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Rail advocates hope for last-minute save in Kirkland

As Kirkland prepares to put in a trail, a group of rail supporters argue that trains would do a great job of hauling away debris from an expected Bellevue building boom.
The Eastside rail line (in red) has a host of owners. Click image to enlarge.

The Eastside rail line (in red) has a host of owners. Click image to enlarge. King County Council

Those who want to save an Eastside rail corridor are running short of time. 

While Kirkland may start tearing out the tracks in its portion of the corridor in a matter of weeks, a group calling itself the Eastside Trailway Alliance is fighting on. More than 30 people - including some supporting Kirkland - attended the alliance's second call-to-arms meeting at a posh Woodinville winery recently. Pinot gris, merlot and an assortment of cheeses provided a mellow counterpoint to the tenor of the hardening debate.

The cities of Woodinville and Snohomish and several other parties have signed onto the ad hoc coalition's manifesto, which calls for “joint rail and trail development” and a moratorium on track removal. Kirkland intends to put in an interim bike-pedestrian trail on its existing 5.75 miles of railbed, and then begin planning a permanent trail and possible reinstatement of rails on the right-of-way.

Kirkland officials met in November and December with Doug Engle, managing director of Eastside Community Rail, which runs a freight operation at the north end of the 42-mile corridor and is looking to expand its traffic through Kirkland to Bellevue, where pending development projects promise plenty of construction debris in need of removal. Those meetings resulted in an impasse, shifting the standoff into a more public sphere.

“We made no bones about it, going into the discussions, that the corridor could be reactivated,” Engle told Crosscut. Reactivation would involve a federal regulatory board, acting on a petition, authorizing a freight operator to take over an inactive line to reach new customers.

The implied threat of bringing in the feds failed to move Kirkland.

The rail advocates' arguments focus on the Bellevue construction spoils, such as dug-up dirt and rock, concrete and wood.The material could include the debris from a light-rail tunnel planned by Sound Transit. Transporting the debris by rail would generate fewer exhaust emissions than trucks hauling out the same debris on I-405.

The idea is not without precedent. In the mid-2000s, contractor RCI/Herzog built the Chief Sealth Trail, the Seattle city website reports, “as a method of recycling excavated soils and concrete from the Link Light Rail project along MLK [Boulevard]. The City welcomed this innovative construction approach as it resulted in a major savings of taxpayer dollars.”

Engle told the Woodinville attendees that his firm could remove spoils for 15 percent less than trucks would cost in the case of the light-rail tunnel. His trains would take the detritus up the line through Kirkland and deposit some of it there to create or improve a trackside trail at much reduced cost to that city, which has projected spending over $100 million on its version of the trail project. An existing access road alongside part of the Kirkland track would provide a starting point for the trail Engle foresees.

In an early February interview, Bruce Nurse, vice president of Bellevue's Kemper Development, termed Engle's idea “something that would interest us.”

Rail activist Will Knedlik told the Woodinville gathering that when he took the idea to the Bellevue City Council in early February, two members spoke up favorably. In an interview, long-time council member Don Davidson termed the idea “intriguing” but said it needed closer vetting.

“It keeps a lot of trucks off the freeway,” said Davidson, a former Bellevue mayor. About Kirkland's plans, he said, “Once you pull up the rails it's going to be hard to put them back down. Kirkland could probably put a trail through there without pulling up the rails.”

Jack Miller, general manager of Woodinville's Bobby Wolford Demolition and Trucking, which Engle has approached as a partner in the spoils-removal idea, picked up where Davidson left off. While he might make more money removing the spoils entirely by truck, Miller said that “there'd definitely be savings in using the rail. And less traffic impacts, too.” He added that the rails could also bring backhauls of aggregate into Bellevue for construction projects, generating efficiencies in both directions.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Mar 7, 10:20 a.m. Inappropriate

You can have a trail OR rail. Not both, without spending a lot of money on widening the beds, overpasses, underpasses, crossings, etc.

Lots of complications including wetlands and safety issues.

bigyaz

Posted Thu, Mar 7, 7:41 p.m. Inappropriate

Kirkland knows exactly what it is doing.

The outcome of this will define future regional planning issues, you can be sure of that.

JimCusick

Posted Fri, Mar 8, 12:24 a.m. Inappropriate

Really sad to see this kind of energy efficient infrastructure thrown away so casually. By the time sanity prevails again, and the foolishness of tearing up the rails becomes apparent, there may no longer be the wherewithal to put them back again.

We've got cheap oil now and not only are we doing next to nothing to prepare for when we don't, we're actually doing crazy stuff like this, tearing out one of the few railroads we have left. Ahh, the future....it ain't gonna be anything like the way we thought it was supposed to be. No jetpacks, no vacations to the moons of Saturn.

And no, a bike trail on the rail bed doesn't qualify as preparedness. There will be no lack of roads with little traffic on them when gasoline is the equivalent of $20 a gallon in today's money. At least until they all crumble away.

Posted Fri, Mar 8, 11:15 a.m. Inappropriate

The current rails are not usable for light rail and would have to be torn up anyway. Might as well put in a bike trail for now, because any plan for light rail or other transit is a long way away. Putting in a trail now won't preclude action later.

bigyaz

Posted Fri, Mar 8, 1:27 p.m. Inappropriate

Kirkland knows full well that if they remove the tracks, that this will never come back as a rail corridor.

There is no reason that this track can't be used right now for the freight purposes Doug Engle states.

If you have a railroad engineering background, or have access to what is, and isn't possible on this rail line, it would help with your argument.

JimCusick

Posted Mon, Mar 11, 12:01 p.m. Inappropriate

After the research article this weekend on earthquake preparedness in WA and OR, and a research paper released on 11,300 years of climate change, having the rail as a backup method of moving goods in an emergency may be far more critical than people think. Fuel, water, food and supplies will be badly needed within two weeks.

Hard to imagine removing 5.75 miles of track, when they could simply be covered with gravel for an interim trail.

D.Engle

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