Sounding the Horn for Grade-Crossing Safety
Thanks to a focus on education, enforcement and engineering, the number of train/motor vehicle collisions in the U.S. has fallen 84 percent – from a 1972 high of about 12,000 annual incidents to approximately 1,900 in 2020. But there are still too many incidents. In the U.S., a person or vehicle is hit by a train every three hours, according to Operation Lifesaver Inc., a non-profit rail safety education organization.
Rail Safety Week, which ran Sept. 20-26 this year, is an opportunity for the rail industry to raise awareness about railroad safety, primarily through education and enforcement. It’s also important to address safety at crossings through engineering wherever feasible. Since 2000, BNSF, working with municipalities and private landowners, has closed more than 6,000 of its at-grade crossings, permanently eliminating the possibility of a collision at these locations.
Learn more about what BNSF is doing to increase crossing safety here.
BNSF’s Testing Lab Helps Railroad Choose the Right Materials for the Job
We all remember the beginning of COVID shutdowns and empty store shelves last year. Cleaning and disinfecting products were some of the hardest to find. Like most Americans, team BNSF had to change course quickly to secure an adequate supply of those elusive items.
Central to BNSF’s pivot was the Technical Research & Development (TR&D) group based in Topeka, KS, which went from reviewing the safety and effectiveness of a few cleaning and disinfecting products each month to reviewing more than 500 in the span of three months.
Testing the safety and efficacy of products is just one part of this team’s responsibilities. The team’s main areas of focus include analysis and investigation of derailments and operational practices, new product approvals, quality control as well as testing of materials, fuels and chemicals. The TR&D team’s work touches nearly every aspect of the railroad.
Learn more about how the testing lab improves safety throughout BNSF operations here.
BNSF Employee Spotlight: Heath Steblay
BNSF operates a vast network of 32,500 miles of track in 28 U.S. states and three Canadian provinces. Moving goods safely means keeping all of those miles of track and other rail structures like bridges in working order, even in the face of wildfires. To do this, BNSF regularly conducts extensive inspections across its network. And it falls to people like Heath Steblay to ensure BNSF’s inspectors and other key employees are trained and up-to-date on federal track standards, as well as BNSF’s own stringent requirements. Heath has worked with BNSF for seven years, starting his career as an Assistant Roadmaster, then Roadmaster, before taking on his current role as Manager of Engineering and Certification for the Northwest and Montana division.
In addition to conducting requalification courses for foremen, track inspectors and other exempt officers, he works as a liaison to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), provides management oversight and assists with project planning. He also steps in when wildfires threaten BNSF infrastructure, such as in the Dixie Fire that has been raging in the California counties of Butte, Plumas, Lassen, Shasta and Tehama Counties. Throughout the wildfire, Heath has helped conduct operations, ensure access for the water train and protect track, bridges, switches and other critical rail structures.
“I feel like I’m a naturally positive person, and I appreciate being able to work with employees and resources to make a difference,” Heath explained. “I believe I can step into a situation, take control, help, and lead our employees to success.”
Heath’s career with BNSF has given him a chance to travel, too, and he’s grateful for experiences. “BNSF’s track runs through spectacular areas. I’ve discovered that every place has its own charm and uniqueness, and every place provides a new perspective.”
Learn more about how BNSF ensures high safety standards across its network here.
Sandpoint Bridge Construction is Right on Schedule
The Sandpoint Junction Connector bridge project is chugging along right on – or ahead of – schedule. To meet the growing needs of the communities BNSF serves, BNSF is building a second rail bridge over Lake Pend Oreille adjacent to the existing rail bridge. BNSF is also building new bridges over Sand Creek and Bridge Street in Sandpoint. As of September 3, all but three piers have been installed for the Lake Pend Oreille bridge, as well as eight spans of girders. Contractors are currently working on the superstructure of the bridge. Progress continues on the installation of the Sand Creek bridge and will continue into the winter months as the lake level draw down continues. The railroad bridge at Bridge Street is substantially complete.
The Army Corps of Engineers has begun their annual drawdown to bring the lake level down to fall elevation targets. BNSF reminds boaters to be aware, slow down, and use caution when operating watercraft near the construction site.
Learn more about the Sandpoint Junction Connector bridge project and sign up for project updates at KeepSandpointRolling.com.
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 Grief Support in Southeast Washington
Chaplaincy Health Care is a resource for hospice services, chaplain services and grief support in the mid-Columbia region of southeast Washington. The nonprofit organization guides, comforts and cares for people experiencing serious illness, end of life, loss, and grief. BNSF Railway Foundation contributed toward the operating costs of Cork’s Place Grief Support Center in Kennewick, WA.
Helping to End Poverty Through Hands-on Job Training
Transitions works to end poverty and homelessness for women and children in Spokane, WA. One of their six programs, the New Leaf Kitchen, recently received a donation from BNSF Railway Foundation. The program provides job training in the food services industry for women with barriers to traditional employment. Hands-on job training is offered in a fast-paced commercial kitchen providing catering services, and in a full-service café.
Breaking the Cycle of Homelessness by Bringing People Inside
Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission is a nonprofit ministry that cares for those experiencing homeless throughout greater Seattle. They address root causes and break the cycle of homelessness by meeting urgent physical needs, building relationships, and offering long-term recovery programs. BNSF Railway Foundation provided a donation toward enhanced shelter services. On average, 127 men, women, and their children fill the organization’s emergency shelters every night.
Expanding Capabilities for the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office
The Chelan County Sheriff’s Office is responsible for the provision of police services in the unincorporated portion of Chelan County, including patrol, criminal investigation, and emergency response. A $10,000 contribution from BNSF Railway Foundation will go toward an unmanned aerial vehicle program which has shown to be helpful with missing persons cases, search and rescue, and reconnaissance.
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].
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