In Austin, Texas, Capital Metro’s new 32-mile long commuter rail line using state-of-the art diesel multiple unit (DMU) cars will begin operations this fall. Officials from around the U.S. are flocking to Austin for demos. Among them were a transportation-focused Washington state contingent in early April organized by the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, including WSDOT Secretary Paula Hammond, King County Council Member Julia Patterson, Cascadia Center Director Bruce Agnew and Cascadia Senior Fellow Steve Marshall. Agnew is spearheading our Eastside TRailway commuter rail and recreational trail initiative, and Marshall is leading our charge on plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, which are gaining traction thanks in part to the outstanding work of Austin-based Plug-in Partners and their national grassroots initiative.
The new Austin commuter rail line came to fruition after a $1.9 billion light rail proposal was rejected by voters, according to this Austin American-Statesman article on outgoing Capital Metro Chairman Lee Walker, who championed the new line.
In the San Diego region, the newly-opened, 22-mile, $480 million Sprinter commuter rail line between Oceanside and Escondido, utilizing DMU railcars, is drawing more than 7,000 passengers per day and that number is eventually expected to exceed 11,000, as the San Jose Mercury News reports. The North County Times provides the backstory on development of the line.
Near Portland, Oregon the regional transportation agency Tri-Met will initiate DMU railcar commuter rail service (pictured, above left) next fall on a 14.7-mile line between Beaverton and Wilsonville in Washington County. The project cost $117.3 million and is expected to draw between 3,000 and 4,000 daily riders by 2020. (UPDATE: As The Oregonian reports on Sunday April 20, it’s the state’s first commuter line; called the Westside Express Service; and at Beaverton connects with two light rail lines into Portland).
The Northstar Commuter Rail project in the Minneapolis is progressing toward likely implementation. Expected to cover much of the funding is a newly-created multi-county transit improvement district that could generate $100 million per year after admininstrative costs. Initial station construction is underway.
North of Dallas, several towns are considering funding an approximately $100,000 feasibility study of a new commuter rail line on an underutilized freight corridor. The NBC-TV affiliate serving Dallas-Fort Worth has more in this report.
Here in Puget Sound, the Eastside TRailway proposal energetically supported by Cascadia Center and others continues to advance. It would run from the town of Snohomish south to Bellevue, Redmond and eventually Renton, connecting growing residential areas to burgeoning job centers. This week, King County Executive Ron Sims wrote to the county council affirming the county will hold to its reversal of an earlier recommendation to rip out the tracks. All this comes as part of a complicated deal with the Port of Seattle, which is buying the 42-mile abandoned rail corridor from BNSF to augment regional freight rail mobility and to facilitate a possible public-private venture for commuter rail with a parallel trail. That dual use is key, Sims said. More from The Seattle Times:
Just about everyone, including rail advocates, agrees that the old tracks would not work for a commuter rail line and will need to be torn out eventually. But keeping the tracks would preserve the ballast underneath and make it much easier to install new, modern tracks, said Bruce Agnew, director of the Discovery Institute’s Cascadia Center think tank, which has pushed for commuter rail. Rail advocates were worried that if the tracks were removed, a trail would be built right down the middle of the corridor and leave no room for a rail line to return, Agnew said. The Legislature this year approved $100,000 for a study to see if potential ridership is high enough to pursue a commuter rail line on the BNSF corridor.
Additional funds for the study are expected to total as much as another $200,000 combined; coming from The Puget Sound Regional Council and Sound Transit. There’s a growing recognition that keeping the railbeds intact is the right move, as The Seattle Times remarks in this editorial about the Sims letter:
For the plainspoken, there are also multiple, unvarnished commitments to preserve the 42-mile BNSF freight corridor for future use as a high-capacity passenger-rail line.In the spirit of safeguarding — in Sims’ words — this tremendous regional asset, there are no immediate plans to remove the existing rails, even though their useful life may have expired. They represent a valuable placeholder to reinforce the passenger-rail potential. The continued, purposeful physical presence of the rails will help guide and shape public discussions as plans proceed with a parallel and complementary hiking-and-biking trail.
Cascadia gave a well-received presentation on Eastside commuter rail earlier this week to the Snohomish City Council. As elsewhere on the proposed line, there’s a high level of interest but also an awareness that running commuter rail through a town takes careful planning. More here, in an an Everett Herald article previewing the council’s public forum featuring Agnew and a team of Cascadia rail experts.
By the way, did we mention the Rail Runner Express commuter rail line that’s been running since 2006, in the Albuquerque region? (It’s above, right).
The upshot of all this: as traffic congestion and population continue to grow in major metro regions across the nation, transit solutions including commuter rail will become increasingly attractive to residents, employers and employees. As will ride-sharing strategies and time-variable tolling.
RELATED: “The Eastside TRailway: Making Trail And Rail Happen For Snohomish And The Eastside,” Loren Herrigstad, for Cascadia Center.
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