BNSF’s demands narrow options for rail crossing alternatives
Last updated 3/10/2016 at Noon
Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad has weighed in on the City of Edmonds’ rail crossing alternatives analysis with definitive objections. It will not approve of any concept that impacts existing or future rail lines, and it will not contribute any money to the chosen solution.
Rick Wagner, manager of BNSF's public projects Northwest division, advised members of the Mayor’s Advisory Task Force on At-Grade Rail Crossings Alternatives Analysis on Feb. 11 that it will not consider any change to the vertical or horizontal alignment of existing tracks through Edmonds or currently planned future tracks.
Wagner said the tracks as they currently exist work perfectly well for BNSF, and changing the alignment would not add any value to its operations or business.
Task Force member Phil Lovell told the Edmonds Planning Board at a Feb. 24 meeting that BNSF is among the “heavy hitters” or stakeholders at the table. Others include: Washington State Department of Transportation, WSDOT - Ferries Division, Sound Transit, Community Transit and the Port of Edmonds.
The Task Force was formed in July 2015 to study solutions for improving waterfront access during emergencies and reducing delays and conflicts at the Main and Dayton Street at-grade rail crossings.
Task Force members and stakeholders met on Feb. 11 to narrow down the submitted concepts. Forty-eight proposals have been cut down to 16, Task Force and City Councilmember Mike Nelson said.
Six concepts were set aside due to BNSF’s objections, including the Edmonds Train Trench. The Task Force requested that BNSF provide a written explanation of its objections.
In an email to Public Works Director Phil Williams, Wagner provided additional guidelines, which include BNSF right-of-way and clearance requirements.
Wagner said BNSF will not “change current operational practices or sacrifice any current operational flexibility to facilitate an alternative” beyond brief periods of construction or short-term incidents.
Williams requested data from BNSF regarding the current number of gate closure incidents and projected rail traffic volumes for the next 20 to 30 years.
BNSF will provide gate closure data for the Main and Dayton crossings, but it will not be soon, Wagner said. There are delays due to holidays and weather, and the research is “time consuming.”
Regarding projected traffic volumes, Wagner said BNSF “would not offer that information even if it were available.”
Nelson said he was surprised by BNSF’s guidelines.
“On one hand, it’s a bump,” he said. “On the other hand, it’s good to know this now if we’re going to go down a path of spending time analyzing and money researching a project that they’re going to have a problem with.”
Sound Transit Project Manager Jodi Mitchell said ST also had concerns about requirements for raising and lowering train platforms.
“Burlington Northern is not the only major stakeholder partner agency that needs to weigh in on this, because there are a lot of these solutions [that] have potential impacts environmentally and to Sound Transit, to WSDOT, to the ferry system, so we need to listen and be very attentive to the needs and guidelines of these agencies,” Lovell said at an informal presentation to the Planning Board.
The City of Edmonds has budgeted about $690,000 for the alternatives study from state, regional and local sources; however, it has not identified sources of funding for the environmental permitting, design or construction phases of potential alternatives.
In the Feb. 11 email, Wagner also said BNSF “will not participate in the cost of the solutions, except where an at-grade crossing is eliminated or is modified to be grade separated, per Federal Railroad Administration requirements.”
“I think that’s their position, now,” Nelson said. “I think everybody’s position can change.”
Right now the concepts are somewhat abstract, he said, but as the Task Force comes up with more tangible results, BNSF might be more interested.
The Task Force will narrow down the existing proposals using the following criteria:
Does the concept improve reliable emergency response to the west of the tracks?
Does it reduce delays to ferry loading and unloading?
Does it reduce delays/conflicts for pedestrians, bikes and motorists at the rail crossings?
Does it provide safe and efficient intermodal connectivity between various travel modes?
Is the concept feasible to implement?
Does the concept avoid environmental effects or impacts?
Does the concept avoid creating social and/or economic impacts?
Options still on the table include overpass or underpass solutions or modifications to ferry operations.
Nelson said more detailed descriptions of the options are not available at this time, because the Task Force is looking at possibilities for implementing short-term solutions and possible combinations of long-term solutions.
“We’re shrinking it down,” he said, “and we’re on track.”
During March and April, Nelson said the Task Force will be moving from concepts to alternatives.
A public meeting will be held in April to present a proposed list of alternatives and gather feedback. The date has not been set.
The Task Force anticipates having one or more preferred alternatives to recommend to the mayor and the Edmonds City Council by September.
Task Force meetings are held at 10 a.m. on the second and fourth Thursdays of each month at Edmonds City Hall, Brackett Conference Room, 121 5th Ave. N.
For more information, visit http://www.edmondswaterfrontaccess.org.