Guard continues railside retreat

Sean Guard will count trains through Friday

"I want to keep the message going that we need to talk about planning."

-- Sean Guard

“I want to keep the message going that we need to talk about planning.”

— Sean Guard

Washougal Mayor Sean Guard said more than 225 people have stopped by to visit him at his makeshift campsite at 32nd and Main streets since noon Friday.

“It has been non-stop, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” he said Monday. “People just keep coming.

“It has surprised me,” Guard added. “They are visiting from Olympia, Salem, Vancouver and Stevenson, to say ‘hello and thanks for doing it.'”

He is planning to continue counting the number of trains that travel through the city through Friday at noon.

Guard is also making note of the type of freight the trains carry and how long they block and back up traffic onto state Route 14.

Based on what Guard has seen, he said the average amount of time the crossing at 32nd and Main is closed is between two and three-and-a-half minutes.

Rick Wagner, BNSF director of public works, traveled from Seattle, Monday, for an introductory meeting with Guard and City Administrator David Scott.

Several BNSF representatives also visited on Friday.

Topics included enhanced communication, grade separations, hazmat teams’ outreach to local responders and future expansion plans.

“I want to keep the message going that we need to talk about planning, prevention of spills or going off track, and better cars, axles and wheels, and disaster planning,” Guard said. “Railroads are not responsible for having a disaster plan in place. That’s not very encouraging to know.”

Regarding sleep, Guard said he has been able to get some “cat naps here and there at night” in a travel trailer.

Gus Melonas, BNSF regional director of public affairs, said the company understands the attention on rail in Camas and Washougal. He said the average number of trains that travel through the area is 35 in a 24-hour period.

In 2006, there were up to 50 trains traveling through the local area per day.

The traffic flows fluctuate and are based on market demands, Melonas said.

“A carrier is obligated to move all types of freight,” he said. “We can’t pick a load of tennis shoes and decline oil.

“We cannot control what we haul,” Melonas added. “We control how we haul it.”

He said BNSF has spent $500 million on track improvements during the past three years.

Melonas mentioned the future replacement of the Washougal River railroad bridge in Camas will cost more than $10 million. The 550 foot long bridge is parallel to Southeast Sixth Avenue.

Track upgrades are planned.

“We are also enhancing the network with a new siding, to ensure more timely movements and minimize public delays,” Melonas said.