BNSF Railway plans to spend about $175 million on rail network upgrades throughout Washington this year, with a significant portion going to projects in the Columbia River Gorge and Vancouver.
“All our major routes will receive tie and rail replacement,” said BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas, adding that the work is part of the company’s focus on maintaining high-traffic corridors.
BNSF crews will start working around the state in March. The maintenance plan includes the replacement of about 150,000 wooden railroad ties, 15,000 concrete ties and the replacement of about 30 miles of rail.
Additionally, crews will do surfacing and undercutting work on almost 920 miles of track.
Starting in May, crews will replace more than 30,000 ties between North Bonneville and Wishram.
“Curve work will be a big part of work in the Gorge,” Melonas said. “The life of a rail can last for decades on straight lines, but on curves with heavy tonnage, rail wear can be six years.”
In some areas, crews will also use machines to raise the track up to appropriate levels and correct the elevation of the rocks that hold it in place.
The year’s capital projects also include the continuation of the Washougal River bridge replacement in Camas. That project began in 2014 and is expected to be finished by the middle of this year.
At its property in Vancouver, BNSF will replace more than 5,000 ties in the Vancouver rail yard. Melonas said an average of 700 rail cars use the Vancouver switching yard daily.
The work comes as part of a systemwide $3.4 billion capital expenditure plan BNSF announced in late January.
In the past four years, BNSF has made more than $650 million in track improvements in Washington.
Last year was BNSF’s safest year on record in terms of derailments, Melonas said.
“That doesn’t happen by luck, it happens by a focus on safety,” he said. “The backbone to a successful railroad is a strong track structure.”
Nationwide, BNSF owns more than 32,000 miles of tracks and operates in 28 states and three Canadian provinces.