An organization called Rethink Rail sponsored by Talisma Corp has come up with a plan to run heavy-rail across the existing BNSF tracks on the Eastside. It’s a pretty neat idea, and they got a tour set-up for July 17th. It’s a fairly similar plan to what Sound Transit is going to study for the area if (when!) ST2 passes. The Puget Sound Regional Counsel has a nice map of the rail line, it’s the red one. They’ve also got some “>fascinating preliminary studies of rail through that corridor.

The problems I see:
1) It’s pretty far from Downtown Bellevue, so a second transport mechanism would be required to move people from there to and from the station. It’d require either some kind of bus or secondary rail system.
2) There’s a huge section that passes outside of the growth boundary until Snohomish county, way out in the middle of no where.
3) The southern section runs right next to lake, where few people live and the (rich) people who do live there probably aren’t that interested in having stations in their neighborhoods. Actually, the rich people idea holds true for a lot of the rail on that line.

Still, I think it’s a good idea to put something there, and that area probably doesn’t have the density to support light rail.

15 Replies to “Rethink Rail not well Thought Out”

  1. Umm..how is that far from Downtown Bellevue? I have a visual of it from my office. It’s only about 6-7 block lengths from downtown. The only major obstacle in the way is I-405 which could easily be bridged by a pedestrian overpass of some sort.

  2. Another note, rail going from Everett to Snohomish down to Woodinville/Kirkland/Bellvue is a really good idea. I used to live up in Lake Stevens and commute down to the eastside every day. That area around the town of Snohomish/Lake Stevens/Everett is full of commuters that drive down to Woodinville/Bothell/Bellevue every day down Hwy 9, a 2 lane highway which due to numerous stoplights becomes a moving set of 1-2 mile long stop and go backups at certain intersections during rush hour. A rail line with no stops in between Snohomish and Woodinville would be a great alternative to the Hwy 9 slog everyday for a lot of people.

  3. 6-7 blocks doesn’t seem far in the late june sun, but talk about it again in 6 months during the freezing december rain.

    I agree though, it really is a good idea.

  4. I’m pretty sure that at least one of the proposed eastside routes for ST’s light rail uses part of the corridor North of Bellevue.

  5. This trip is being sponsored by more than Talisma. It’s being sponsored by the Cascadia Project of the Discovery Institute and All Aboard Washington.

    One thing that happens when a rail line opens for business is that high-density transit-oriented development starts immediately. It used to take 20 years for such development to come along, but that has changed. When Westside MAX in Portland opened for business, the transit-oriented development was already up and in place. The same thing could be expected in Bellevue as future rail service was announced.

    To get people from the station to the existing workplaces and shopping centers of Bellevue, the secondary system could be as cheap as a small circulator bus. Another rail line or even a people mover might be nice, but that would be gold-plating it.

    North of Woodinville, where the line enters Snohomish County, this may truly be outside the existing growth boundary, but it’s a corridor that reaches Snohomish, a significant and growing suburban community.

    It has been noted that 81% of Microsoft employees commute into Bellevue and Redmond directly from the north and south. The density is already there, along with a ready-made customer base for rail. Talisma and its partners are not proposing electric light rail, such as Sound Transit is building with Link. The proposal is for some form of commuter rail, which is a very different animal.

  6. re-re-think:

    Microsoft (where I happen to work) is nowhere near the BNSF corridor. This line would have, at best, a negligible impact on MS commuters.

    brian in seattle:

    For a given station, any given individual is willing to walk some distance. For a group of individuals, you can see a hump, a common maximum distance that people are willing to walk. When designing a station, the walkable service area is basically the aggregate of all the places you can get to inside that hump – within that maximum distance.

    Making the edge of the downtown core 6-7 blocks away from the line puts the majority of downtown Bellevue – tens of thousands of jobs – outside the willingness of most of the people taking such a system. Nearly everyone will be dependent upon a transfer.

    In Seattle, those transfers work because we have massive existing bus service – not one feeder route, but twenty. In the morning, when I go to work, I get on the bus to the eastside about the same time as a Sounder disgorges 700+ passengers. Where I stand, on 4th next to Jackson, has buses constantly – every minute or two, although generally in bunches – that go to destinations all over downtown. The few minutes after Sounder unloads result in completely packing a dozen buses.

    These buses, on all sorts of routes that are already heavily used even without Sounder, wouldn’t exist in downtown Bellevue. The cross-405 infrastructure to serve them is already packed, and because the demand for routes isn’t really already there, you’d have a chicken and egg issue regarding when to add them versus when to add more rail service.

    Kirkland downtown is the same – you’d have to have feeder buses to serve the stations.

