The day after the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission announced unprecedented fines against BNSF Railway Co., a company spokesman says BNSF will make needed rail crossing repairs by the end of March 2013.
Although the state's $105,000 fine for failure to repair seven crossings - six in Whatcom County and one in Skagit County - may seem tiny compared to BNSF's 2012 nationwide capital budget of $3.9 billion, it is the largest such fine the commission has ever assessed, said Dave Pratt, the commission's assistant director for transportation safety.
"In this case we weren't getting much response from the railroad," Pratt said in explaining the fine. "It just went on too long."
The problems at the crossings consist of potholes and other defects that make for a bumpy ride for motorists. The commission has been trying to get repairs on some of them for almost two years, according to a commission press release.
"These are not life-threatening defects at these crossings," Pratt said. "It's not an immediate danger now, but left unattended, it could be."
Pratt said inspectors working for the commission are checking out all public rail crossings in the state a minimum of once every three years, and defects that inspectors find are then reported to the railroad for repair.
The fines announced Monday, Feb. 25, were the result of problems at these crossings:
-- Siper Road, Whatcom County - potholes, deteriorated asphalt, uneven surfaces.
-- Massey Road, Whatcom County - uneven surface.
-- Madison Street, city of Nooksack - potholes, uneven surface.
-- Highway 9, Sumas - broken, loose or missing metal bands on concrete planks.
-- Aldergrove Road, Ferndale - rough surface, broken planks, defective timbers.
-- Hawley Street, Lynden - broken plank or crosstie.
-- South Walnut Street, Burlington - broken plank or crosstie.
BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said the railroad gave the state commission a plan for repairing the crossings earlier this year.
Pratt said that was news to him. He said BNSF has submitted repair plans for some problem crossings, but not the ones in question.
The railroad has 15 days to respond to the fine assessment. If railroad officials wish to contest the fine, they can ask for a reduction in the amount or they could seek a hearing to challenge it.
Reach JOHN STARK at email@example.com or call 715-2274.