Slide fixes along Sounder route could start this summer
EVERETT - Transportation authorities hope rehabilitation work to fix slide prone areas between Everett and Seattle could start as early as this summer, exiting state Department of Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond said last week.
This winter was the worst in recent memory for mudslides canceling passenger train service. The slides were exacerbated by heavier and more torrential precipitation than in previous winters.
The federal government gave the DOT $16.1 million to work with Burlington Northern Santa Fe on measures to prevent slides and reduce track closures along the corridor. The Federal Railroad Administration, which provided the grant, recently accelerated the time line to this year, Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl said.
Burlington and the DOT identified six spots to fix on an eight-mile section of the corridor — one of them in Everett and most of them in the Mukilteo area, Burlington’s director of maintenance Dan MacDonald told the Sound Transit board last week. The rehabilitation work is in the early engineering phase right now, MacDonald said.
The fixes include adding retaining walls, digging deeper catch basins for dirt and constructing buttresses along the slopes. Burlington already spent millions of dollars doing some of this work on their own in the last few years.
The slope repair site in Everett is near the Port of Everett, the site of the most notable slide. A mudslide there on Nov. 19 derailed a freight train and video of the derailment made national news.
Everyone agrees this has been the worst year for slides.
In November and December last year, Burlington noted 200 slides. Eighty-two of those slides were significant, and 50 of those blocked the tracks.
Because of track blockages, mudslides canceled 134 Sounder North train trips and canceled 55 Amtrak Cascades train trips as of January, agency officials said. Sounder North had 26 days of disrupted service this season.
The average slide season causes about 20 Sounder North trip cancellations, Sound Transit spokeswoman Kimberly Reason said previously.
Burlington owns the immediate vicinity by the tracks, but the slides are being propelled by dirt and debris sliding down the slope, MacDonald said.
Some measures that help prevent slides include preventing water from sitting on top of the bluffs and not allowing yard waste to be thrown onto the slope, MacDonald said.
It looks like Everett is working on those issues.
The recently formed working group made up of a bevy of agencies is creating a policy to manage slides, city public works director Dave Davis said. The group is working on geotechnical studies of the slopes, Davis said.
“We own very little right of way along that bluff” as most of the land is privately owned, Davis said. “But we can manage it through the planning process on what they can do.”
The city has rules that restrict the cutting down of trees along the slopes.
Residents on the bluffs say slides were exacerbated by Burlington’s vegetation maintenance, which included cutting down trees on the slope. The city has no control over Burlington’s actions.
Burlington spokesman Gus Melonas said last week that an engineer determined tree cutting was necessary because the trees threatened the tracks.
Sound Transit is accommodating Sounder passengers affected by slides by busing them to their destination, and Earl said the efforts are working to keep riders.
The agency now alerts riders by e-mail and text message about slides and directs them to use the agency’s buses.
The slide season four years ago, before the agency implemented those measures, caused ridership to drop significantly, Earl said. Sounder North is already plagued by lower-than-expected ridership numbers.
When a slide occurs, a 48-hour moratorium on passenger train service is put into place, leading to halts in service. The moratorium doesn’t apply to freight service.
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