BNSF: A casual approach to railroad safety

Permalink +

Mon, Apr 04, 2016, 8:17 pm  //  John Servais

A coal train of over 100 loaded rail cars going north above Clayton Beach on Bellingham Bay with dangerous erosion on 40 foot bluff supporting rails.

The coal train in the photo above is heading north along Bellingham Bay just above Clayton Beach. Notice how it  seems to overhang the sandy bluff?  That is because the bluff has been eroding toward the track and is now within a couple feet of the track ballast, as can be seen in photos below this article.  

These photos show the erosion of the 40 foot bluff that supports the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad tracks about five miles south of Bellingham.  The bluff is entirely made of sand laid down by natural geologic processes and is gradually eroding. Except for this section, the railroad has dumped big rocks below the bluff in an attempt to stabilize it along the beach.

The photo above, taken on Sunday, April 3, shows a heavily laden coal train of over 100 cars on the track. The sand erosion is plain to see. I am amazed the shore-side rail has not sagged and propelled a coal train - or worse, an oil train or even Amtrak - down the 40 foot cliff. It takes little imagination to realize the catastrophe of either an oil spill or the human tragedy if a passenger train were to derail.

Photos below were taken in January, February, March and last November, as we have been observing and photographing the actively advancing erosion as it works toward the tracks. As you can see, the erosion is occurring at the rate of an inch or two a month. But the erosion does not need to reach the actual rail ties for there to be a disaster.

Looking at the expanded gravel sides at either end of this eroded area, it appears there are plans to add a rail siding over a mile in length. Perhaps BNSF is waiting for a permit to build the siding and will then expand the reinforcement of this embankment. If so, they are playing with our environmental and physical safety.

Elisabeth Britt, who posts the Latte Republic blog here in Whatcom County, has collaborated with me over the past few months as we have tried to make sense of this potential disaster in the making. She has written to the railroad experts - Burlington Northern and the railroad inspection people - to express her concerns. Their responses are that there is nothing to worry about, they are aware of the situation and it will be fixed in due time. Their soothing replies are posted as screen shots below this article. 

For readers not familiar with it, Clayton Beach is a rustic, undeveloped state park along the shore of Bellingham Bay on State Route 11, Chuckanut Drive. It is a beautiful sand beach. An oil spill here would quickly flow into the Salish Sea  - which includes Bellingham Bay - and flow with tidal currents through the San Juan Islands. It would be extremely difficult to get rescue or cleanup equipment to the beach area from either land or sea.

A final note.  In a couple photos below you can see the remains of some white chalk marks. That was originally a smiling face put there by BNSF workers.  They told Elisabeth Britt that when the face was gone they would fix the gap. Well, the white smiley face is completely gone and they are now putting orange chalk markings there....

Close up showing how close the erosion is to the rails. In four months it has eaten away a couple feet closer to the rails.

A view looking north and showing Clayton Beach below, Bellingham Bay and Lummi Island in the top left.

The erosion on Feb 2, 2016, two months ago. As of April the eroded embankment is not only closer to the rails, but much steeper than last Feb.

The chalk smile in January, 2016. In April it is gone as erosion continues. You can see the high tide of Bellingham Bay which is eating away at the sandy base of this bluff.

The erosion as of Nov 21, 2015 - four months ago.

Elisabeth Britt letter of concern last November, 2015.

Aerial view showing where Clayton Beach is located on Chuckanut Drive south of Bellingham.

Close view from Apple Maps showing the RR tracks along Clayton Beach and the Chuckanut Drive highway further up away from the shoreline.

For over a mile along this straight stretch of track the BNSF has widened the gravel bed - probably for a planned siding along Chuckanut.

April 3 view of the train with Clayton Beach below the bluff.

Related Links:

-> Broken rail causes massive oil train wreck in W Virginia
-> Oil train mishap was preventable - inspectors failed in their inspections

Tip Johnson  //  Mon, Apr 04, 2016, 9:37 pm

They carry plenty of cargo far more hazardous than coal or oil.  Just one car of highly toxic compound might catastrophically damage the estuary, not to mention any number of beach goers.


David Camp  //  Tue, Apr 05, 2016, 3:18 am

It seems strange that BNSF would leave this for so long when they are spending so much money on roadbed improvements, double tracking, and closing public road RR crossings in the County. I suspect they have a big plan for this spot, prob double tracking, and are waiting for drier weather to start work. Or dealing with more pressing matters. If they are planning on double-tracking this stretch, it may make a mess of Clayton beach - be careful what you wish for.


