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.


January 04, 2013.

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!

Mr. Engle forced the bankruptcy by alleging (never proved) that Mr. Payne had violated internal financial policies of the company. I had no control or responsibility for the financial activities of the company. No one (including Mr. Engle) has ever alleged that I committed any unethical action, at any time, until this article.

GNP did have a Memorandum of Understanding for $30M of financing. It was withdrawn by the provider entity solely because Mr. Engle forced the bankruptcy, and for no other reason!

Only Mr. Engle could remove himself as an owner of the railroad, but he was terminated from the management position as GNP’s Chief Financial Officer for several well documented reasons, one of which was his breach of Fiduciary Duty to the company for disclosing confidential, internal financial documents to creditors and those outside the company and encouraging them to file bankruptcy. He did this solely as an attempt to wrest control from Mr. Payne before the capital financing was finalized.

Mr. Engle has now bought GNP out of bankruptcy. That will only get him a “contract to operate” the northern portion of the corridor. The condition of that line continues to deteriorate, making it difficult for freight delivery, and without major rehabilitation, impossible for excursion service. Redmond and Kirkland continue to tear out track and Sound Transit continues planning to use parts of the corridor in Bellevue for their Eastside line. This disjointed evolution of a valuable resource should not have been allowed to happen.

Someday, at a great expense, the region may develop the corridor for real joint use. In the interim, Eastsiders will continue to pay their share of taxes for expansion (and tolling) of 405, provision of local bus (and RapidRide service) and a very distant light rail transit result. An immediate, privately financed, and very utilitarian alternative may never again be possible.

Editor's Note: Crosscut regrets any misunderstanding that may have arisen from the article's use of the word principal, which was intended in the sense of a person occupying a key position, as a principal player. Mr. Jones, who had declined to be interviewed for the piece, contacted us with his objections and we immediately, per his wishes, substituted the words "former consultant and current creditor."

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Printed on January 26, 2015