This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.
Yes, Virginia, even rail has environmental impacts, especially rail tracks that were built a hundred years ago along pristine Puget Sound shoreline:
Many environmentalists call the BNSF Railway, built on 26 miles of beachfront between Seattle and Everett, one of the worst environmental problems for Snohomish County’s shoreline.
The railroad creates what amounts to a wall between the land and the shore. It hampers beach access, disrupts salmon creeks and prevents sediment from eroding down to the beach, starving beaches of sand and gravel, they say.
Now, efforts are under way to restore pockets of shoreline along the railroad line. Some planners and environmentalists have hailed the restoration projects — including opening up creek mouths, nourishing beaches with sand, and restoring tidal marshes — as pilots for a future approach to a healthier shoreline.
Of course, as the article notes, the tracks aren’t going anywhere. in fact, Sound Transit is widening the right-of-way in some places to allow for more Sounder trains. But they’re also opening up creeks and doing lots of other environmental mitigation to try and revitalize the corridor to the extent that they can.
Having the BNSF line where it is is a net positive. Otherwise you’d have to run it along the I-5 corridor, which would be ridiculously expensive, if it was even possible. BNSF’s presence also takes a lot of trucks off the roads.
Sounder, on the other hand, has its limits. It’s a relatively cheap way to build transit — the tracks are already there, you just have to operate the trains. But it’s limited to a few runs a day since it shares right-of-way with Amtrak and BNSF. Once Light Rail goes all the way from Everett to Tacoma, it will be interesting to see how successful Sounder is. Certainly for folks in Edmonds, Kent, and Auburn, Sounder will continue to be important, but Link Light Rail, running every 10 minutes or so, will be increasingly appealing even for medium distance (i.e. Everett-Seattle) travel.