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Friday, January 22, 2010

BNSF West Coast employees battle mudslides as El Nino lashes out

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BNSF employees in the greater Seattle area have cleared at least five mudslides the week of Jan. 18 after El Niño showered heavy rains on the area, the railroad's employee newsletter reports. At one area, between Seattle and Everett, Wash., on the Scenic Subdivision, crews were working to clear tracks after three separate mudslides in the same area brought commuter traffic to a halt.

The mudslide, 20 feet wide by 40 feet deep, covered both sets of track and included about 40 downed trees. The mudslide occurred after measurable rainfall had stopped. The mud flowed over the tracks, across the seawall and into Puget Sound.

"Our crews are working to restore service as soon as safely possible," said Gus Melonas, regional director, Public Affairs.

Who says it never rains in sunny Southern California? Significant rain and periodic snow have been reported across all of California, across the division from Tehachapi to the high desert and into Cajon Pass. Although many vehicular roadways have been closed periodically during this storm, the BNSF track structure has held up with minor exceptions, according to Mark Kirschinger, general manager, Operations, California Division.

"Our maintenance-of-way team has built and maintained an infrastructure second to none. This reliability has enabled us to meet our customer expectations despite this unusual and severe weather," Kirschinger said.

The Northern and Southern California Signal Team has been working diligently throughout the storms to keep rail traffic moving, bringing in employees from adjoining territories to expedite troubleshooting and repair, establishing 24/7 coverage at Barstow, quickly resolving crossing issues due to high winds in the San Joaquin area and staging portable generators at critical areas to cover any commercial power outages.

BNSF's Winter Action Plan, which contains countermeasures to minimize risk and avoid delays, has been activated.

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