A BNSF coal train was stalled in Crescent Beach for almost two hours Saturday (July 21) after the crew identified a problem with a coupler unit that needed to be replaced.
The incident, which occurred at around 3 p.m., involved a loaded coal train heading south to Roberts Bank, BNSF spokesperson Gus Melonas said Tuesday.
He said the train crew received an indication that there was a mechanical problem and stopped the train immediately so that they could inspect it.
That meant that both roadway exits and entrances to Crescent Beach were blocked for extended periods, leading to traffic lineups.
“If we could have kept safely going we would not have blocked the roadways,” Melonas said, acknowledging that it was an “unfortunate” situation which impacted public mobility “for which we apologize.”
RCMP were immediately notified, who in turn informed other authorities, he said.
Compounding the problem, Melonas said, was the fact that the crew had to move a section of the train northward to clear the crossings, then move it back to recouple the train, then repeat the whole process when it was discovered there was still a problem with the coupling unit.
“With a train over a mile long it was a slow rate of speed.”
Melonas said BNSF is currently investigating the incident to determine what caused the initial failure of the coupling unit.
“We’re looking at all aspects of the situation,” he said, adding that the stoppage of a freight train on May 30 which tied up crossings in Crescent Beach for 45 minutes was due to a different kind of mechanical problem – in that case, a cut airhose.
Such incidents are rare, he said, noting that the local line had run for three years prior to this year’s stoppages without any similar mechanical problems.
He added that while BNSF is moving 15 to 17 trains within a 24-hour period on the line through the Peninsula, “we’re doing 100 movements a day over crossings in Seattle.”
But Melonas said the railway remains committed to minimizing the impact on mobility in the Peninsula.
“Our goal is to keep the crossings clear for anything longer than 10 minutes,” he said, noting that disruptions of traffic are in no one’s interest.
“We have an anxious customer at the end of the line as well as an anxious public – and we want to make sure that everything’s moving safely.”