    Almost all of your initial riders to these core Kirkland/Bellevue destinations would have to use feeders. Because you don’t have existing feeders with existing ridership and good service frequency, you’d end up having the rails’ ridership dependent upon brand new feeder routes that haven’t matured.

    Overall, I suspect that in actual cost (for all this support infrastructure) compared to your ridership curve, you don’t get close to justifying the line. Simple NIMBYism would kill it anyway – I’ve walked a lot of that corridor, and you would never, ever get the people who live along it to roll over for trains waking them up at 6am.

  7. Ben, I have seen those studies about the maximum amount people will walk to a given station. I guess my point should have been more along the lines of let’s not kill the idea/hopeful future project because of a 6-7 block distance from downtown Bellevue or Kirkland when the right of way already exists, and to give commuters another alternative to driving, especially from the Snohomish County Area. Currently those people drive because there is no other alternative. All bus routes in eastern Snohomish County go to Everett first, none go from Arlington, Lake Stevens, Snohomish, Monroe straight south down to the major eastside cities. Hwy 9 currently carries about 33,000 cars a day according to the WSDOT. And those cities are doing nothing but growing by leaps and bounds as time goes on. I guess I see this line as an opportunity to truly create a regional transit system for the present and future instead of waiting 20 years for it(Although given current funding constraints it would probably take that long anyway). With this line , one could theoretically go to Everett Station and see signage stating train to Seattle at 7:30am, train to Bellevue 7:45am, etc. Although given current funding constraints it will probably take that long anyway.
    This is just pie in the sky speculating but if one wanted to make it a bit quieter one could just electrify the whole line, but that is a completely different subject.

  8. brian, the problem is that we don’t have the money to do every project – we prioritize which ones will do the most good first. Going “Oh, this is a good idea, let’s do it” without paying attention to what else that money can do would be a huge waste of public funds. The corridor isn’t being sold off – and if the political will doesn’t exist to add rails to the trail to be, the political will surely doesn’t exist to run trains through backyards.

  9. Ben, I know that projects have to be priortized, and that money isn’t available for all of them. One can wish for 90 percent federal funding again at some point ,;)But I digress and am sure we would agree on many other projects that are proposed, etc.
    This corridor is just something I feel strongly about. Its just that the first articles relating to this corridor all focused on making it a bike trail without any mention at all of keeping it reserved for transit use at some point in the future and ripping up the rails which I found to be incredibly short sighted. After somewhat of a muted uproar,the next set of articles did mention reserving the corridor for future transit use,etc but still ripping up the rails and building a bike trail or both.
    I just feel that this region is lacking in common sense decisions. I find it hard to believe that building a light rail line up and down the east side at some point in the future on a brand new right of way(=huge purchase costs, construction costs,etc), is somehow more of a politically and financially acceptable decision than using an existing right of way with rails already on it for some type of commuter rail.

  10. brian,

    Ripping up the rails, physically, would happen for commuter rail! The current rails are in shambles and not signaled or capable of passenger service without complete replacement. There’s a negligible difference in the cost of putting passenger service in that corridor with or without the existing physical tracks – pulling them up isn’t changing whether that corridor can be used for transit or not.

    Laying a trail there, by its very nature (no pun intended), saves the corridor for later use. The thing to avoid is letting the corridor be parceled up – that makes it MUCH more expensive to reclaim. A trail in that right-of-way is the only way to keep it, effectively, in trust for when we have the will to add transit to it. Moving a trail over in the existing right of way later is a lot cheaper than buying all that property back – which is really the other option, because transit is unfeasible in that corridor at the moment.

    In terms of “common sense” – common sense says we should build the most cost effective transit we can, in order from the highest demand to the lowest. There is a LOT of demand for connecting Seattle, Bellevue and Overlake. There is a LOT of demand for connecting Tacoma with Seattle in the corridor west of I-5. There is a LOT of demand to connect Seattle with Northgate and points farther. Demand in the 405 corridor is being met by improved bus service at the moment to build demand, but the ridership in that corridor is vastly less than that in the corridors in which we’re building rail now.

    You say “with rails already on it” – I don’t think a lot of the proponents of this plan realize that the rails there now are limited to 10-15mph in some places, and also largely sectional rather than continuous weld (so you go wham, wham, wham as you travel across each short section). The infrastructure investment cost in that corridor is greater than the several hundred million necessary for Sounder, because Sounder operates on rails that are already being maintained for passenger service.

    If you want to have a more in-depth discussion of the issues and the potential cost versus benefit, I’d be happy to pick this up on email so it’s not lost in the great void of comment threads. My email address should be visible on my blogger profile (just click my name).

