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American Shipper

BNSF opens third main line in and out of SoCal

BNSF opens third main line in and out of SoCal

Class I railroad BNSF Railway said Thursday is has officially opened a new third main rail through on a key rail pass in and out of Southern California.

   The $90 million, 16-mile track project through the Cajon Pass will increase capacity on the railroad's Chicago to Los Angeles Transcontinental (Transcon) route from about 75 to 100 trains a day to nearly 150 trains a day, BNSF said.

   The Cajon Pass, which cuts through the San Bernardino Mountains about 65 miles east of downtown Los Angeles at an elevation of 4,200 feet, is the main rail exit from the Los Angeles basin to the northern and eastern part of the state. The two existing BNSF tracks through the 32-mile-long pass were built in 1885 and 1913. Union Pacific maintains another set built in the late-1960s.

   The BNSF double track handled upwards of 90 trains a day, most laden with cargo from the Southern California ports and reaching up to 8,000 feet in length. An Amtrak service on the route also adds to the traffic. With so many trains crowded onto so few tracks, the pass had become a worrisome bottleneck for rail traffic planners.

   The four-year-long track project is expected to increase BNSF's rail capacity while allowing existing traffic to spread out and not slow down as they climb the 2 percent to 3 percent grades. According to BNSF, high traffic loads can cause the trains to creep up the pass at 15 mph. The additional capacity from the new line should help alleviate the traffic congestion and allow trains to return to a more optimal 30 mph.

   The project employed more than 300 BNSF workers and contractors. In that time, crews moved more than 1 million tons of earth, placed about 42,000 concrete railroad ties, and laid more than 30 miles of steel rail.

   In addition to the new track, BNSF removed two tunnels along the route — 400 feet and 500 feet long — that date back to 1913 and according to the railroad, were not built to modern standards. Instead of relaying the track around the old tunnels, construction crews removed the tunnels to make a new bed for the tracks.

   To complete the track project, BNSF said it worked closely with at least 17 public agencies, six utility companies, and the community to deal with impact issues ranging from enhancement and protection of the environment, to improved grade crossings, drainage structures, as well as preservation of historical and cultural resources. ' Keith Higginbotham

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