March 2021 • The latest from the Pacific Northwest
Recognizing the Contributions of Women in the Rail Industry
Women's History Month, observed in the United States each March since 1987, provides the opportunity to reflect on the contributions of women to our world. Women have been involved in railroading since the 1800s. Some of the first railroad jobs they held were as registered nurses and what was referred to at the time as stewardesses in passenger cars. Over the decades, women's roles expanded as additional opportunities became available.
Here are a few of the many past female contributions to the railroad industry:
Miss E.F. Sawyer became the first female telegraph operator when she was hired by the Burlington Railroad in Montgomery, Illinois, in 1872.
Fred Harvey hired “Harvey Girls" to work at the various Fred Harvey hotels and dining rooms (“Harvey Houses") across the American southwest along the Santa Fe rail line. The Harvey Girls were featured in a 1946 movie by the same name directed by George Sidney and starring Judy Garland.
In the 1870s, Eliza Murfey created devices for improving how bearings on a rail wheel attached to train cars.
Mary Colter was an architect who designed important buildings for the Santa Fe Railway and iconic landmark structures in the Grand Canyon, including Desert View Watchtower. La Posada hotel in Winslow, Arizona, remains a favorite hotel for visitors wishing to experience Colter's famous architecture and interior design.
During World Wars I and II, railroads hired women to fill jobs left by men who went to serve. Most women railway workers held clerical positions, but some obtained traditionally male-dominated positions in yards and locomotive shops.
Hortense W. Thompson, one of several women freight handlers at the ATSF freight depot in Kansas City, Mo. in 1943. Photograph by Jack Delano. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection LC-DIG-fsa-8d26527.
Women workers at the ATSF roundhouse in San Bernardino, Calif. in 1943. They were responsible for replacing lamps and oil cans on incoming locomotives. Photograph by Jack Delano. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USW3-022273-D.
The War Department cataloged this photo of two women working on the Great Northern Railway near Great Falls, Mont. c. 1918. National Archives, Records of War Department, General and Special Staffs (165-WW-595-D-14).
Rehabilitating a Critical Transportation Link: Salmon Bay Rail Bridge
Since the early 1900s, the BNSF Salmon Bay Rail Bridge has enabled freight and passenger trains to cross the Lake Washington Ship Canal in Seattle. On average, 30 to 40 trains cross the bridge each day, including Sounder and Amtrak passenger trains and shipments to and from major ports in Washington.
BNSF is required by federal law to open the bridge to accommodate maritime access. The frequent openings have placed stress on the trunnion bearings and counterweight, and BNSF is proposing a rehabilitation project to extend the bridge’s reliable service life. BNSF’s approach will bring minimal operational, in-water, environmental, and community impacts while preserving the historical design and major public and private industry benefits of the bridge.
The bridge enables a functional and efficient multimodal transportation system that benefits all by moving people, goods, and boats directly to their destinations. This minimizes vehicle miles traveled and eliminates significant pollutants and emissions. The energy and impact offsets of the bridge project will save hundreds of millions of road and train miles and millions of gallons of fossil fuels.
Mid-February’s arctic outbreak brought a deep freeze to much of the nation. Worse, it was not just one event, but back-to-back winter blasts, including Winter Storm Uri, which delivered blinding white snow driven by high winds, coupled with icy precipitation. Temperatures dropped below zero. Power and water outages across the Midwest and South crushed communities, including many who don’t often experience these conditions.
While millions hunkered down and eventually dug out, BNSF employees kept trains rolling. When forecasters warned of impending storms, BNSF initiated winter action plans that ensured resources and procedures were in place to minimize winter’s impact on our people and our service. We notified customers that trains might be held or rerouted, and we provided employees with personal protective equipment and other aid, like warming stations and plentiful water, so they could work safely.
Trains operate 24/7, even in extreme cold, so we focused on trains that could be kept moving, generally on mainline routes. When we knew a front was moving in overnight, we moved as much volume as possible during the day. We limited switching and use of crossovers. We also focused on moving some coal trains to keep electricity-generation facilities fueled. Our Network Operations Center made the decisions, with input from our field teams’ command centers. Learn more about how we operate in winter weather!
Supporting Our Communities
The BNSF Railway Foundation invests in the communities across the 28 states through which BNSF operates, and where BNSF employees live, work and volunteer. Recent donations include:
Providing Virtual Camp for Children with Type 1 Diabetes
Each year, the American Diabetes Association hosts in-person summer camps across the country for children with type 1 diabetes. Due to COVID-19, all ADA camps have been made virtual through one unified program, ADA Imagine Camp.
BNSF Railway Foundation contributed to the Camp Sealth ADA Imagine Camp which was provided at no cost to all campers and attended by 42 children from across Washington State.
Supporting Public Safety in Boundary County
The members of the Boundary County Sheriff's Office are dedicated to preserving the peace and protecting the public safety of all who reside in, visit or pass through Boundary County, ID. BNSF Railway Foundation donated $11,200 toward Boundary County Sheriff’s Office safety and response programs.
Revitalizing a Public Space for the Chiloquin Community
Chiloquin is a rural community in southern Oregon and the capital of the Klamath Nation. The Trust for Public Land is working to develop and implement the Chiloquin community’s vision for a vibrant, green and welcoming schoolyard. Residents of Chiloquin have a strong sense of community, but few public places to come together. The $25,000 grant provided by BNSF Railway Foundation goes toward a revitalized schoolyard that will be open to the community after school and on the weekends.
Photo Credit: TPL Staff
Ensuring Care for Returning Veterans
The Returning Veterans Project provides free, confidential mental and physical health services for post-9/11 war zone veterans, service members and their military families in Oregon and Southwest Washington. Their diverse network of volunteer health providers and clinics offers high-quality, individualized services. BNSF Railway Foundation’s donation of $5,000 supports quality care for the veterans volunteer provider expansion project.
Emergencies – Call 800-832-5452
To report a vehicle stalled on a crossing, suspicious circumstances, malfunctioning crossing gates and lights, or any other emergency, call 800-832-5452 immediately.
Have a Question for Us?
Do you have a question about BNSF or rail in the Pacific Northwest that you would like addressed in future issues of Inside Track? Send them to [email protected].