Investigators looking at causes of rail-disrupting mudslides

Four rail partners involved in service and safety in the corridor between Seattle and Everett are putting a new focus on understanding the root causes and potential solutions to mudslides that resulted in a record number of Amtrak Cascades and Sounder passenger-service disruptions this winter.

While preventative maintenance continues, the Washington State Department of Transportation and its rail partners—BNSF Railway, Sound Transit and Amtrak—will take a broader look at the issue and work to preserve the rail line between Seattle and Everett, a corridor essential for freight, daily commuters and intercity travel.

“This collaboration will help us shift the focus from short-term responses to repeat mudslide occurrences to a long-range solution for this vital transportation corridor,” said Washington Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond, in a press release. “For Amtrak Cascades to remain a viable transportation option and achieve future growth, we must look at the root causes of these mudslides and start a larger discussion among our partners about addressing them.”

As the owner of the rail line, BNSF Railway temporarily suspends passenger service to ensure safety when a mudslide occurs or a high-level threat of a mudslide exists. Amtrak and Sound Transit provide alternate transportation on service impacted by mudslides.

“Safety must remain our highest priority,” said D.J. Mitchell, assistant vice president of BNSF passenger operations. “BNSF is committed to operating passenger trains in a manner that always places the safety of train passengers first and to continue to work with our passenger-rail partners on reducing the long-term risks of mudslides.”

WSDOT and BNSF will continue working together to reduce the near-term potential for mudslides through strategies already in use, including more frequent preventative maintenance, conducting immediate repair and stabilization work on slopes involved in slides, improving drainage, deepening ditches next to the tracks, and adding water-retention areas.

WSDOT and BNSF are also focusing on long-term engineering and design work and determining appropriate slide-prevention solutions. Some of the potential improvements are in design, with construction to start later in 2013, but they represent only a small part of the significant investments needed to virtually eliminate mudslides. WSDOT will also continue to work with its corridor partners to identify and pursue state and federal funding, with BNSF support, for long-term stabilization projects.

The challenge remains to fully understand the factors contributing to frequent mudslides in this corridor. The four rail partners will review recent slope studies, historical slide data and updated analyses, with a goal of drawing preliminary conclusions about underlying conditions or combinations of factors contributing to slides.

For more information about WSDOT’s passenger-rail program, visit Information about Amtrak Cascades passenger service can be found at or by calling 1-800-USA-RAIL.

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