Judge rules in favor of BNSF Railway Co.

A nearly 2 1/2-year-old federal lawsuit between two railroad companies wanting to use some Richland railroad tracks is over.

U.S. District Court Judge Edward Shea issued a ruling Wednesday in favor of the BNSF Railway Co., which was at odds with the Tri-City & Olympia Railroad Co.

At issue was whether BNSF could operate its cars on a portion of the rail line, referred to in the lawsuit as the Richland Trackage, that runs north of Richland to the Hanford site.

Tri-City Railroad had an agreement with the Port of Benton to maintain that portion of the track. It also had a contract with BNSF to service BNSF cars for a fee.

In 2009, BNSF decided to operate its own cars on the track, but the Tri-City Railroad claimed it had exclusive rights to the track and put up a barrier blocking BNSF from reaching customers.

BNSF sued in federal court to prohibit Tri-City Railroad from blocking its access to the Richland Trackage, and the two companies have been operating under a proposed operations plan created to comply with the court's preliminary injunction.

Union Pacific Railroad and the Port of Benton joined the lawsuit.

Tri-City Railroad asserted that BNSF and Union Pacific had only limited use of the track, court documents said.

BNSF, however, argued that it had the right to operate on all the track as long as it was "moving freight shipments," said court documents.

Shea ruled that BNSF and Union Pacific had the right to operate directly on the Richland tracks and granted a summary judgment Wednesday in favor of BNSF. All other motions tied to the issue were denied.

In his written order, the judge also ordered representatives from the three railroad companies to draft a comprehensive operational plan and file the proposal with the court by Dec. 23.

The Port of Benton will then have a week to submit comments or objections to the proposed plan.

"We hope everybody gets together and we can work this thing out and get things back on track," Scott Keller, the port's executive director, told the Herald.