Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Swift action by Aberdeen maintenance worker prevents possible US 12 rail emergency following washout

By Tina Werner and Janet Matkin

On March 1, following a heavy rainstorm in the Pacific Northwest that closed multiple highways in Pierce and Thurston counties, Shannon Buchanan’s quick thinking made a big difference. After the storm settled, Shannon was completing routine culvert and catch basin inspections in east Grays Harbor County along US 12 between Elma and Oakville. As an experienced highway maintenance worker, he spotted a problem that wasn’t part of his responsibilities, and he sprang into action.

Seeing the ground washed out under the railroad track at Porter Creek Road, Shannon realized it was a serious issue and alerted his supervisor, Lance Valley, and they began devising a strategy.

Shannon Buchanan (left) and his supervisor Lance Valley (right) work out of our Aberdeen maintenance facility. Their quick actions recently helped prevent a potential railroad derailment.

Sounding the alarm and preventing disaster

Shannon, who has worked out of our Aberdeen shed since 2013, knew the first and most important step was alerting the railroad to the situation. But before that could happen, he and Lance heard something alarming: a faint whistle from an oncoming train.

Shannon knew he had to contact the train conductor immediately and stop the locomotive ahead of the compromised location. He took off in his pickup truck down US 12, flipped on his flashers and got out of his vehicle to get the attention of the engineer. With success, Shannon and Lance were able to connect with the operator and stop the train.

While doing routine culvert inspection, maintenance worker Shannon Buchanan spotted this area washed out under railroad tracks following a major rain storm in late February.

Shannon said he and Lance were just lucky – they were where in the right place at the right time. The truth is that we all were the lucky ones. By first recognizing the concern and then acting quickly in a potential emergency, they likely prevented a train derailment. It was truly heroic actions, and we couldn’t be more proud of them.

After discovering a washed out area under railroad tracks near Porter Creek Road, Shannon Buchanan raced down US 12 – which the rail line runs parallel to – to alert and stop an oncoming train.

Genesee and Wyoming Railroad Services, which owns Puget Sound and Pacific Railroad (which operates the short line railroad where the situation occurred), was also grateful.

“We are always appreciative of residents reporting apparent hazards along our rights-of-way,” said Jerry Vest, Senior Vice Presidents of Genesee and Wyoming Railroad Services. “The (WSDOT) employee absolutely took the correct action.”

How you can help

What should you do if you find yourself in a similar situation as Shannon and Lance? Great question. Next time you’re near a railroad crossing, you might notice a blue sign. That sign provides information, including an 800 number, to call to report an emergency on any track.

An 800-emergency number and intersection ID is on blue signs near railroad crossings to allow people to call and report potential rail hazards.

Vest said after significant weather events, the railroad company undertakes additional inspections of lines to identify any issues. But it never hurts to have the public chip in with information if they see a possible problem. In this situation, Genesee and Wyoming had crews on site immediately and stayed overnight to repair the culvert and patch the location before completing necessary inspections and resuming operations.

Our Rail, Freight and Ports Division works with rail companies throughout the state to collaborate on capital improvements, funding opportunities, rail crossings, and maintenance concerns. We own the largest short line railroad in the state and understand the risks associated with washouts and potential derailments.

And while Shannon and Lance don’t work for our rail division, like all our highway maintenance crews, they recognize the need for safe infrastructure and work hard to keep up with the many needs, whether it’s clearing culverts after a major storm, repairing potholes after a deep freeze, or fixing guardrails after a crash. These two crew members took the time to report this event, flag down the train engineer, and in doing so, prevented a more serious issue from occurring before it had the chance to cross the track. Thanks again to Shannon and Lance for their fantastic response and hard work throughout the year.


Mustafa Mohamedali said...

Way to go! You make us proud!
Mustafa Mohamedali/WSDOT HQ

Unknown said...


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