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Eastside trail: Will rail ever return?

It's entirely possible for a trail and an active rail line to work together. But that seems to be a challenge to some on the Eastside as they and the Port of Seattle work on using a longtime rail line as a trail.

The Sammamish River Trail. Rail advocates are worried that plans for another Eastside trail could effectively block future revival of rail in Redmond and Kirkland.

The Sammamish River Trail. Rail advocates are worried that plans for another Eastside trail could effectively block future revival of rail in Redmond and Kirkland. Jim Carson/Flickr (CC)

A freight car sits on a spur just off the main line near downtown Bellevue.

A freight car sits on a spur just off the main line near downtown Bellevue. Eastside Rail Now!

The city of Kirkland and the Port of Seattle are getting their pens out to finalize a deal that could seal the fate of the rail line conveyed to the port by the BNSF Railway in 2009. By purchasing 5.75 miles of the 42-mile "Eastside Corridor" from the port, the city would acquire not just the line for a multi-use trail but also the right to rip out the tracks.

The sale price is $5 million, which the city would have to raise by borrowing from its own non-transportation accounts. Development of the trail would depend on passage of a bond measure, or the receipt of outside grants.

A second reading of the port's authorization to proceed with the sale will take place at a meeting Tuesday (April 3) of the port's commissioners. If that is approved — and the first reading, on Feb. 28, sailed through on a unanimous vote — the stage will be set for the port and the city to ink the deal on April 13, with a public celebration of the purchase to take place the following day in Kirkland.

No one appears to expect the deal to fall through. The question is, Will Kirkland then remove the tracks? And if the tracks are ripped out, will it even be possible to replace them years from now, if needs for transit, commuter rail, or rail freight service become more pressing? To rail advocates, removal of the tracks would likely doom any move toward using the right of way for those services.

In 2006, then-King County Executive Ron Sims articulated the vision of “the granddaddy of all trails” in announcing the county's interest in the corridor, which runs between Snohomish and Renton. Since then, rail advocates have lost a number of battles to keep the line alive. The route was severed at I-405 in 2008 to allow for widening of the freeway from eight to 10 lanes.

The city of Redmond bought a 3.9-mile chunk of a spur track in 2010, and will use it primarily as a linear park for pedestrians. Early in 2011, a company that had taken over BNSF's freight rail service on the north end of the corridor was forced into bankruptcy and, largely because of the bankruptcy, saw federal administrators refuse its application to reactivate more of the track for freight service. A lawsuit from three Seattle residents attempting to undo the BNSF-Port of Seattle transaction that conveyed the Kirkland trackage lost on a summary judgment last December; the plaintiffs have appealed, however.

Redmond has already ripped out or covered over about a mile and a half of its track, Mayor John Marchione told Crosscut in a recent interview. In an earlier interview, he made it clear that he was not OK with freight trains coming into downtown Redmond. “Having a freight train run in your backyard is not acceptable for downtown residents,” he said.

His comment highlights the political tension surrounding neighboring Kirkland's plans: Is the right-of-way best used to move freight and rail passengers by a mode generally recognized as environmentally efficient, or does a pedestrian route make more sense, as a greater contributor to quality of life? Who, in short, gets dibs on that nice level railbed?

Those who seek more than a trail on an old railbed fear that political, financial, and legal challenges would block reinstatement of any sort of railroad once the tracks are gone, that “extinct is forever.” Indeed, this reporter could find no case of tracks ever having been relaid on an established “rail-trail” anywhere in the country.

The track conveyed by BNSF to the port is railbanked: that is, under federal law, it has been assigned to non-freight-rail uses on an interim basis, but remains available for the resumption of freight service, should that become economically viable again. Rail advocates suggest that, if the port signs a conveyance to Kirkland that does not guarantee that the rail infrastructure remains intact, the port will be reneging on its obligations under the railbanking process, which is overseen by the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB).


