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Letter to the Editor: Eastside rail corridor article got it wrong

A Crosscut article about the fragmented Eastside rail corridor included a false allegation about my role in the operation of GNP Railway.

These comments are related to C.B. Hall’s Crosscut article of Nov.13, 2012, “Eastside rail: The Humpty Dumpty of Northwest Transportation”.

There are at least two directions that a writer could explore when writing about the corridor. Mr. Hall chose to devote a brief overview to each, and wound up covering each of them poorly. The corridor has been in and out of the region’s attention now for almost five years and its advancing disintegration into various uses and ownership should have been highlighted with a journalistic spotlight.

Such an investigation and discussion might be helpful if it were to focus on the purposeful neglect of coordinated regional planning for the corridor, (Puget Sound Regional Council’s responsibility?) and the absence of a unified and regional vision for its use. Reporting might highlight that some jurisdictions and agencies are removing any evidence of the railroad; some are installing graveled trails and, all the while, others continue to anticipate rail use. These disjointed activities have been ongoing, with no regional plan in place other than lip service to future “joint use.” It would have been helpful for the region if Mr. Hall’s article had clearly highlighted these issues.

A professional journalistic investigation could focus on how four years ago Sound Transit first included $50M in the ST2 ballot initiative for the Eastside corridor to win acceptance for its total package, then “re-programmed” the funds for other uses. An article could have asked why Sound Transit just didn’t extend the lower rate of tax receipts for a few years to complete the total promised program rather than cutting back on selected elements. Such an effort might investigate what was promised in ST2 and what has been built, and analyze if there has been planning and implementation for projects that were not included in the ST2 program.

For example, has the $50M been used for other projects that were not in the voter approved program? Importantly, a thorough journalist could highlight that Sound Transit’s actions reflect their fear that some private entity (and not ST) might have achieved a creditable, less expensive, and quicker fixed guideway transit result for the Eastside. But Mr. Hall’s article did none of that.

Rather than sticking to these important issues regarding the status and future of the Eastside rail corridor, Mr. Hall “wandered” into the status and motivations of what he accurately described an “acrimonious” bankruptcy. He did this because one of the previous owners/ debtors in the bankruptcy used Mr. Hall to “plant” and initiate a story to gain some measure of personal attention.

I believe that there are several mistakes and inaccuracies in this part of his article. Mr. Hall “reported” information that was false; I believe that that information caused personal harm, and I believe that he reported that information without accurate research into the truthfulness of those statements. A professional journalist (rather than someone trying to uncover immature personal infighting for a “National Enquirer” type article) would have stuck to fact and done research, rather than using rumor and hearsay to write an article.

A few clarifications need to be documented. Mr. Hall called me asking if I would “care to comment on some serious charges made about me by Doug Engle.” (Mr. Engle was one of the two owners of GNP Railway.) I stated that I didn’t even want to hear what Mr. Engle had to say. Mr. Hall said, “Then you have no comment?” I clarified that I wasn’t saying “no comment”; I was saying that I didn’t care to hear what Engle had said. Mr. Hall never related what Mr. Engle had said, thus I couldn’t comment.

I don’t know whether Mr. Hall incorrectly reported Mr. Engle’s statement, or whether Mr. Engle misled Mr. Hall, but the article said “...Engle distanced himself from GNP and the other two principals in the defunct company. ‘We had financing in hand, and due to unethical actions by Tom Payne and Tom Jones, The deal fell apart, and I left the company’ 

I was never “a principal” or an owner in GNP! I was a consultant to the company and remain one of its largest creditors. Mr. Payne and Mr. Engle were the two sole owners (50/50) of the company and remain the two debtors! I worked for both GNP and, for a short overlapping time, the Cascadia Center, studying and promoting the corridor. I was very careful to identify who I was representing at every meeting I attended. My contract with GNP was executed by both Mr. Payne and Mr. Engle, I have not been paid, and they owe me money!