BNSF: A casual approach to railroad safety

At Clayton Beach, we have tracked increasing erosion under railroad tracks and written to the railroads and federal inspectors. To no avail.

John Servais
Mon, Apr 04, 2016, 8:17 pm
2 comments; last on Apr 05, 2016

Anchor-chain activists face hefty fines

The Coast Guard has levied $30,000 in fines on two Bellingham climate activists. They will fight to have the fines dropped.

Ralph Schwartz
Thu, Feb 18, 2016, 5:01 am
16 comments; last on Feb 22, 2016


Bye Bye

Shell Polar Pioneer floating oil drill rig left the Pacific Northwest for Norway today. Nice holiday gift for all of us.

John Servais
Fri, Dec 25, 2015, 11:31 am
2 comments; last on Dec 25, 2015

A Learning Moment - Hopefully

Beware walking RR tracks on the Fairhaven waterfront in the event of unexpected encounter with a high speed train

John Servais
Sun, Sep 13, 2015, 9:42 am
2 comments; last on Sep 18, 2015

Chiara D’Angelo comes down from anchor chain

Young Chiara spent 3 nights hanging from the anchor chain of Shell Oil's Arctic Challenger as a protest to arctic oil drilling.

John Servais
Mon, May 25, 2015, 8:17 pm
0 comments

A Perspective on Port Politics

The port's latest bone-headed deal calls for the good citizens of Whatcom County to consider the options...unless we're enjoying our Groundhog Day.

John Servais
Sat, Apr 04, 2015, 1:15 pm
3 comments; last on Apr 07, 2015

Port Gives Away Our Bellingham Waterfront

Port of Bellingham today sold out our public waterfront to a foreign shell company formed 6 days ago. Sold it cheap and with a screwy arrangement.

John Servais
Wed, Apr 01, 2015, 12:20 am
32 comments; last on Apr 05, 2015

Robyn du Pre` Has Passed On

Add your thoughts and remembrances. Robyn du Pre` was a stalwart and true environmental advocate for Bellingham and Whatcom County. She died this week.

John Servais
Thu, Mar 12, 2015, 1:06 pm
9 comments; last on Mar 23, 2015

Action Alert for Tonight: Waterfront Wildlife and Habitat Threatened

The public needs to support city council and request that a waterfront habitat assessment include terrestrial species and habitat connectivity.

Wendy Harris
Mon, Apr 21, 2014, 11:43 am
0 comments

Reid Boiler Works Burns Down

The old empty Reid Boiler Works industrial building in Fairhaven burned to the ground Saturday night.

John Servais
Sun, Feb 09, 2014, 10:13 am
0 comments

Port’s Alternative Marina Analysis a Scam

Do we actually need to say that we, as citizens, want accurate information from government officials?

Guest writer
Tue, Jan 14, 2014, 3:19 pm
1 comments; last on Jan 14, 2014

Port Memo Addresses Marina Fraud Allegations

A Port of Bellingham internal memo tries, but fails, to justify changes in cost estimates for alternative marina sites.

Wendy Harris
Fri, Dec 20, 2013, 4:56 pm
5 comments; last on Dec 22, 2013

On Monday, City Council Votes “third and final” Approval of Waterfront Plan

Local activist calls on Bellingham City Council to table the unpopular waterfront plans and engage in meaningful public process

Wendy Harris
Sat, Dec 07, 2013, 1:33 pm
2 comments; last on Dec 08, 2013

Video Exposes City Council Dysfunction on Waterfront Plan

The Political Junkie has posted a 3 minute video showing Bellingham City Council members explaining their idiocy for all of us to watch.

John Servais
Thu, Dec 05, 2013, 12:58 pm
2 comments; last on Dec 06, 2013

Cascadia Weekly Blasts Waterfront Plan

Bellingham City Council and Port of Bellingham finalize the waterfront plan. In his weekly Gristle, Tim Johnson blasts the corrupt public process.

John Servais
Wed, Dec 04, 2013, 11:53 am
4 comments; last on Dec 05, 2013

Boulevard Park Reopens

Beach reconstruction is done at Boulevard Park on the Bellingham waterfront. Paths along shore are again open - and it looks good.

