In response to a anti-oil train demonstration held July 9, a BNSF Railway representative said the Skagit River railroad bridge will remain safe even if the number of trains using the bridge increases.
Bridge safety came up during the protest in response to the proposed oil-by-rail expansion project at the Shell Puget Sound Refinery in Anacortes, which would increase the number of oil trains passing through Mount Vernon and Burlington from 16 to 22 a week. The plan is being reviewed this fall.
BNSF spokeswoman Courtney Wallace said the bridge is inspected twice a year, including as recently as this month. There were no safety issues reported, she said.
“Safety is the foundation of what we do,” Wallace said. “We are committed to making sure we are protecting the communities by our tracks.”
Wallace said all tracks and bridges owned by BNSF have to meet standards set by the Federal Railroad Administration.
“The bridge is safe as is,” Wallace said. “It can accommodate any train that comes by.”
Wallace said train traffic peaked in 2006, then declined when the recession hit in 2007.
“We haven’t hit the same volumes since 2006,” she said. “So those bridges were designed to carry traffic this heavy.”
Even if the expansion project is approved and traffic increases, the bridge will be able to withstand the weight, Wallace said.
“It’s not the same bridge that was built 100 years ago,” Wallace said, referring to maintenance and updates done by the company over the years.
Skagit County Commissioner Ken Dahlstedt, who shared concerns at the protest about an increase in rail traffic, said he advocates for having a private, third party inspect the bridge.
“My concern is that it has failed once, so why couldn’t it again?” Dahlstedt said, referring to when the bridge collapsed in 1995. Debris accumulated at the piers and resulted in overflow to nearby levees, which damaged one of the piers which led to bridge closure for several days.