(Page 2 of 2)
The trail easement north of Woodinville would coexist with Engle's freight rail operation on the same mileage, suggesting that the county sees no practical problems in putting in a trail alongside existing tracks.
However, County Council vice-chair Jane Hague noted that the county’s easement will essentially go out the window if the purchase is consummated, leaving the trail-vs.-rail question open until all those holding a stake in the line's fortunes come up with a new grand plan.
“We've got five different partners in this corridor,” Hague stated, naming the county, Redmond, Kirkland, Sound Transit and Puget Sound Energy, which holds a utility easement. “The County Council’s position continues to be dual use. The necessity of having a regular planning process for how we . . . [institute] light rail and what the cost is going to be is huge.”
Light rail is, of course, only one possibility and would be a long way off. If Engle’s plan falls through, the right-of-way may be used for a range of “interim uses,” including the bicycle-pedestrian trail that many on the Eastside would like to see it become.
“We're hoping to conclude this [purchase] by the end of the year,” said Hague. “We're having weekly trek-through-the-mud sessions where, as staff has put it, we're trying to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again.”
Among those pushing for a rail-plus-trail development is Bruce Agnew, director of Seattle's Cascadia Center for Regional Development. “King County is talking about putting 15.8 million into this right-of-way, when one of the municipalities is talking about tearing out the tracks,” he expressed wonderment at the developing situation. “How do you reconcile Kirkland wanting to tear out the tracks, when other public leaders are talking about keeping the tracks for commuter rail?”
Reconnecting the two ends of the line by replacing the Wilburton tunnel, Agnew noted, would expand the reach for rail freight and return the line to its status as a true corridor. It would again provide the Seattle region with redundancy for through rail traffic, which, as things stand, depends on the single, mudslide-prone shoreline tracks. Then again, BNSF saw no need for preserving that redundancy when it first announced plans to divest itself of the Eastside line almost ten years ago.
The prospect of ever returning the route to its former condition, as a through route serving both freight and passenger needs, thus rests on a chain of ifs: the success of Engle's endeavor, the rebuilding of the connection at Wilburton, cooperation among numerous public entities – and, most conspicuously, that $100-million dream in Kirkland.
This story was revised on Friday, November 16 to reflect the fact that Tom Jones is a former consultant to and current creditor of GNP Railway, and not a principal in the company.
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!