John Servais
Sat, Oct 26, 2013, 8:36 pm
6 comments; last on Nov 02, 2013

Treaty Rights and Public Rights Ignored In Overwater Walkway

The city staff considers the overwater walkway a done deal before official approval or resolution of treaty right conflicts

Wendy Harris
Tue, Oct 08, 2013, 3:22 pm
4 comments; last on Oct 16, 2013

Wildlife Impacts Missing In COB Waterfront District EIS

The city and port have not addressed wildlife impacts from waterfront development and this should be done before a waterfront plan is enacted.

Wendy Harris
Sat, Sep 28, 2013, 6:05 pm
0 comments

Sen. Doug Ericksen Co-opts rather than Cooperate

Riley Sweeney examines Sen. Ericksen's legislative methods

Riley Sweeney
Fri, Jun 28, 2013, 7:29 am
0 comments

Waterfront “Planned Action Ordinance” Limits Restoration and Public Input

The City Planning Department has included a technical document in the waterfront proposal without disclosing important impacts.

Wendy Harris
Tue, Mar 26, 2013, 9:59 pm
1 comments; last on Mar 30, 2013

Valuable Article in the Whatcom Watch

Wendy Harris writes about the proposed $8 million concrete bridge along the Bellingham waterfront - using Greenways funds to build.

John Servais
Sun, Mar 17, 2013, 9:42 pm
3 comments; last on Mar 20, 2013

Waterfront EIS Revised Without Public Process

An "Updated Preferred Alternative" reduces the number of waterfront jobs and expands the boundary of the waterfront district.

Wendy Harris
Tue, Feb 19, 2013, 10:40 pm
0 comments

Efforts to save the Granary building

Graphics projected on building each night in effort to bring attention to threatened building

John Servais
Sat, Aug 04, 2012, 12:18 am
3 comments; last on Aug 11, 2012

Motivated Reasoning Yields Useless Planning

Where a planning staff desire for view corridors in the Fairhaven plan yields a view corridor that does nothing for views.

John Servais
Mon, Jul 23, 2012, 7:05 pm
1 comments; last on Jul 25, 2012

Scott Walker asks for Charlie Sheldon’s resignation

Bellingham Port Commissioner Scott Walker motioned for the port to ask Executive Director Charlie Sheldon to resign.

John Servais
Wed, Oct 19, 2011, 1:13 am
5 comments; last on Oct 20, 2011

From the Political Junkie: A Petree-Eye View of Downtown

Riley interviews Clayton Petree about his view of Downtown Bellingham

Riley Sweeney
Tue, Aug 09, 2011, 5:44 pm
6 comments; last on Aug 12, 2011

Problems with SEPA review of Cornwall Landfill

Time is running out for public comment on the Port's proposal to use toxic waste as a cap at waterfront re-development site.

Wendy Harris
Thu, Jun 23, 2011, 8:30 am
5 comments; last on Jul 02, 2011

Port punts on commercial moorage rates

Guest writer Doug Karlberg follows up with report from Tuesday's Port Commission meeting

Guest writer
Thu, Feb 17, 2011, 7:30 pm
7 comments; last on Feb 20, 2011

Showdown at the Port of Bellingham

Why the price of moorage matters to all Whatcom County. A guest article by Doug Karlberg.

Guest writer
Mon, Feb 14, 2011, 7:35 pm
5 comments; last on Jun 30, 2011

Is Boulevard Park/Cornwall Landfill Overwater Walkway A Toxic Trail?

Wendy Harris writes about a multi million dollar planned city of Bellingham project.

Guest writer
Wed, Dec 15, 2010, 10:07 pm
9 comments; last on Dec 18, 2010

Bellingham! It’s The Mercury!

Maybe NOAA knows the truth about our waterfront. Our Port of Bellingham pretends it is not toxic. But it is criminally toxic.

Kamalla Rose Kaur
Wed, Mar 10, 2010, 9:42 pm
2 comments; last on Mar 16, 2010

The Way I See It - Los Angeles Resurrected


I’ve been to Los Angeles many times. I even remember the Red and Yellow electric street cars that served the city from after World War II until…

Ham Hayes
Wed, Nov 25, 2009, 9:00 am
0 comments

The Port of Chmelik

Seems like the offices of Frank Chmelik, the attorney for the Port of Bellingham, are becoming our defacto Port offices. Instead of conferences and meetings at the Port,…

John Servais
Tue, Nov 24, 2009, 6:12 am
2 comments; last on Nov 25, 2009

The Mayor’s Statement in the Herald

Dan Pike's guest editorial in Sunday's Herald is a direct result of an article on NwCitizen earlier this week. Indeed, on Wednesday, after the article had only been…

