EVERETT - Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway says it needs to stabilize six locations on hillsides above its tracks in south Everett and Mukilteo. The railroad, which has been tracking slides since 1914, calls this one of the five worst winters on record. The six projects are within eight miles of the railroads right of way.
“Last year we had only four events compared to 56 this season,” said Gus Melonas, a railroad spokesman.
Those 56 events just involved the slides large enough to block the rail line. Overall there have been 200 slides, some of them tiny. At least 100 are viewed by the railroad as significant.
A slide also triggers a 48 hour waiting period for any passenger train for safety reasons. But on Sunday, the first slide brought down by heavy weekend rains derailed three cars of an Amtrak train. No one was seriously injured and the cars stayed upright.
Most of the time standby crews are able to clean up the slides and have freight trains running within a few hours.
If there are no more slides, Sound Transit indicates on its website it should be running trains again on Thursday.
Like a $10 million project in 2010 in north Seattle near Carkeek part, BNSF engineers are studying their options on how to stabilize slopes. The options include better draining of rain water from above, retaining walls, terracing and other techniques.
The work would be covered by a $16 million federal grant on top of millions BNSF has already invested. The federal money is involved because the Amtrak and commuter trains are publicly owned.
The concentration of slides comes as no surprise when looking at a map prepared by hazard geologists at the Washington Department of Natural Resources. Since the slides are driven by rain, which saturates the ground allowing gravity to take over, the rain in the Everett and Mukilteo area is the heaviest in Western Washington (showing as bright purple on the map), indicating rain totals of 130% of normal.