Railway improvements in works for region

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Machines were doing most of the work Wednesday when new railroad tracks were laid between Mesa and Connell.

The project is part of BNSF Railway Co.’s $5 billion in new capital projects planned this year in its 28-state service area, which includes 32,000 miles of track.

Company spokesman Gus Melonas said that includes 17 miles of new track, which will run along existing tracks, between Pasco and Spokane.

Four miles of that will be double track between Mesa and Connell.

“It’s an additional lane in a highway,” Melonas said. “It allows the trains to meet and pass each other.”

The railroad is also replacing wooden ties with concrete ties, which have a longer lifespan, he said. A trainload of 800-pound ties is brought in each day, with a machine picking up each tie and laying it.

The ties are then welded to the track, with no railroad spikes needed.

“There’s no ‘clickity clack’ like when it was bolted together,” Melonas said.

About two miles of track can be laid each day, he said.

The project, located just west of Highway 395, also includes two new concrete bridges.

The tracks are closed to rail traffic for eight-hour increments while crews work. No road traffic will be impacted by the construction, Melonas said.

The project, which uses 30 machines and 100 workers, is not related to a 2012 coal train accident in which 32 cars derailed in Mesa. BNSF has not had a death caused by a hazardous material along its tracks in the northern part of the country since 1981, Melonas said.

The tracks, which date back to 1873, are more advanced than some people may realize, he said.

“To some it may appear, at a glance, obsolete, when in reality there are computers, sensors, detectors everywhere,” Melonas said. “Which enables a state-of-the-art operation.”

The rail projects between Pasco and Spokane are expected to be complete by July 4, he said.

BNSF completed $125 million in capital projects in Washington last year, all privately funded, and expects to announce how much it plans to complete in the state in 2014 next week, Melonas said.

The company has further improvements planned, including buying 5,000 next-generation tank cars to transfer oil, mostly from the Bakken formation in North Dakota, Melonas said.

BNSF has 550 employees in Washington, including 40 in Pasco, Melonas said.

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