Blog One Step Closer To Eastside Commuter Rail
The action taken by the Port of Seattle yesterday in moving forward with purchase of the BNSF rail line east of Lake Washington is an extremely important milestone for the future of rails and trails on the Eastside.
The new wrinkle has King County purchasing rather than leasing from the Port the Renton-to-Bellevue and Woodinville-to-Redmond sections, to remove the track and develop a gravel trail. That will need to be reckoned with, but it isn’t a deal killer. The Renton-to-Bellevue portion of the rail line was scheduled to be severed anyway, due to construction of an expanded section of I-405 at the Wilburton Trestle. What’s left right now, for possible – and we believe, eminently feasible – Eastside commuter rail development, is the stretch of track between Bellevue and the town of Snohomish, to the north in Snohomish County.
Properly developed, the Bellevue-to-Snohomish section of the rail line would provide a smart alternative to I-405 traffic congestion for residents of fast-growing eastern Snohomish County who work in King County’s booming Eastside jobs centers. Recreational and leisure use of the line could also prove substantial, over time.
Public and private transit will need to provide prompt, reliable intermodal connections to jobs centers and shopping cores in some instances along this stretch. That’s a challenge worth embracing. Regionally, the need is evident for better intermodal connections, and for more transit corridors which provide faster and more amenable portal-to-portal service.
In a recent report, our consultant, Read Fay (former Northwest operations director for BNSF) highlighted the viability of the BNSF line for 40-miles-per-hour commuter rail service, once the old rails and ties are replaced with newer ones.
The question now is whether the track rehab and interim gravel trail can be done in a cost effective way, and not preclude laying new rail over an existing trail after the I-405 section is completed.
Meanwhile we were pleased that the Snohomish-to-Bellevue section will retain rail. The original deal was for removal of the current rail line for the 31-mile section from Renton to Woodinville. Now we can actively plan for at least a rail demonstration project starting in Snohomish and ending in Bellevue for phase one.
I’ve written here about how public and private capital could eventually be combined to make Eastside commuter rail a reality.
UPDATE, 12/14/07: The Seattle Times reports this morning that the Port will buy the entire 42-mile rail line and the county will hold off for now on purchasing the two sections noted above for use as a trail. The county will have until July to do so, and will seek public input on the best use for the corridor. Port Commissioner John Creighton tells the Times he heard from a number of suburban mayors strongly opposed to the County’s original proposal to lease the whole corridor from the Port, and rip out all the tracks for a trail.
A rail and trail solution is still the best course.
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