Unlike Brian, I think the $1 billion number is probably right. I’ll give a few reasons why.

The Sonoma-Marin comparison is not apt at all, since that train goes through rural areas, and has relatively few crossings. There are scores of crossings for that BNSF corridor, some of them in the downtowns of major employment and residential areas, and the track crosses major arterials. There’s even a “double crossing” at Totem Lake, and it runs in the middle of the street in Renton.

There are two huge bridges that would need to be re-built for the BNSF corridor, the Wilburton tunnel and the Wilburton tressle. The Wilburton tressle is a 975-foot-long bridge over a ravine in South Bellevue, and is not in good enough shape to carry large passenger trains. The Wilburton tunnel was a bridge over I-405 where the BNSF tracks were. The Tunnel was removed. Building 1000-foot long bridges or bridges over major interstates is very expensive.

Those are just two major reasons. The track and the track bed are in terrible shape. New right-of-way would need to be acquired to building passing sides, and to connect the disjoint pieces of the track in Woodinville. Stations are expensive, and so on.

But really, who cares? $1 billion or even $500 million for 5,600 or so riders? Forget it! McClellan station will get more than that many next year. There are more spending options than there is money, and 5,600 riders doesn’t justify the expense.

21 Replies to “Not a lot of riders”

  1. Andrew,

    Need I remind you that BNSF was running 737’s over the Wilburton Trestle and the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train consist is MUCH heavily than any modern passenger train. There was also a 200,000lb steam engine that went over this route on a flat car. There is nothing physically wrong with continuing to use the trestle for rail use.

    Also, there would be no “large” passenger trains. At most, a 3-4 “unit” DMU or a 3 car passenger train with a locomotive would be the “large” passenger train over this route.

    There are also 157 grade crossings, the Sonoma-Marin route has 130. Not much of a difference – There is no rail connection to any of the transit agencies except via ferry.

    Stations do not need to be expensive. Amtrak/WSDOT are building 2 stations for a million bucks each that are much longer than what the Eastside Rail Corridor needs.

    Yes, the trackbed and rail needs to be reconstructed, that is a no brainer for smoother and reiable service. 115lb rail, concrete ties and welded rail is no problem but it should not be $20 million a mile when WES was $11 million a mile, when Sprinter was $13 million per mile, and Sonoma is expected to be $7 million per mile.

    I’m sorry but in my opinion your arguments on ridership is invalid because it does not take account of East Link, it does not take account of passengers that would transfer at Tukwila Station to the Eastside Rail Corridor and it does not take account of new development near stations.

    It is very possible to see much greater numbers than what was mentioned in this article.

    1. The quality of the crossings is different though. Just having crossings isn’t the problem, the problem is the crossings are on major artials in urban areas, unlike the sonoma-marin train where they are minor rides in rural areas.

      1. Have these crossings suddenly moved? Because I swear that they used to run trains along there. Since we’re not talking about running high speed trains, I really don’t see how your arguments apply. I grew up in the Chicago suburbs and we had trains everywhere, long freight trains and fast commuters that crossed very busy major arterials. I still remember when a local policeman gave a freight train a ticket for blocking an intersection for too long.

      2. It’s starting new service that’s a problem. Chicago-style service is grandfathered in – there were always lots of trains on those tracks. This is new service, which means a new EIS, and meeting new rules.

    2. Stations do not need to be expensive. Amtrak/WSDOT are building 2 stations for a million bucks each that are much longer than what the Eastside Rail Corridor needs.

      Where are those stations? I bet they aren’t in downtown bellevue, or kirkland or redmond.

      How much is an acre of land in downtown bellevue compared to an acre in stanwood?

      1. this phrase
        “For each major destination, a market shed of all TAZ groups within a reasonable driving
        area to all rail station with parking facilities along the route were identified.”
        Last paragraph on page 47
        sounds questionable to me, In context I am reading this to state that they are only counting boardings from people that drive (or walk), and are excluding boardings from people that use other commuter options (buss, vanpool, Kiss and ride, etc)

        If this is a correct interpertation, it would be why Eastlink was not mentioned, and why extending from Renton to Tukwilla only ads 380 riders (they would not count anyone who transfered from/to sounder)

  2. I am never sure where they come up with their figures from. 5,600 riders seems a low figure to me given that the tracks begin in Renton, pass through Bellevue and Redmond and Woodinville before ending up in Snohomish. With some transit-to-station-to employment center improvements, I don’t see why the line couldn’t become viable. No one thought Light Rail through the Rainier Valley made much sense at one point but look at all the rejuvenation that has taken place along the line in the area?

    I say that we should try and make use of the Obama administration’s sympathy for urban problems and try and leverage as much federal funding for as many projects as we can over the next few years and see what we can get. We are not proposing bridges to nowhere (which in the case of Alaska was actually to somewhere, namely an airport).

