Residents complain, but city can’t do much
EVERETT - Multiple mudslides along the Port Gardner bluffs have residents there concerned, but fixes may be years down the road.
It has been a record winter for mudslides this year delaying rail service north of Seattle. Mudslides canceled 134 Sounder North train trips and canceled 55 Amtrak Cascades train trips and forced Amtrak to bus people in lieu of the train 63 other times, agency representatives said. Amtrak’s figures are smaller because it can divert passengers to buses to get around closed rail lines.
This year has been an unprecedented slide season, Sound Transit spokeswoman Kimberly Reason said. The average slide season causes about 20 Sounder trip cancellations, Reason said. The last record high was 70 trip cancellations in the 2010 slide season.
Part of the issue is that Burlington Northern Santa Fe’s tracks lie mainly along the water with bluffs and steep grades adjacent to the tracks.
The state Department of Transportation received federal grant money to work with Burlington on slide issues, but work could take years to complete. The fixes are being designed this year, but construction isn’t scheduled to start until 2015.
The $16.1 million grant is for slope rehabilitation and stabilization on the rail line between Vancouver in this state and the Canadian border, with some emphasis on the Seattle-to-Everett section.
Over the years, Burlington has spent millions of dollars trying to fix the issues in the north section, Burlington spokesman Gus Melonas told KING 5 TV last week.
Last year Burlington cut trees, cleared culverts under the rails, added walls and dug deeper ditches next to the tracks to catch more material, DOT spokeswoman Melanie Coon said.
But some Everett residents believe Burlington cutting trees along the Port Gardner bluffs is exacerbating the landslide problem and may be eating away the bluffs their homes are built on. They’ve been contacting council members, including Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher, with concerns of slope slides.
The city’s standard line, which Stonecipher agrees with, is that Everett can’t do anything because the railroad has control over the area. “It doesn’t really help the residents.”
For example, Everett created an ordinance restricting tree cutting in landslide areas, but the city can’t do anything to stop Burlington from cutting trees on its right of way.
“The city does not have jurisdiction over the railroad,” city spokeswoman Kate Reardon said. “Railroad is governed by federal law, which largely pre-empts local ordinances.”
Burlington has not asked the city to do anything about the slides, Reardon said. The DOT has an interest in alleviating the slides because it funds Amtrak’s Cascades line.
When a slide occurs, a 48-hour moratorium on passenger train service is put into place, leading to halts in service. The 48-hour moratorium doesn’t apply to freight service.
Mudslides have canceled 95 percent of passenger rail service north of Seattle since Thanksgiving, Melonas told The Associated Press last week.
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