in quarter-mile sections," Melonas said. "It eliminates the clickety-clack."

Amtrak's daily Empire Builder trains use that track.

Vancouver-based workers also were part of an upgrade project that started Wednesday on the Oregon side, Melonas said.

BNSF also will make an investment in personnel in Vancouver, hiring about 100 new train crew members, track workers and signal and mechanical personnel, Melonas said.

Vancouver plays a critical role in BNSF's Washington network, Melonas said.

"Six hundred to 700 rail cars are switched daily at Vancouver, and currently 40 trains are operating through the Columbia River Gorge daily," he said. "The Portland/Vancouver-to-Seattle corridor handles 50 to 60 train movements a day."

BNSF Railway, owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire-Hathaway, is enjoying major growth in demand. The railroad is moving crude oil and coal from the Midwest and Canada to shipping terminals, including ports in Washington and Oregon, for transport to refineries and final markets.