John Servais
Sun, Apr 26, 2009, 12:19 pm
3 comments; last on May 21, 2009

Port of Bellingham gave millions to AIG

We local taxpayers have contributed $20 million of our own tax dollars to AIG's executives. Remember? A couple years ago the Port bought an insurance policy from AIG…

John Servais
Sat, Mar 21, 2009, 10:19 am
3 comments; last on Mar 23, 2009

Fairhaven Shipyard to gain larger drydock

Coming to our Fairhaven waterfront - this magnificent floating drydock. The above aerial photo is of the Fairhaven Shipyard with the new drydock placed as a computer image…

John Servais
Fri, Jan 02, 2009, 7:23 pm
1 comments; last on Jan 03, 2009

New Library ideas

Tired of looking at a photo of geese when you check here? So am I. We have nine writers for this site but it has been rather slack…

John Servais
Wed, Jun 25, 2008, 5:20 pm
10 comments; last on Aug 04, 2008

What you can’t see, won’t kill ya - a lesson in TBL

TBL, or Triple Bottom Line, is a nifty concept that says we want to be evaluating and measuring projects on the basis not only of economic, but environmental…

Ham Hayes
Fri, Feb 22, 2008, 1:24 pm
5 comments; last on Feb 25, 2008

When Is Less More?

When Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) are prepared, more than one development model might be evaluated. But a no-action alternative is always required as a baseline reference. Convention

Tip Johnson
Sat, Feb 02, 2008, 4:55 pm
0 comments

Public hearing started well after 9 pm

It is not bad enough that the city council schedules the public hearing on our future Shoreline Master Plan for the middle of July - a plan many…

Site Management
Tue, Jul 17, 2007, 5:33 pm
0 comments

Forums and blogging and pits, oh my!

The Herald does not even follow its own mandates. On Sunday, the editorial said the candidates "...must address 6 big issues." Must. Then they sent out their own…

Site Management
Thu, Jul 12, 2007, 5:59 pm
0 comments

Only a government agency would do this.

The Herald ran an ad for the State Department of Ecology informing us of the web site where we could find the Draft Consent Decree for our waterfront…

Site Management
Mon, Jul 09, 2007, 6:17 pm
0 comments

Last Chance - Steal this Waterfront!

In a Bellingham Herald article dated May 4, Interim Mayor Tim Douglas "said it's

Tip Johnson
Thu, May 10, 2007, 4:51 pm
0 comments

The Port’s Plan to Poison

Why the Log Pond cap won't work

An article in a recent Bellingham Business Journal detailed the debate over whether the toxic muck in the Whatcom Waterway ought to…

Tip Johnson
Thu, Apr 26, 2007, 12:02 pm
0 comments

The So-called News

Independent media? Freedom of the press? Peoples friend, tyrants foe? It was a good idea while it lasted, educating the electorate and forming a mainstay of our democracy.…

Tip Johnson
Mon, Apr 23, 2007, 4:24 pm
0 comments

Poisoning the Public - A treacherous legacy

According to the Bellingham Herald, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources has recently approved leaving tons of mercury buried in Bellingham Bay. The documents are not yet…

Tip Johnson
Wed, Apr 18, 2007, 4:49 pm
0 comments

Your Waterfront - Up for grabs

New Whatcom Redevelopment Project - The City and Port of Bellingham will hold public information a meeting. Bellingham Cruise Terminal. 355 Harris Ave., Bellingham. WA Times: 6:00 PM.

Also,…

Tip Johnson
Wed, Apr 18, 2007, 4:34 pm
0 comments

Response to Bellingham Herald editorial

Today's Bellingham Herald editorial invites an answer. The editorial is good in that it reflects on past bad practices, like allowing GP to dump mercury into Bellingham Bay,…

John Servais
Thu, Jan 25, 2007, 6:18 pm
0 comments

Moving Target

One of the more momentous public hearings in Bellingham's history appears to be ready to pass with more than the ordinary confusion. We wrote about some of the…

Tip Johnson
Mon, Dec 11, 2006, 3:32 pm
0 comments

Public meeting & hearing rescheduled

Notice:

Relative to the last post:

Ecology has rescheduled the public meeting for:
December 7th, 6:30 p.m. ñ 8:30 p.m., Bellingham Cruise Terminal, 355 Harris Avenue, Bell

John Servais
Thu, Nov 30, 2006, 2:56 pm
0 comments

Public Process - Lots of it (kind of),

or I lied (sort of!)

