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BNSF plans $189M in rail work across Washington

BNSF Railway Co. will spend $189 million toward maintenance and improvements on its track system in Washington state this year, the company announced Friday.

The work will include more than 1,000 miles of track surfacing and undercutting, the replacement of almost 50 miles of rail and 200,000 railroad ties, among other fixes.

Areas of focus will include BNSF’s Columbia River Gorge main line east of Vancouver and the route between Vancouver and Seattle, said BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas. BNSF also expects to start construction this year on the replacement of a railroad bridge over the Washougal River in Camas.

The Washington upgrades are part of a record $6 billion capital investment campaign across the entire BNSF system this year, Melonas said. The company spent about $5.5 billion on capital projects last year, he said. BNSF and other railroads own and maintain their own networks.

“BNSF’s vision is to meet our customers’ expectations,” Melonas said. “A critical component of that is a strong track structure.”

This year’s work in Washington has already started. Earlier this week, rail crews moved along the Gorge route near Stevenson. That line is one of BNSF’s busiest in the region, running 35 to 40 trains daily, Melonas said.

After dipping due to the Great Recession, BNSF’s volumes have increased in recent years. But they still haven’t climbed back to their peak levels in 2006, Melonas said.

Evolving types of cargo – including crude oil – have brought heightened attention to railroads and rail safety recently. Virtually no crude moved by rail in Washington in 2011, but trains now carry millions of barrels of oil through the state each year. Two to three oil trains now roll through the Gorge and Vancouver daily.

Amid questions and worries, BNSF officials have repeatedly stressed their commitment to safety. The railroad reiterated that stance with Friday’s announcement.

“This year’s substantial investments in Washington are a clear reflection of how important our operations in the state are to our overall network and our unwavering commitment to always operating safely,” Daryl Ness, general manager of operations in BNSF’s Northwest Division, said in a released statement.

Melonas said this year’s improvements aim to minimize delays and protect the communities and environments that railroads pass through.

The railroad’s entire system reaches 28 U.S. states and three Canadian provinces. The Texas-based company operates 32,500 total miles of track.