BNSF Railway is spending $235 million across Washington to upgrade track and roll out a computerized safety system that experts say can prevent devastating train accidents. The move is expected to help BNSF handle a rebound in train traffic tied to more oil trains originating in North Dakota and a recovering economy.
A proposal that some freight trains through Spokane could have just one person on board as early as January has divided a union of rail workers and added fuel to a debate about how trains can be safely operated. The tentative agreement, forged last month between BNSF Railway and a union representing conductors and engineers, would allow trains equipped with new accident prevention technology to shed their human conductors. The agreement was negotiated and signed by eight members of a general committee of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union (SMART).
REARDAN, Wash. – From his perch in the combine, Joel Zwainz lowered the reel even closer to the ground. This patch of winter wheat, he said, is normally about 10 inches tall, and even cutting at 4 inches, he’s still not picking up most of the grain. “It’s no fun to harvest here,” he said. “It’s kind of hard because it’s so low. Right now, I’ve got my reel down as low as it’ll go, and if I take my header any lower, it’ll be digging dirt.”
The Washington Department of Transportation estimated in June that six proposed coal and oil terminals could add at least 44 more trains per day going through Spokane. In a letter to BNSF Railway in March asking for the company’s support for a bridge over train tracks at Barker Road, Spokane Valley Mayor Dean Grafos wrote that with the increase in coal and oil rail traffic, “this grade separation becomes even more of a priority.”
It didn’t take an engineering degree to realize the railroad crossing at Park Road posed a threat and inconvenience to the Spokane Valley community. Almost 6,700 vehicles a day crossed the tracks – the main BNSF Railway corridor linking Chicago to Seattle. Trains came through – 50 each day – at speeds reaching 79 miles per hour.
Two men were arrested in Okanogan County and charged with arson for setting a backburn that failed and helped spread the devastating fire that scorched much of the Methow Valley last month. The arrests bring the total number of people in custody to three.
OMAK, Wash. – Morgan and Cheyenne Stolp never thought they would have to lift a pig. But when fire raced overnight from Winthrop to their family’s rangeland in Twisp, the sheriff told them they had to evacuate – fast. “They did not want to go,” Morgan Stolp said of the pigs, which eventually made it safely to a friend’s house outside the danger zone, along with the horses, chickens, cats and dogs.
New storms bringing high-speed winds and lightning could ignite more wildfires this week even as crews continue efforts to contain a half-dozen large blazes in Washington. The National Weather Service predicts strong thunderstorms could begin arriving later today and are expected to knock temperatures out of the high 90s in the Spokane area. Forecasts showed rain and thunder likely in Spokane from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. tonight.