An Update on the Current Status of the Ballard Terminal Railroad

A Peek at the Actual Business of Shortlines

I had an interesting day today. As a part of my effort to update all my railroad pages, I decided to take a look at where the Ballard Southern RR is today (January 25, 2010), in practical terms. I really had my eyes opened! The BT is prospering! Using the internet, which is much more of an accessible resource than it was even five years ago, I gathered information I didn't have then on its formation, as well as where it stands today. I put key piecesl of this inforamtion together on this page. I want to show that this isn't just some totally obscure little railroad, but a vital, profitable element of local business. I think it gives an interesting view of what a small shortline can do today, and ought to be a real inspiration to modelers who see the opportunities in this kind of modeling.


Wikipedia Entry

Ballard Terminal Railroad
Reporting mark BDTL
Locale Seattle, Washington
Dates of operation 1997–
Track gauge 4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) (standard gauge)
Headquarters Seattle, Washington

The Ballard Terminal Railroad (reporting mark BDTL), a short line terminal railroad in Seattle, Washington, USA's Ballard neighborhood, was formed in 1997 to operate trains on three miles of track on the north side of Salmon Bay. The spur had been abandoned earlier that year by the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway. BNSF had only three customers when it decided to abandon service in early 1997: the Salmon Bay Sand & Gravel Co., the Olsen Furniture Co., and Western Pioneer Shipping, a fish processing company. Western Pioneer was hit especially hard by the line's closing. To ensure continued service, the companies and other investors formed the Ballard Terminal Railroad, and it began operation early the next year with a 1940s-era locomotive formerly belonging to the Milwaukee Road.
The Ballard Terminal Railroad runs from N.W. 40th Street and 6th Avenue N.W., just south of its Bright Street Yard and on the edge of Fremont, northwest toward Ballard proper. There, it passes the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks and runs along Seaview Avenue N.W. to its Shilshole Yard, where it joins the BNSF mainline just north of N.W. 68th Street. Most of the railroad was originally part of the Great Northern Railway's main line, moved to the west when the Lake Washington Ship Canal was built.


Entry from "Railway Age"

"SHIPPERS TEAM UP TO SAVE SHORT LINE", Railway Age 199 (6): 20, June 1998, "After Burlington Northern and Santa Fe shut down three miles of waterfront line along the Lake Washington Ship Canal in Ballard, Wash., last year, four shippers got together to form the Ballard Terminal Railroad Co. Last month, BRTC was awarded a $350,000 loan by the Washington State Department of Transportation for rehabilitation of the deteriorated track. When that is completed, the new short line will again move such commodities as fish, furniture, sand, cement, and lubrication oil."



A Comment from an Internet Site About Walking Tours in Ballard

April 6th, 2008

Jumbled Rail As continued from my previous entry about walking the rails in Ballard, yesterday I walked the rest of the rails in Ballard. I saw many cool things, and learned about this railroad.
This shortline railroad, which is officially the Ballard Terminal Railroad, is a shortline that acquired the trackage rights from BSNF after they abandoned the track in 1997. The company was formed to support the three local industries that this shortline serves: Pioneer Western (a fish processor), Salmon Bay Gravel Co., and Olsen Furniture.
It is, as far as I can tell, operated by three guys. There are two switchers that are owned by this railroad company, the most prominent is the #98, the red Ballard Li’l Beaver, a EMD SW-1 600 HP switcher. It lives in a lot just off NW 45th St.



Ballard Terminal Railroad CO Business Information

Ballard Terminal Railroad CO is a private company categorized under Switching and Terminal Services and located in Seattle, WA. Current estimates show this company has an annual revenue of $1 to 2.5 million and employs a staff of approximately 5 to 9.


Ballard terminal railroad delivers local freight
By Brian LeBlanc
December 15, 2008

(from the Ballard News Tribune - used by permission)