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Apr 2, 6:58 a.m. Inappropriate

A lawsuit from three Seattle residents attempting to undo the entire BNSF-Port of Seattle transaction lost on a summary judgment last December; the plaintiffs have appealed, however.

That fundamentally misrepresents the nature of that lawsuit.

The legal challenge raised only was to the Port's acquisition of the northern portion, in Snohomish County. That lawsuit -- Sally Bagshaw's husband and his partner are the attorneys -- did NOT seek to undo the "entire" deal. Here's the complaint those lawyers filed:

http://www.heraldnet.com/assets/pdf/DH7361992.pdf

Those legal challenges are to the acquisition of the northern portion only. One way we know the part of the deal in King County is not implicated is that neither Sound Transit nor Kirkland now are parties, and they have rights to the southern part of that corridor. Under the applicable court rules, they would have to be parties if "entire" deal had been challenged.

The interesting thing is that the claims Bagshaw and his partner Jurca did bring were weak. The entire deal should be invalidated, but those two did not bring the claim that would invalidate it.

If a lawyer truly was interested in undoing the entire deal, he or she would have claimed that the statute at issue (RCW 53.08.290) did not authorize purchasing any of any of that corridor from BNSF because none of it was intended to be used "in connection with the operation of facilities and improvements of the district . . . related to the intermodal movement of interstate and foreign cargo."

Why didn't Bagshaw and Jurca bring a meritorious claim in their lawsuit? By losing the weak claim they did bring, it gives interested insiders like "CB Hall" the opportunity to misrepresent this transaction as perfectly legal.

Jurca and Bagshaw have done this before. They were the lawyers who brought the lame "Sane Transit" claims, which also were loser claims that Sound Transit's PR team used to great effect in numerous stories provided to media outlets.

crossrip

Posted Mon, Apr 2, 9 a.m. Inappropriate

Here’s what to look for with regard to this fake-litigation. The dismissal was appealed by Jurca and Bagshaw to Division One of the court of appeals. If those appellate judges want to emulate the dishonest conduct the justices routinely employ when Sound Transit’s interests are at stake, what we’ll see is: 1) their opinion will be of the “published” type, and 2) the judges won’t reference the meritorious claim (described above) that Bagshaw and Jurca failed to bring.

In contrast, if the judges don’t want to participate in the misleading PR Sound Transit’s backers want to spread following their resolution of this appeal the opinion 1) will be “unpublished”, 2) it will emphasize how the claims relate only to the acquisition of the northern portion of the corridor, and 3) it will express concern at how these lawyers failed to raise the obvious claim that truly would invalidate this transaction.

We’ll have to wait and see whether these appellate court judges decide to suck up to the rich interests benefiting from Sound Transit’s activities. I’m hopeful they’ll resist just a bit this effort to lead them by the nose into shafting the public’s interest. I’m a realist though . . ..

crossrip

Posted Mon, Apr 2, 9:40 a.m. Inappropriate

We are being told over and over to prepare for another 1.5 million people in the region over the next few decades, and over and over again our policy planners make decisions that reduce traffic capacity and the ability to move large numbers of people around the region. This rail right-of-way could connect Renton, Bellevue, Kirkland and Woodinville. It could connect with rights-of-way to the University of Washington and north Seattle. It could connect with another line that runs to Redmond, Snoqualmie and North Bend. It could connect to Everett, Monroe, Snohomish, and Tacoma.

The rights-of-way that we are converting to bike paths could be the backbone for a new commuter rail system that could cover the entire region in a decade. But instead of getting ourselves ready for another million commuters a day, we're letting these resources become exclusive routes for the minute percentage of people who are able to ride bikes every day.

talisker

Posted Mon, Apr 2, 10:22 a.m. Inappropriate

Washington State Department of Highways, WSDOH, is a criminal organization acting solely on behalf of automobile-related business interests whose goal is to establish and maintain the automobile as a transportation monopoly. Screw national security, public safety and protecting our environment, their motto is "He who dies with the most money, wins."

