Crews work to tame troublesome slide areas

MUKILTEO — Work has begun on two projects intended to stabilize hillsides and keep winter mud from sliding onto the railroad tracks.

The state and BNSF Railway are reshaping the hillsides in two problem areas in Mukilteo where mudslides have smothered railroad tracks along the waterfront in recent years.

These projects are expected to be done by mid-October, ahead of the rainy season, said Gus Melonas, a spokesman for BNSF.

One of the hillsides is near the border of Mukilteo and Everett, Melonas said. The other is at the south end of Mukilteo near the Pacific Queen shipwreck.

Four more trouble spots in Everett and Mukilteo are targeted for fixes. These projects are still being designed and won’t be done this winter, but all the work is scheduled to be done by early 2016, said Alice Fiman, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation.

The department last year received $16 million from the federal government for mudslide prevention throughout the state.

The stretch between Everett and Seattle has been by far the most troublesome in recent years and all of that money will be funneled into the six targeted areas, state officials have said.

Slides cancelled 170 Sounder commuter train trips between Everett and Seattle last winter through March 20, according to Sound Transit. The previous high for cancelled Sounder trips in one winter was 72 in 2010-11. Service began in 2003.

The railway owns the tracks and imposes a mandatory 48-hour moratorium on passenger service as a safety precaution when tracks are blocked by a mudslide.

On Dec. 17 of last year, a slide knocked over several cars in a freight train as it moved below the bluffs southwest of downtown Everett, along Port of Everett property. No one was injured.

This spot will likely be the next one repaired and work could begin next spring, Melonas said.

Work at the Mukilteo-Everett border spot includes installing a steel-and-concrete retaining wall 10 feet high and 700 feet long, Melonas said. Debris has been cleared and ditches are being expanded, he said.

At the southern location, the hillside is being cleared of debris and loose soil and drain pipes could be installed there, Melonas said.

Other work in the future could include terracing of hillsides and installation of drain pipes, holding ponds and retaining walls, depending on the conditions at each location.

The railway has spent millions of dollars on its own projects along the corridor over the years, Melonas said, declining to provide a specific figure.

State geotech engineers are working with cities along the route to pinpoint areas where poor drainage control might be eroding slopes above the tracks, and to see what measures could be taken there, Fiman said.

The work is part of $800 million in federal grants for rail improvement projects around the state, received under the economic stimulus program of 2010. Much of the money is being targeted for crossing improvements and other ways to help all trains travel at higher speeds with fewer delays.

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

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