BNSF to invest $235M in Washington railroad system as debate over coal trains smolders

Steve Wilhelm, October 6, 2014, Puget Sound Business Journal

BNSF Railroad will invest $235 million in its system in Washington state this year, nearly double the amount invested in 2013.

This suggests that the company is continuing to upgrade a system that supported $28.5 billion in state economic activity, according to a study released Monday.

The investments are being made, and the report released, during a period of strong debate about the potential impact of coal export trains on the state’s rail capacity, and its cargo-carrying capacity.

The study, conducted for the railroad and the Washington Council on International Trade, contends that 300,000 Washington jobs exist at least partly due to the cargo-moving capacity from the state’s railroad system.

BNSF is the primary provider of rail capacity and equipment in Washington, although Union Pacific is a close second.

“What I came to realize how exceptional the state of Washington is,” said Philip Romero, the University of Oregon economist who conducted the study, referring to Washington’s railroad system.

Currently BNSF says it handles more than 1.5 million carloads of cargo in Washington annually and employs 3,500 people.

The combination of rebounding container traffic, and an increase in coal export shipments, seem to have been straining the railroad’s capacity.

In August a produce-moving company called “Cold Train” suspended services, citing an inability to move sufficient volume due to BNSF congestion.

BNSF disputed that claim.

Railroad expansion projects in Washington this year have included constructing a second mainline track at several sites in Eastern Washington, building two new staging tracks near Everett, and plans to enhance operations of the intermodal facility in Seattle.

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