Wells

Posted Mon, Apr 2, 11:52 a.m. Inappropriate

Converting the rail bed to a bicycling coridor, could actually turn into an economic benefit for the cities along it.

http://bikeportland.org/2011/07/01/summer-reading-economic-benefits-of-bicycling-55794

http://takingthelane.com/2011/12/19/why-bicycle-transportation-will-save-portlands-economy/

As for it being a viable rail line, it isn't. It's a single track with a huge number of uncontrolled intersections with a speed rating of 25mph. Which given stops, makes any rail system running on it, slower than a bicycle.

GaryP

Posted Mon, Apr 2, 8:29 p.m. Inappropriate

Years ago I used to ride along side the railroad bed that goes from Auburn I think to some where over the mountains. They had fire lanes along side and various horse, walking, biking trails intersected with them and you would ride along the tracks and gab and jabber and enjoy company. The trails came and went from the tracks and they were no problem. If a train came by you stopped and controlled your horse and waved at the engineer. Great fun. So of course they should be saved as multi use by ways and not stop the possible access of some sort of commuter service. Going back is so difficult.

Posted Mon, Apr 2, 11:05 p.m. Inappropriate

I'll just weigh-in one last time here with my most humble pardons begged for dragging the innocent thru the muck, the mud muck of your PNW state Highway department bunglements...

One year ago, wsdot admitted failure on 'their' I-5 CRC design (overbuilt) and have now submitted a follow-up design that again lasted peer review only an extra week before its overall rejection.
Pacific Northwest friends, the latest Wsdot CRC I-5 cross-section is as faulty as last year as they are alike at their root problem.

WashDOH is a bungling organization acting on behalf of automobile-related business interests solely and whose goals are to establish and maintain travel-by-automobile as a transportation monopoly! Screw national security, screw public safety, screw protecting OUR environment; their motto "He who dies with the most money, wins", the challenge to which, is, our Righteous Disagreement, ye numbnuts & scurulous windbags!

Wells

Posted Tue, Apr 3, 9:30 a.m. Inappropriate

As long as the "right of way" remains in the public domain, we can always convert a rail/trail back to rail, or monorail, or pod cars whatever. The loss is when we've broken up the "right of way" into short segments. Then the cost of eminate domain condemnation gets ridiculous, 'cause you might have to buy some rather large buildings, or expensive homes.

There should be an Eastside fixed rail line to move people around the region. That's pretty much a known answer to our future. Whether it should go along the current route is still an open question. The current line was so little used for so long that much has grown up around it that is not dense development. But in anycase the current rails are not suitable for commuter rail. So even if we did want to use this land for commuter rail, we'd still be ripping up this track.

GaryP

Posted Tue, Apr 3, 8:04 p.m. Inappropriate

@GaryP
"As for it being a viable rail line, it isn't. It's a single track with a huge number of uncontrolled intersections with a speed rating of 25mph."

The line can still function for freight operations. What is keeping the operators of the Woodinville - Snohomish segment from delivering to companies such as Safeway in Bellevue, is the presence of red flagged (end of track) markers and derails.

These were put there by BNSF when they upgraded the Tukwila to Renton/Boeing spur, allowing WSDOT to sever the line at the Wilburton tunnel at I-405 in Bellevue.

The current operators of the line would need the derails/red flag removed by the current owners of the rail line to be able to service potential customers south of Woodinville.

As for passenger service in the corridor, the I-405 analysis showed potential light rail lines following this ROW, except for diversions to Factoria and from Woodinville-Lynnwood.
http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/NR/rdonlyres/F3470155-883E-4784-A6DC-B4C08F81FAF9/0/Ch02.pdf Page 11

The Light Rail option was estimated at $4.5 Billion.

Commuter operations do not have to begin with 79mph running. There are even some current operations back east (with the same density patterns) that operate in the 45-50 mph range. Upgrading this line (re-ballasting, getting rid of slow-order problems, etc) to acheive this minor improvement would not cost the same as Sound Transit's $1.3 Billion build out.

JimCusick

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