In the previous post I complained that the biggest rip-off in Whatcom County history was happening without even being discussed or making it into…

Tip Johnson
Mon, Nov 27, 2006, 6:15 pm
0 comments

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The good? We are no longer spewing forty+ pounds of mercury vapor every day into the local atmosphere. We are no longer dumping 20 to 40 tons of…

Tip Johnson
Sun, Nov 26, 2006, 5:21 pm
0 comments

Traffic and Western Washington University

If WWU gets their way, $20 million in state taxes will be spent on jack-hammering out good roads and building new ones a hundred yards away. No increase…

John Servais
Mon, Mar 01, 2004, 8:20 pm
0 comments

The Port Commissioner campaign is getting hot

Ginny Benton, seeking her third term as commissioner, stated this evening at the Rome Grange that she will not respond to the "mud slinging" being done against her.…

John Servais
Wed, Aug 27, 2003, 4:57 pm
0 comments

Web site to check out

Waterfront Futures for Bellingham - nothing here. This is one of those processes t

John Servais
Mon, May 12, 2003, 7:08 pm
0 comments

Tis time to focus on local issues

Elections this fall could bring positive change to Whatcom County and Bellingham. In particular, we need a new Mayor and we need a new Port Commissioner. The challenge…

John Servais
Thu, May 01, 2003, 7:40 pm
0 comments

 

About NWCitizen

Donations maintain site

Our writers
Thru the years

League of Women Voters

Calendar of Events

Home page
Video April 20 meeting
Videos of Districting Committee

Local Online News

Bellingham Herald

Bham Business Journal
Bham Politics & Econ
Cascadia Weekly
Coal Stop
Ferndale Record
KGMI
Latte Republic
Lynden Tribune
Noisy Waters
Northern Light
Seattle Times
Twilight Zoning
Western Front - WWU
Whatcom Watch

Local Causes

Chuckanut C. Forest

City Club of Bellingham
Community Wise Bham
Conservation NW
Futurewise - Whatcom
Lake Whatcom
Lummi Island Quarry
N. Cascades Audubon
NW Holocaust Center
Powder River Basin R. C.
RE Sources
Salish Sea Org.
Save the Granary
Transition Whatcom
WA Conservation Voters
Whatcom Peace & Justice

Our Governments

- Whatcom County

Bellingham
Port of Bellingham
Skagit County
US House
US Senate
US Supreme Court
US The White House
WA State
Whatcom COG

NWCitizen 1995-2007

Early Northwest Citizen

Weather & Climate

Cliff Mass Weather Blog

Climate Audit
EPIC World Photos
Nat Hurricane Center
NW Radar
Two day forecast
Watts Up With That?

Local Leisure

Adventures NW

Bellingham Wins
Entertainment NNW
Recreation Northwest

Good Web Sites

Al-Jazeera online

Alaska Dispatch
AlterNet.org
Antiwar.com
Arab News
Asia Times
Atlantic, The
Change The Mascot
Common Dreams
counterpunch
Crosscut Seattle
Daily Kos
Daily Mirror
Doonesbury
Drudge Report
Edge of Sports
FiveThirtyEight
Foreign Policy in Focus
GlobalPost
Guardian
Gulf News
Haaretz
Huffington Post
Innocence Project
Irish Times
James Fallows
Jerusalem Post
Joel Connelly
Juan Cole
Julia Ioffe/New Republic
Le Diplo
Media Matters
Michael Moore
Middle East Times
MoveOn.org
Nation, The
New American Century
News Trust
NMFA
numbers
Online Journal
Palestine Daily
Palestine News
Paul Krugman
Personal bio info
Portland Indy Media
Progressive Review
Project Vote Smart
Reuters
Sea Shepherd
Slate
Stand for the Troops
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Talking Points Memo
TED
The Crisis Papers
The Intercept
the Oatmeal
Tom Paine.com
truthout
Vox
War and Piece
Washington Votes
WikiLeaks.ch
ynetnews.com

Quiet, Offline or Dead

Bellingham Register

Bhm Herald Politics Blog
Bob Sanders
Carl Weimer
Chuckanut Mountains
Citizen Ted
Citizens of Bellingham
Cordata & Meridian
David Hackworth
Facebook Port Reform
Friends of Whatcom
Get Whatcom Planning
HamsterTalk
Intrnational Herald Tribune
Jack Petree
MikeatthePort
N. Sound Conservancy
No Leaky Buckets
Northwest Review
Orcinus
Post-Oklahoman
Protect Bellingham Parks
Sweeney Politics
The American Telegraph
Wally Wonders