The Ballard Terminal Railroad is a three-mile long short line railroad that runs from Northwest 40th Street in Fremont through Ballard along the waterfront to their yard near Ray's Boathouse restaurant.
It is one of three lines operated by the Ballard Terminal Railroad Co., who also operate the Meeker Southern, a five-mile long short line railroad running between Puyallup and McMillan and have just won the bid from the Port of Seattle to provide freight rail service on the Eastside Rail Corridor that runs between Renton and Snohomish.
A short line railroad is one that operates a smaller branch line off of a larger railroad and delivers freight to businesses located along the route. Byron Cole, general manager of the Ballard Terminal Railroad, started the business in 1997 when the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad decided to abandon the Ballard line, which has existed since 1893. When they began, they served three customers but that number has dwindled to one business, the Salmon Bay Sand & Gravel Company on Shilshole Ave.
The Burlington Northern Santa Fe delivers carloads of cement, fly ash, stucco and mortar ordered by Salmon Bay to the Shilshole Yard. The Ballard Terminal Railroad then picks up these cars and delivers them to Salmon Bay.
Due to the increased car and bicycle traffic on the street part of their route the railroad mainly operates at night, making deliveries two to three times a week depending on when the Burlington Northern Santa Fe delivers the freight cars. Cole says that Salmon Bay prefers the freight cars because they are quicker to unload and deliver a lot more material at one time.
Despite the hazards presented on operating a railroad partially along Shilshole Avenue, the Ballard Terminal Railroad received the Jake Award With Distinction in 2007, a safety award given by the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association to railroads with no reportable injuries.
Traffic on the Ballard Terminal's railroads was up 47 percent in 2007 and Cole predicts 2008 will be even better. This is due in large part to businesses reassessing the cost benefit of using rail for their transportation needs. According to Cole, each rail car can carry 100 tons while an 18-wheel truck can only carry 25 tons. Trains are more efficient as a freight engine can move one ton 400 miles on one gallon of diesel fuel while a truck can only move the same weight only 75 miles. Most of the money made by the railroad is put back into maintenance of the tracks and the grade crossings along the route to ensure safety.
Cole is active in the Ballard community and is a member of the Ballard Chamber of Commerce, Ballard Interbay Northend Manufacturing and Industrial Center, or BINMIC, and the North Seattle Industrial Association.
The Ballard Terminal Railroad also gives away more than 20 train ride packages a year to local charities. Cole says there are some plans to expand the Ballard route but there are not as many growth opportunities as he would like. Given the inevitability of rising fuel costs and the demonstrated efficiency of rail transport, the railroad seems poised to take advantage of the situation should such an opportunity arise.




Entry culled from pages of notes of a meeting of the Department of Transportion

(in case you thought it was all just fun switching and playing with trains...)

Federal Railroad Administration
Petition for Waiver of Compliance
In accordance with part 211 of Title
49 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR),
notice is hereby given that the Federal
Railroad Administration (FRA) has
received a request for a waiver of
compliance from certain requirements
of its safety standards. The individual
petition is described below, including
the party seeking relief, the regulatory
provisions involved, the nature of the
relief being requested, and the
petitioner’s arguments in favor of relief.
Ballard Terminal Railroad Company,
LLC (Waiver Petition Docket Number
The Ballard Terminal Railroad
Company, LLC (BTRC) of Seattle, WA,
has petitioned for a permanent waiver of
compliance for one locomotive (BDTL
98) and one caboose (MSN 10056) from
the requirements of the Railroad Safety
Glazing Standards, Title 49 CFR part
223, which require certified glazing in
all windows. BTRC operates two small
freight railroads, namely 3-mile long
Ballard Terminal Railroad (BDTL) since
1998, and 5-mile long Meeker Southern
Railroad (MSN) since 2000, in western
Washington state. BTRC states that they
have been completely accident and
incident free.
The subject locomotive BDTL 98 on
the BDTL line is a 1940 EMC SW–1 600
hp switching locomotive whose side
windows conform to Title 49 CFR
223.11 glazing requirements; however,
the front and rear windows do not. The
front and rear windows are glazed with
⁄4inch laminated safety glass that is in
good condition with no discoloration.
BTRC states that this very early EMC
locomotive has different window
geometry from the ‘‘post war’’
locomotives of the same series. As such,
the cost of a set of custom windows
meeting FRA requirements is basically
prohibitive for their small company.
The subject caboose MSN 10056 on
the MSN line is an ex-BNSF all steel
caboose with cupola that is used
primarily as a ‘‘shoving platform.’’
BTRC states that when they acquired the
caboose, all of the windows were
covered up with sheet metal. Upon
removal of the sheet steel, it was
discovered that all of the windows were
old and damaged such that they were
nearly opaque. Due to uncertainty of
spare parts and cost considerations,
BTRC replaced all of them with 1⁄4inch
laminated safety glass which does not
comply with Title 49 CFR 223.13
glazing requirements. However, the
installed glass remains in good
condition with no discoloration.
BTRC states that they operate in a
primarily agricultural area, which is a
very benign environment. In 8 years,
they have not experienced any rock
throwing or shooting damage to the
equipment. BTRC’s maximum operating
speed is 10 mph, and their trains
average five cars in length. BTRC further
states that the expense of retrofitting the
subject locomotive and caboose to
comply with FRA Safety Glazing
Standards would impose an undue
financial burden on their small
company to protect against situations
they do not encounter.