Parked cars getting towed near the Ballard Terminal Railroad tracks

We all know parking in Central Ballard is a challenge, and on the weekend — especially during the Ballard Farmer’s Market as the weather warms up — it can be downright maddening.

That’s usually when drivers get creative along Shilshole Ave., often parking on — or very near (above) — the railroad tracks that run along the shoreline.

“Last Sunday, I saw some 30 cars parked on the tracks with these, handy, warnings tagged on each car,” explains Jim in the My Ballard Facebook Group, posting these photos. “Several cars were towed a few hours later, when the train made it’s run.”

Most Ballard visitors — and quite a few Ballard residents — are always surprised to learn that the railroad actually runs several times a week. Often in overnight hours, Ballard Terminal Railroad Company runs a one-engine (“Li’l Beaver”) railroad that transports materials back and forth from Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel on Shilshole Ave.

Signs next to the stretch of tracks remind drivers that it’s illegal to park within six feet of the tracks, day or night. When cars block the train, they get towed.

“They tow at last resort,” Jim explained. “I’ve seen the train held up for an hour while they try and sort out the parking before towing.”

Whistles from the Ballard Terminal Railroad

For many in Ballard, the early-morning train whistles are just part of the sonic fabric of the neighborhood, echoing through the fog. For a few others, they’re a bit of a surprise — there’s a railroad in Ballard? — and sometimes they can wake you up.

Several members of the My Ballard Facebook Group said the whistles from the Ballard Terminal Railroad seemed a little louder than usual a couple mornings ago. In our experience over the years, it’s usually a function of the colder weather and inversion layers, which tend to focus sound waves more horizontally, amplifying their distance.

Newer Ballard residents are often surprised to learn about the Ballard Terminal Railroad Company, a working one-engine railroad that transports materials from the tracks near Shilshole Bay Marina — where it connects with the BNSF mainline — to Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel on Shilshole Ave. The company has operated out of that location for the last 110 years, stretching back to the era when trains filled Ballard tracks.

Now there’s just one locomotive, numbered 98 and named “Li’l Beaver” after the Ballard High Beavers. Sometimes people think the engine is a static museum piece; since Ballard Terminal Railroad tends to operate before first light, the Li’L Beaver is rarely seen at work.

If you’re as fascinated as we are with the railroad, you can learn more about the Ballard Terminal Railroad Company here and here. (Thank you to @artemis618 for permission to use the photo.)

Ballard’s Li’l Beaver stopped in its tracks

Updated: We’re told that a crane is being brought in to move the engine. Ian sent us this photo.

Earlier: The Ballard Terminal Railroad engine dubbed “Ballard’s Li’l Beaver” is stuck in front of Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel.

Byron Cole, with BTRR tells us the engine broke down over the weekend and has electrical problems. They’re hoping to have it back up and running today.

If you’re unfamiliar with the BTRR, it’s one of 30 “short lines” in Washington state. The Ballard line is three miles long and runs two days a week, generally Tuesday or Wednesday night and again over the weekend. “It’s a way of preserving freight service to those who need it,” Cole says. (Thanks Doug and Erin for the tip!)

Slippery crossing to be fixed for a safer Burke Gilman Trail

A rubber mat that was intended to keep bicycle tires from getting stuck in the railroad tracks is being removed to make the trail safer for cyclists. After hearing complaints from bicyclists that the crossing is dangerous, the Seattle Department of Transportation is working with the Ballard Terminal Railroad to make some changes.

Photo courtesy Michael Snyder

“The Burke-Gilman Trail intersects railroad tracks belonging to the Ballard Terminal Railroad at a crossing to the north and east of 6th Avenue NW and NW 40th Street. The trail bends towards 6th Avenue NW at this point and meets the train tracks at a 45 degree angle,” according to the SDOT blog.

Bicyclist Michael Snyder says that removing the mat and changing the crossing is a good idea. “The rubber on this crossing is pretty slick when there is any moisture,” he says, “The current angle of the crossing encourages cyclists to cross the railroad tracks at an acute angle instead of the 90 degree angle that is normally recommended when bicycles are ridden across railroad tracks. The SDOT reconfiguration looks like it will encourage cyclists to cross at a 90 degree angle.”

Red flags indicate crashes, yellow flag indicates hazard.
Snyder says that has been collecting hazard and crash reports from the public for the last year and this area shows a distinct cluster of crashes.

Charles Bookman, Director of Traffic Management for the SDOT says,“The Ballard Terminal Railroad (BTRR) operates under a City of Seattle franchise agreement, which holds them responsible for maintenance within their franchise area, which includes trail crossings of their track. In realigning this crossing, the BTRR will remove the rubber mats and will reimburse SDOT for replacing the crossing in asphalt. SDOT is covering the remainder of the work, which includes project design and coordination, traffic control, realigning portions of the trail outside the immediate crossing area, and moving some signs.”

Work is expected to be completed next month.