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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

July 8, 2014 at 10:12 AM

Planes by trains

A train derailment Thursday left three Renton-bound 737  fuselages along the edge of the Clark Fork River in Montana. (Photo by Brock Sarbeck / Wiley E. Waters Whitewater Rafting)

A train derailment Thursday left three Renton-bound 737 fuselages along the edge of the Clark Fork River in Montana. (Photo by Brock Sarbeck / Wiley E. Waters Whitewater Rafting)

Unless, like me, you like to watch trains move through Seattle, the dramatic photos of 737 fuselages spilled into a Montana river may have been the first time you realized that railroads are an essential part of building airplanes in the Puget Sound.

The bodies are made by Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita, a former Boeing division that built such famous airplanes as the B-29, B-47 and B-52. Then they are placed on special flatcars and transported to Renton for final assembly by the BNSF Railway. This has been happening for more than 20 years.

And BNSF is aware of the critical nature of moving this high-value cargo safely. For example, Trains magazine reported in 2012 that the railroad hosted a “Boeing special” consisting of three 737 fuselages and six business cars for executives from Boeing and the railroad. The purpose of the trip was to showcase the care the railroad takes, as well as to  inspect the quality, clearance and ride. It left Wichita and headed north to Lincoln, Neb., over to Laurel and Missoula, Mont., then to Wenatchee, arriving at BNSF’s Interbay yard in Seattle.

The BNSF is made up of many “fallen flag” railroads: The Santa Fe, Burlington Route, Northern Pacific and Great Northern among them. Montana Rail Link, the route where the derailment happened, is a separate company that leases part of the former Northern Pacific line through its namesake state and carries some through-BNSF cargo.

The fuselages travel on special cars that are modfied by Boeing, a fleet of 99 as of last year.

Tuesday Reading: State of the Workforce report | Workforce Development Council of Seattle and King County

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Bubble on Wall Street?

The experts aren’t so worried

And they’re always right

Comments | More in Aerospace/Boeing, Railroads | Topics: Montana derailment

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