It’s the land above the railroad tracks near Everett, Wash., that is getting all the focus right now.

For over a month now, a $16.1 million Washington State Dept. of Transportation project has crews stabilizing the slopes above the rail line near Everett, a key step in eliminating landslides and keeping passenger rail service moving between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.

The BNSF Railway tracks have closed during long periods of heavy rain just on the threat of landslides. Actual landslides also close the tracks, cancelling a record number of daily trips—206, actually, up from 70 as the previous high—between November 2012 and January 2013. Keeping the trains moving requires stopping the land from moving.

WSDOT partnered with government and private rail partners to review recent slope studies and historical slide data to figure out just what was causing the landslides in the six most prone areas. To start things offs, crews—using trains to haul away debris—excavated soft dirt and then filled the voids with granite spalls, a process used successfully elsewhere along the corridor.

Also nearby a wooden retaining wall will make way for a 10-ft-high reinforced concrete version, stretching 700 ft, further to protect the tracks.

With a 300-mile corridor from Portland to Vancouver, B.C., often lined with water on one side and steep slopes on the other, landslides will occur. Limiting them, though, has long been a goal, even before a freight train was derailed by moving earth in December 2012.

In fact, the slope stabilization project is just one of 20 separate projects included in the $800 million federally funded high-speed-rail grants from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act designed to get more frequent Amtrack Cascades rail service in the Pacific Northwest. Other main projects include adding new bypass tracks by 2017, an effort to eliminate passenger train vs. freight train disruptions.

Of course, mud on the track causes plenty of disruptions too. Stopping the land from moving is priority number one. 


Tim Newcomb is Engineering News-Record’s Pacific Northwest contributor. He also writes for TIMEPopular MechanicsSports Illustrated and more. You can follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb or visit his website here.