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Jan 4, 6:53 a.m. Inappropriate

The story of the Eastside rail corridor is starting to remind me of the story of the Kalakala.

Too much dreamy nostalgia and not enough practical reality. And sour grapes.

The costs of making the corridor suitable for rail service would appear to exceed the benefits.

Jan

Posted Fri, Jan 4, 9:30 a.m. Inappropriate

Jan writes:

The costs of making the corridor suitable for rail service would appear to exceed the benefits.

The Port of Seattle acquired that 42-mile corridor of land from BNSF in 2009 with the intent to carve it up and hand over parts of it to other local governments. Within months of obtaining that land the Port commissioners began declaring parts of it “surplus” and selling them off to Redmond, King County, Sound Transit, Kirkland and Puget Sound Energy, for those entities’ separate purposes.

Sound Transit now owns outright a mile of that corridor in Bellevue. It plans on running two sets of light rail tracks across that property, to connect the downtown Bellevue tracks with the tracks heading out alongside Bel-Red Road. That use of its property by Sound Transit is the main reason what remains of that corridor won’t be “suitable” for any other rail service, Jan.

crossrip

Posted Fri, Jan 4, 12:30 p.m. Inappropriate

Mr. Jones,

Rather than attacking Mr. Hall, perhaps you should acknowledge your roll and complicity in the demise of GNP. We have documented evidence, with your and Mr. Payne's signatures, demonstrating unethical agreement and behavior in direct violation of the company bi-laws, which you possessed at the time.

You were the only person to have stock options, act as a director of the company, and attended nearly every company meeting over two years, including hosting them at your home countless times... that is acting as a principal.

Fortunately, shed of the duplicitous pair, we are making steady progress toward re-establishing an excursion train and bolstering the freight business. We have $1M in rolling stock available to us from our investment partner in Chicago, we are working toward completing an SBA loan, and have developed transparent cooperative relationships with the public bodies along the operating corridor. Additionally, we are developing a board of directors who will help us maintain a high level of ethical and transparent business.

So Jan and crossrip, please don't count us out...

Douglas Engle, MBA, CBI
Managing Director
Eastside Community Rail, LLC
Member IBBA

D.Engle

Posted Fri, Jan 4, 1:28 p.m. Inappropriate

For all we know Tay Yoshitani and the Port commissioners still think it was a bright idea to to lease railroad rights to these "GNP" bozos.

crossrip

Posted Fri, Jan 4, 1:59 p.m. Inappropriate

To answer Jan's comment concerning the cost/benefit of the Eastside rail corridor, the Puget Sound Regional Council study from 2008 estimated daily ridership for the 42 mile Eastside rail corridor at 6,700. Contrast this with the current (October 2012) daily ridership of 11,800 for the 81 mile Sounder service between Everett and Lakewood, and you have potentially more riders per mile on the Eastside. And fast growing east Snohomish county would finally get direct transit service to East King County without having to double back from Everett and Seattle.

For capital costs, our Cascadia Center researched other freight/commuter rail corridors in Oregon, California, Texas and Florida and found costs for track improvements, stations, trail development and self propelled rail cars in the $10 to $13 million a mile range - well below the same Regional Council study. A respected, international freight/excursion/passenger railroad (Iowa Pacific Holdings) came up with similar numbers when they explored acquiring operations of the Eastside rail line from the previous bankrupt operator (GNP).

Nationally, private sector rail operators and transit oriented development around stations is emerging as the key to leveraging taxpayer's transit investments for greater reach as popularized by Denver's FasTracks public private partnership.

The Eastside rail corridor could also provide a temporary way to haul material and equipment in and out of future Bellevue construction projects and avoid the additional costs to tax payers (and negative public health risks) from hundreds of thousands of diesel burning double dump trucks clogging local roads. Excavation material could also be recycled by rail to lay the foundations for new trails regionwide.

Dreamy nostalgia? Hardly. Just a good way to maximize a remarkable public asset for better health, transit, tourism and regeneration of economic development in places like Totem Lake.

