BNSF hopeful it can avoid mudslide-related closures

NEAR EVERETT, Wash. -- The cliffs along the waterfront between Mukilteo and Everett are notorious for dumping mud, rock and trees onto the Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks below.

This year, despite a recent surge in rainfall, the trains are hardly missing a run.

"All in all this season, Mother Nature has certainly cooperated," said BNSF spokesperson Gus Melonas.

He says the railroad has used $16 million in federal money to protect the tracks from slides that can tie up freight and passenger service for days.

"With all these measures in place, there has been only six blocking events this season compared to sixty this time last season," said Melonas
BNSF has installed barriers, improved drainage and removed 13,000 tons of debris. It also helps that we had a much drier December and January than the year before.

"We've been fortunate. We're monitoring the area around the clock," Malonas said.

He described BNSF track in the Northwest as especially vulnerable to slides.

"On much of it water on one side, 200 foot slopes on the other. We're at the bottom, we're caught with the shovel," he said.

Residential neighborhoods sit atop portions of the cliffs along the tracks. Herb Metz has been listening to the trains since he moved in almost a half-century ago.

"There have been a lot of slides down there," Metz said. "I'm just glad we haven't had anything worse than when we lost that giant maple."

Metz walked to the steep slope where his backyard ends and showed us the remains of the tree a couple hundred feet below.

"We wondered if that meant our yard was at risk of falling," Metz said. "We used to get pretty nervous when the rainy season came. But we had an engineer come out and he said we should be safe."

City of Mukilteo officials say residents can help prevent slides on their property by paying attention to drainage and making sure not to dump yard waste over the edge. Debris can lead to erosion.