BNSF Railway investigates Kent’s stuck crossing gates

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) crews are conducting a “thorough investigation” to put a stop to sticking crossing gates in Kent.

City officials, business owners and residents are upset at the railroad company after its railway gates have fallen stuck in the down position when no train is coming. That happened on at least three occasions in a nearly three-week period from March 17 to April 4.

“City Council and staff are taking this very seriously,” Councilman Dennis Higgins said at the April 4 council meeting. “We have no authority over the railways, but we are finding every opportunity to share with them the impacts on our businesses and public about these horribly malfunctioning railroad crossings, and we will continue to spread that word.”

BNSF staff is hearing the complaints as loud as a train rolling through downtown, although gates go down on Willis, Smith James, Gowe and other streets when no trains are near.

“It’s frustrating. We certainly understand that,” said Gus Melonas, BNSF Railway spokesman, in a phone interview last Friday. “We understand mobility is significant. We have families who live in that area, too.”

Seven crossings are tied into the signal system that triggers the crossing gates. The railroad had a crew of 28 out two weeks ago in Kent to examine the problem.

“We’re looking at the circuitry,” Melonas said. “A thorough investigation is underway. … We’re looking at all factors and trying to resolve it. We will take the necessary steps to correct it.”

BNSF crews also were on site Monday and Tuesday in Kent to find answers.

“We want to ensure we will not have the repeated situations we have had the last two or three months,” Melonas said. “We have tests going on to ensure compliance in maintenance and engineering. We have been monitoring it all week, and we have not seen a repeat. We’re making adjustments daily.”

Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) officials visited Kent last week and met with BNSF crews to make sure the railroad met compliance requirements, and Melonas said the company received a favorable review.

A recent cause of gates getting stuck down included a freight train parked too close to a crossing which activated the gates, Melonas said. Gates also were triggered last month when operation protocol required a freight train to be slowed, which caused gates to go down, even though no train was in sight.

City crews will soon post large signs with the BNSF Railway number to call when motorists see the gates stuck down when no trains are around. The BNSF number to call is 1-800-832-5452. Melonas encouraged people to call as well.

Council members voiced concerns in January about gates getting stuck several times late last year. The return of the problem this spring has led to further frustrations.

City staff has met with representatives of U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., in an effort to help resolve the problems. In addition, city staff is keeping logs of every down-gate incident to report to the FRA.

“We have cameras up on crossings to record malfunctions,” said Tim LaPorte, city Public Works director.

Kent city staff will soon put up signs for drivers to call if railroad crossing gates get stuck down.

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