Bagnew
Cascadia Center

bagnew

Posted Fri, Jan 4, 4:17 p.m. Inappropriate

Bruce, it seems to me this 2008 study you reference has been rendered obsolete by subsequent events.

Isn't it correct that the 2008 PSRC study did not contemplate Sound Transit owning outright one mile of that corridor and using it as the crossing for light rail between west and east Bellevue? I'd imagine Sound Transit's current ownership and anticipated use of that property for light rail eliminates the possibility that what's left of that 42-mile corridor could be used for a "freight/commuter" rail line of the type that 2008 PSRC study considered. Are there any real-world examples of light rail lines bisecting "freight/commuter" lines?

crossrip

Posted Fri, Jan 4, 9:40 p.m. Inappropriate

If the corridor - meaning the entire line from Renton to Snohomish - were really a winning proposition for profitable rail service (passenger and/or freight), it might have been realized by now.

(Warren Buffet's railroad determined it's a loser.)

The facts we face are bankruptcy and acrimony. Surely we don't need to pour any more public money down this hole without more evidence than Mr. Agnew provides (which does not include much pertinent to the realities of the corridor) that it would somehow deliver more benefits than costs.

The Discovery Institute makes it its business to promote free market approaches to policy.

So if the prospect of sustainable rail on the corridor is real, not just dreamy nostalgia or some other sort of dream, perhaps Discovery could show us how the free market can make it happen, and quit leaning on the governments around here to sustain what appears to be, at this stage, a pipe dream that is costing more than it is worth.

Jan

Posted Sat, Jan 5, 9:13 a.m. Inappropriate

Crossrip

Yes, since 2008, ST bought a section of corridor and "passenger easement" on an extended ROW. Also, when they discussed station layout for the "Hospital Station" just north of NE 8th, I understand it was going to be elevated, cross above the rail line AND leave enough room for the single track freight (or commuter) rail beneath. Perhaps this has changed from initial planning.

As originally envisioned by Sound Transit in the 2008 vote, a private operator would eventually operate a commuter rail connection (in the case of the northern section) bringing riders from outside the Sound Transit taxing district in Snohomish County to connect with their system in King County. Sound Transit's contribution would be in terms of capital investment and there would be no public operating subsidy.

Jan

Warren Buffet's railroad - BNSF - typically abandons "short haul" rail lines like the East side corridor to concentrate resources on mainlines like the I-5 rail line. And they get a big tax write-off by selling the property and good publicity by selling it to a public agency - Port of Seattle.

Guilty as charged that we promote free market approaches to public policy. This is why I cited Denver's FasTrack program where private sector capital and operating funds and developer funds at their Union Station transit oriented development allow the public sector to build a more ambitious rail program by leveraging their limited tax dollars and an expanded federal loan guarantee program ( called TIFIA). It is a model Sound Transit and other transit agencies are exploring.

We believe once the bankruptcy proceedings work their way through, a private operator could haul freight and tourists on excursion trains between Snohomish and Woodinville wineries without public subsidy. The full vision is spelled out in a piece we did for the Herald in Everett - http://www.discovery.org/a/20401.
Developer contributions around train stations could also help fund trail construction and operations - something local governments along the corridor are currently hard pressed to do.

If successful, the excursion train could be extended to Bellevue. South of Bellevue, any rail operations would be dependent on restoration of the Wilburton Tunnel overpass - severed by WSDOT to widen I-405.

As mentioned previously, the rail corridor could haul construction material from major projects temporarily - reducing costs to taxpayers from public transportation projects like the Sound Transit tunnel in Bellevue and expansion of I-405.

The main point is that communities have discovered that rail AND trail projects provide synergies and funding for each other. So lets not tear out tracks now and have to replace them at far greater costs in future. Taxpayers should expect short term decisions should not lead to longer term expensive retrofits.

- Bagnew

bagnew

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