  11. 6 or 7 blocks? How did you come up with that, Brian in Seattle? Google Maps says it’s a mile and a quarter from a potential station at NE 8th to downtown Bellevue

    (Google Maps: NE 8th St and 118th ave ne, Bellevue, WA)

    And Brian, your pedestrian bridge would have to pass over some huge clover leaves. Not only that, 405 will also be widened further in the coming years, with new collector distributor lanes from NE 4th to the South to 520.
    http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/i405/NE8thtoSR520/

    If you look at the location of the Bellevue Transit Center (the multi-modal hub for LRT and buses) it’s a full mile from the BNSF tracks, across privately held right of way, and 405.

    When standardized analysis is done on ridership catchment zones, it’s going to be tough to squeeze significant ridership out of these stations, in my view. They are just too isolated, and in areas near any measurable population areas, resistance to stations and/or upzoning will be fierce.

    If I saw the Bellevue City Council was moving towards and aggressive station area planning effort to accommodate rail service on the dinner train route, that would be one thing. But it appears this Rething Rail effort is being led by folks who relish their outside status, and may be inadvertantly sealing their own fate in the process. (You can’t simultaneously bash the powers that be one minute, and expect the powers that be to respond to you in the next – if you actually want to see some results, IMHO. )

    Just by looking at the Google Sat Maps, and glancing at the highly conceptual plan , I am reminded of the early promises wide-eyed monorail proponents used to make in the 90’s…which all evaporated until they actually had to go about putting together a REAL plan.

    The Discovery Institute has been part of some dubious schemes in the past to take high capacity light rail money, and transfer it to that low capacity amusement park ride, otherwise known as monorail.

    http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?command=view&id=1456

    The Discovery Institute also pushed this other idea (which was also supposed to “pay for itself” via privatization), involving freeway monorail (with similarly poor ridership potential) and lidding I-5 through Seattle. Can you say “pie in the sky?”

    http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?command=view&id=1289

    The problem with most of the people behind Freeway Monorail, and apparently behind this effort, is that they basically look for fixed guideway rail to mimic and shadow major freeway corridors, because their entire frame of reference revolves around the automobile.

    The extremely simplistic idea that we can “finally relieve congestion” (by running trains along freeways) cements my hunch that transportation planners and engineers played no part in the Freeway Monorail plan, and have no role in this latest BNSF corridor fad.

    So, for now, I remain a skeptic.

  12. “I just feel that this region is lacking in common sense decisions. I find it hard to believe that building a light rail line up and down the east side at some point in the future on a brand new right of way(=huge purchase costs, construction costs,etc), is somehow more of a politically and financially acceptable decision than using an existing right of way with rails already on it for some type of commuter rail.”

    Brian, while I respect your opinions, it’s not about how strongly you feel, it’s about ridership…and it’s about doing the proper analysis before spending billions of the public’s dollars.

    In the case of light rail on I-90, we’re talking about a 30+ year planning process, not something that popped up overnight. All too often, people come up with simplistic “common sense” solutions to complex problems.

    Again, the monorail was propelled by that for a number of years. Because of automation, the monorail was supposed to pay for itself. Because of “free right of way” monorail was supposed to be cheap and easy to build. Because people felt strongly about it, the People’s Train was going to ride out the bumps any big project runs into, and ride off into the sunset.

    In the end, not a single one of those well-intentioned promises came true. Why? Because no actual analysis was done until after the fact.

    To me, it looks like Rethink Rail is putting the cart before the horse, and repeating many of the same mistakes.

    There is no silver bullet solution to problems this region got itself into over the course of 5 decades, and I simply don’t trust anybody who tries to pretend otherwise.

    Similarly, there is no band of citizen heroes to ride in on their white horses, to cure modern societies ills, especially our dependence on the automobile.

    Sorry to pour the cold water of reality on your party, but I just don’t see much substance behind all the bluster here.

  13. I feel too uninformed to give any opinions of substance on this issue. However, that being said didn’t ST budget funding to look into the Eastside corridor rail to trail project? I have heard that this corridor is unusable. If unusable, why is the dinner train on it? Slow speeds I imagine. Since I don’t go to the eastside too much, I don’t know much about how close this corridor is to Bellevue, but I have got to believe that it wouldn’t be that difficult to make some circulation buses in and out of more dense areas to the stations at peak times or when the train arrivals/departures are scheduled. I don’t know how bad the 405 is, I heard it was one of the worst in the nation and most wasteful in terms of money. Seems this corridor needs to be looked at regardless. If it is possible.

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