July 11, 2013 | Vol. 117 -- No. 12

Council hears about rail line proposal

Cheney in negotiations with BNSF over crossing safety features along six-mile long side line through city

A new rail line is coming to Cheney, and while that’s a virtual certainty, safety enhancement features along the six-mile siding are still somewhat up in the air.

In an information item to the City Council at its July 9 meeting, Public Works director Todd Ableman said he and City Administrator Arlene Fisher have been in negotiations with Burlington-Northern Santa Fe since late 2011, early 2012 over what he called the Cheney to Babb Double Track Project. The project is the construction of a new rail line located 15 feet to the east of the current BNSF line, and running from just north of Anderson Road near the city’s Utility Building through Cheney to a point three miles past Mullinix Road.

The rail beds for the line were built in the early 2000s, Ableman told the council, and the project has now reached the comment phase, with city officials providing safety ideas to the railway. Fisher said the company is amenable to some of Cheney’s safety proposals, and understands that train traffic through the city has always been an issue.

Fisher said BNSF and the city are trying to match up items in the proposal with a 2012 study in order to move forward on a proposal of safety enhancements to the council.

“They (BNSF) are very anxious to get started,” Fisher said, noting the proposal to proceed simply needs the mayor’s signature.

Councilman Fred Pollard said he and other landowners had been contacted by the other major rail carrier through Cheney, Union Pacific, regarding their plans to build a similar side track outside city limits, looking to purchase land. Pollard expressed concern about the impacts both projects could have on the city, and asked if officials were aware of the UP plan.

“Everybody’s looking at increasing traffic in and around Cheney and are you aware of it?” he asked.

Fisher said they were, but that right now their concerns are centered around BNSF’s plans.

Mayor Tom Trulove expressed concerns about materials trains carry. He noted that besides oil, a reference to the recent rail disaster in Quebec that killed 13 and left more than 50 people missing, trains carry materials such as anhydrous ammonia, which can be deadly if released into the environment through some kind of wreck or collision.

“We want to make sure we keep the traffic separate from the trains and that’s the issue we’re communicating right now,” he said.

In another information item, council heard a presentation from Spokane County Library District representatives on their community impact plan for library services. The district has 10 libraries serving roughly 260,000 county residents, branches that are open a total of 494 hours a week.

“66,000 people attended programs at the library last year,” library representative Ellen Peters said.

The district had 2012 expenditures of $10,685,672, 93 percent of which comes from property taxes. The district is looking increasing service in four areas: creating opportunities for exploring and discovering knowledge, developing young learners, something done well already, Peters said; support job seekers and local businesses and enhancing and increasing community connections.

Peters said they plan to do this without additional funding or staff, rather focusing on new and innovative ways to implement programs.

Cheney Library supervisor Pat Davis said the branch is open seven days a week, carries approximately 41,000 items and features programs for people of all ages. The library has seen a 3 percent increase in card holders and 22 percent increase in visitors, with 15 percent more items checked out, 5 percent more people using their computers and 25 and 19 percent increases in programs and program attendees.

“The bottom line is we are very busy,” Davis said.

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

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