    On the other hand, if we have to prioritorize, obviously there are better ways of spending a $1bn. All I am saying is that perhaps we shouldn’t quite pooh pooh the idea until we see what else we can spend the money on or if it even exists in the first place to spend:)


    1. Rainer Valley is not a good comparison. The RV was poor and underdeveloped before they put that line there. It’s not that Hougton, Norkirk or Newcastle beach are poor or undeveloped. It’s that they are rich and low density.

  3. According to the report, under every possible scenario except the ones that extend all the way to Tukwila and Everett, the Woodiville-Snohomish segment would have 15 or less boardings per day. If it went from Snohomish to Tukwila, it would have 25, and if it were extended all the way to Everett, then it would still just have 50 boardings. So if you built all the other segments but not this one, it looks like you would get over 6700 boardings for more like $300 million less. Looks pretty obvious to me.

    1. I that’s interesting. Still, at $700 mn, it’s cheaper to build LRT to Issaquah than to do this.

      1. I would love to see a cost and ridership estimate on LRT to Issaquah…

        If this cost 700 million, it would be about $100000 per daily passenger. It looks like Central Link (not including University Link) will end up being about $65000 per daily passenger. So it looks like it wouldn’t be too bad, especially after various TOD projects are completed..

  4. The estimate broke out 4 segments. 2 of them appeared very dubuious and should probably be canned immeditaly. I don’t see Woodinville to Snohomish and Redmond to Woodenville being considered 15 years from now.

    The estimates didn’t appear to have considered the impact of connecting to the currently approved light rail routes. Segment 1 was Renton to central Bellevue. That corridor is were most of the ridership would be and connections to the rest of the Sound Transit Rail system would have a massive impact on ridership.

  5. And does anyone else think its kinda weird that news about the costs of the third runway, Eastside Commuter Rail, the viaduct, and the 520 bridge all came out on the same day? Looks like the state’s trying to wrap it all up in one news cycle…

  6. I got a feeling that the ridership estimate is really low. First off, it seems like it is a daily forecast assuming that trains run all day (see page 58 and 64 of the report). If there were trains running frequently with all day service between Snohomish and Tukwila probably more people would ride it. Secondly, I’ve just got a hunch that more people would transfer to and from East Link at the NE 12th station than their model can show. If done right that station could also provide a gateway to the new Bel-Red Corridor and the Landing as Brian mentioned.

    I hope the trains will have a bar on board.

    1. Yeah, I find that hard to believe too. You can’t tell me that people who drive down Hwy 9 from points Snohomish and north and east down to Bellevue/Redmond/ Woodinville every day would rather drive in traffic than park at a park and ride and take a train if it was convienient(every 30 min which this study assumes), and would link into the light rail station which would take them directly in the downtown Bellevue business core. It would definitely be more than 15 riders. That 15 rider number is utter BS.

      There’s also the option(yes this is theoretical) or having all Sounder runs start at Everett and one goes from Everett/Snohomish all the way to Bellevue or points south. This would draw a lot of current I-5 to I-405 commuters who come from points farther north.

  7. What I find funny is that they want to expand I-405 because of the backups, but a train that would run the same route would only get 5,600 riders???

    Sounds like certain people don’t want any competition for the funds.

  8. Well Parsons Brinckerhoff has been around for a long, long time, and they’re pretty good at these kinds of things. I’m sure they used all sorts of different factors to come up with that figure. I can see that since much of the east side is so spread out, most of the jobs aren’t anywhere near stations, and also most suburbanites wouldn’t ride a train if you paid them. This estimate seems right to me, but that doesn’t make it not worth it.

  9. I think the best option would be to get a couple of DMU’s on a 2 or 3 year lease, and run the line from Bellevue to Woodinville doing the minimal number of upgrades required, and building cheap stations (a simple wood or concrete platform, with bus shelters) In a couple of years we would have real data on ridership, and if at that time it is deamed appropriate, we could go ahead and do upgrades and roll out aditional segments

    Lor Scara

  10. Lor Scara-

    I agree, with all of the talk of Eastside rail why not set up a minimal cost pilot project?

    We did that with the Elliot Bay Water Taxi, we’re now prepared to spend a fair chunk of change based on how well it has performed, other locales have done it with commuter rail service.

    I wonder if anyone here has any idea just how bad the traffic between Snohomish-Woodinville-Totem Lake-Kirkland-Bellevue or Woodinville-Redmond is? Or for that matter how crappy the bus service is for anyone trying to get anywhere other than to/from downtown Seattle at peak periods?

    In my experience there is a fair bit of latent transit demand in the areas along the ERC that isn’t being fulfilled due to infrequent and slow service between the nodes along the corridor. The only section that could be said to have good transit service is S. Kirkland-Kirkland-Totem Lake due mostly to the 255.

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