OLYMPIA, Wash. – State regulators today approved a settlement agreement with BNSF Railway Co. (BNSF) that imposes a $55,000 penalty against the company for failing to timely repair defects at seven railroad crossings in Skagit and Whatcom counties.
The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) approved the settlement agreement between the commission staff and BNSF where the company acknowledges that it failed to respond to repeated notices from the UTC about safety defects and did not repair crossings in a sufficiently timely manner, resulting in violations of state law. The company agreed to pay $55,000 of the penalty now with the remaining $50,000 suspended for one year with conditions.
To comply with the agreement, for crossings located in Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish counties, BNSF must:
• Respond within 30 days to any notice from the commission about routine crossing defects;
• Respond within seven days to any notice from the commission about severe crossing defects; and
• Promptly submit photos to the commission of completed repairs.
The commission sent BNSF a letter last December outlining the crossing defects and asking the company to fix or propose a plan to repair them. For several of these crossings, the commission had previously notified BNSF of existing defects and never received a response. In a follow-up Jan. 29 inspection, the UTC’s rail inspector revisited the crossing sites and found the company had failed to repair the defects. On Feb. 25, the commission issued a penalty assessment against BNSF for $105,000.
The UTC staff, who operate independently from the three-member commission in litigated cases, filed a settlement agreement with BNSF May 30.
Headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, the railroad company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. BNSF is the largest railroad company operating in Washington, with more than $103 million in revenues reported to the commission in 2011.
The UTC is the state agency responsible for railroad safety, including approving new grade crossings and closing or altering existing rail crossings. The agency investigates train accidents, inspects public-railroad crossings, approves rail-safety improvement projects and manages Operation Lifesaver, a rail-safety education program in Washington and nationwide.