FERNDALE - To relieve congestion that will come with more trains carrying coal and other cargo, BNSF Railway expects to lay four miles of track along existing rail north of Ferndale, a company official said.
The work has not yet received state approval, but Gus Melonas, public affairs director for BNSF, said new track from Ferndale High School north to Custer is scheduled to be added in 2015.
The second line will be long enough for two full-length coal or oil trains to move aside and allow higher-priority passenger trains to pass.
BNSF also is preparing to lay a second track along its line between Bellingham and Ferndale, covering about four miles from near Wynn Road in Marietta, north almost to Main Street in Ferndale.
The president of Communitywise Bellingham, a group gathering information on the impacts of a proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point, said these railroad upgrades won't eliminate the need for a 1.6-mile siding along the existing rail from Fairhaven to downtown Bellingham. A consultant hired by Communitywise Bellingham concluded the siding in Bellingham is required if Gateway Pacific Terminal is built.
Courtney Wallace, regional director of public affairs at BNSF, said on Wednesday, Aug. 20, the siding won't be needed for the proposed terminal, which would export as much as 48 million tons of Wyoming and Montana coal per year to overseas markets. At full capacity, nine loaded coal trains and nine empties would move through Gateway Pacific Terminal daily.
Communitywise Bellingham President Jack Delay said BNSF's plans do little to relieve the bottleneck the state Department of Transportation has identified between Bow and Ferndale.
"Additional double tracking somewhere to the south (of Bellingham) could solve that problem," Delay said. "Piecemeal disclosure of capacity plans only adds to confusion. Full plans should be disclosed on this important subject."
BNSF anticipates growth in train traffic through Whatcom County whether or not Gateway Pacific Terminal is built. Coal trains alone should increase in number after completion of an upgrade now underway at Westshore Terminals in Delta, B.C. The improvements will enable that facility to move 2 million to 3 million more tons of coal annually.
Also, Port Metro Vancouver on Thursday, Aug. 21, approved a 4-million-ton-a-year coal terminal in Surrey, B.C. The new terminal will put one additional coal train per day on BNSF's tracks, a port press release said.
For the second double-tracking project from Ferndale to Marietta, surveyors placed stakes in one resident's yard, marking how much property BNSF would need to acquire near the railroad crossing on Rural Avenue.
Railroad and government officials on Tuesday, Aug. 19, visited the four crossings that would be affected by the double-tracking south of Ferndale: Country Lane, Rural Avenue, Slater Road and Hovander Road.
"It's my understanding this was a preliminary meeting for reconstruction plans they have at those crossings," said Tyler Schroeder, special projects manager to the county executive, who attended the site visits. The next step for BNSF would be to file a petition with the Utilities and Transportation Commission for approval of the crossing work, Schroeder said.
Petitions to upgrade crossings between Custer and Ferndale have been submitted but not yet approved, said Kathy Hunter, rail safety manager for the commission.
BNSF's petition to upgrade the crossing at Grandview Road is not ready for review because BNSF needs to submit more information, Hunter said. A petition for Brown Road will be reviewed soon, she said.
Gary Russell, chief of the fire district that serves Ferndale and the surrounding area, said BNSF officials have not reached out to him about the track between Ferndale and Custer. His only real concern, he said, is that BNSF could be forced to close Brown Road if it cannot grade the road to cross two tracks.
Melonas said on Friday, Aug. 22, Brown Road would not be closed.
MAP: NEW RAIL LINE NEAR FERNDALE