The Seattle Times reports that the Eastside Rail Corridor will cost around $1 to 1.2 billion dollars to develop the corridor according to the study that was completed. I am for one simply and 100% baffled and blown away about the cost. It does NOT seem right at all. Why?

The Sonoma-Marin corridor which is 70 miles long would cost $450 million for the rail line and $90 million bike trail along the entire length of the corridor. This includes several new bridges, train sets, maintenance facility, etc.

The Sprinter also pegged out around $450 million for 22 miles, new train sets, several new viaducts, maintenance facility, no bike trail. The viaduct and mainline relocations were the most costly aspect of Sprinter.

The Eastside Rail Corridor is 45 miles (Downtown Snohomish to Tukwila Jct) and there is already a trail for the majority of this route as seen from I-405.

I’d love to see this report on just why this is so expensive but I can take a guess that the entire corridor is double track, every crossing has wayside horns, fancy stations, etc… something that only needs to be basic, single track, and a simple bike/walking trail.

This project should peg out at no more than $750 million at the maximum WITH the extension to Tukwila Station.

More on this later….

25 Replies to “Eastside Rail Corridor = $1 billion dollars?!”

  1. Doesn’t sound that far out to me. Roughly $22 million/mile.

    Remember, that segment has probably never been used for passenger rail, and for about 20 years the BN has just been expecting to shut it down eventually. Probably a lot of the ROW needs some real work for stabilization and reballasting. Nothing in Puget Sound lasts that long if you just let it sit around out in the rain.

    1. Well the segment did have passenger rail with the Spirit of Washington Dinner train.

      But that isn’t exactly the same thing as a DMU every 30 minutes.

  2. I wonder what makes the material more here than California considering it was $7 to $10 million a mile for Sprinter. That is really baffling…

    And no need for property purchasing, the line fully exists into Downtown Snohomish (up until the trail) and system access is no issue as well as there are connections in Snohomish and Renton. There only place where it is disconnected would be over I-405.

    Heck, not that long ago, there was a weed sprayer in Bellevue!

  3. You’d expect the Times to actually publish a reasonable number? Blethen would do/say/print/makeup anything to stop any transit.

  4. I remember hearing a railroad type’s assessment of this line about a year ago that basically said this exactly.

    1) The track is crap. It will need to be mostly retracked.

    2) The signaling is old and even if it were brand new would have to be replaced or massively updated because it was designed for freight.

    3) There are no stations.

    4) There is no rolling stock.

    East Side rail is a complete fairy tale. It would be politically easy to build (no worry about NIMBYs protesting eminent domain), but costwise it saves virtually nothing from building brand new track a nova. This is not even including questions of whether the route is reasonable which is highly questionable.

    I mean even Northside Sounder is a waste of rolling stock! You guys actually think Eastside trains from Bothell to Bellevue would do better?

  5. Perhaps the reason it would cost so much is that there is a lot of development right next to the track, whereas Sonoma/Marin is more rural-ish.

  6. I don’t think the BNSF corridor is too useful now, but if we changed the zoning for high density developments along the way it could be the focus of growth for the next 40 years on the eastside.

  7. Open track that can run freight or commuter can be built for $3 million per mile. This is a crazy number and does not reflect reality unless they were going to electrify it. Even then I have to call bullshit. Someone should ask for the study and have a look over it.

    One thing might be if there are a lot of bridge replacements…

    1. $3 million a mile for track on existing trackbed with existing signals. Maybe. Try rebuilding the trackbed, shoring slide areas, completely replacing crossings and signals…

    2. There are at least two huge bridges that need to be replaced, one of which goes over a major interstate.

      Plus, the track bed is in awful shape.

  8. Here is the of the joint PSRC ST BNSF Eastside Corridor Study, as mandated by Olympia

    ST was the major funding partner ($200M, the state paid $100M) in this, so everything is gold plated, however they did leave it single rail over the majority of the run (with 5 passing sidings).

    They are advocating full rail ballast and drainage rebuild along the entire corridor, most Bridges have at least 25% rebuild, new bridges at Wilburton (across 405 and parallel to the Wilburton Trestle) across the Snohomish River, as well as 2 smaller bridges with substandard clearance.

    They included 16 stations (really 15, they counted the South Woodinville station twice where you transfer from the main line to the willows spurs) One station in Cathcart is very questionable. They did terminate the line in the Snohomish CBD with an alternate station location at Harvey Field providing for the option of going to Everett

    The price includes 16 DMU’s (or 7 locomotives with 16 cars total) with the intent of running service “All Day” (hours are not defined) every 30 minutes (the locomotive pulled option is about $10M more expensive).

    The document does stress that this is at a “Conceptual Level” and that additional study should be done to determine a final “Optimal” set of stations, etc.

    They gave a 2020 ridership level for the baseline (Renton to Snohomish) at 5560 daily boarding’s, 6730 with the Redmond Spur. Tukwila to Everett at 6270, they do not give a Tukwila to Everett with the Redmond Spur, we can assume better than 7000 based on the increase the Spur provided to the baseline.

    They also state that the corridor is well suited for a Phased deployment over the 4 sections (1 Renton to Bellevue, (2 Bellevue to Woodinville, (3 Woodinville to Snohomish, (4 Woodinville to Redmond. Bellevue to Woodinville would have the largest ridership, followed by Renton to Bellevue, then Woodinville to Redmond, and finally Woodinville to Snohomish.
    There are a couple of things that I would have liked to have seen, that were not in the report, evaluations on ridership and cost of extensions of the Willows spur from Woodinville to Cascadia Community College, and from Redmond to Issaquah (I recently learned that the rail is still mostly in place under the East Lake Sammamish trail)
    My view on this report, is that it is a thousand times better than the 2007 report which advocated pulling up the rails, but it still reflects ST’s bias against the ESR, while recognizing that ST (or some other agency) may not be given a choice

    Lor Scara

  9. A couple of things:

    The Everett – Seattle Sounder service suffers from many things, it’s biggest fault is its schedule, how long it takes to go between Seattle and Everett vs. the bus, lack of a station North of King Street Station (Broad Street for example) and the other is lack of parking at stations vs. the Seattle – Tacoma corridor. Fix those and the ridership will go up.

    Sounder originally was also a fairy tale John if we all remember correctly. During the test runs using the GO Transit equipment, ridership was much higher between Seattle and Everett than it was Seattle to Tacoma. You have to start somewhere to build your base, Sounder did that and is continue to grow, especially the North run where trains are actually starting to fill up thanks to the opening of Mukilteo Station.

    Zoning has nothing to do with the Eastside Rail Corridor since it would provide a relief to I-405 where most of those riders come from the South end (Kent, Auburn, Sumner, Puyallup, etc)

    After reading the report, the way this assumes it’s ridership would be Renton/Gene Coulon Park to Snohomish. That is fine and dandy but 5000′ South, there is a major development in progress called The Landing. Might be smarter to start there.

    If the run ran from the Tukwila Sounder Station to Snohomish Terminal, there would be nearly 6,000 passengers a day, which is higher than Everett Sounders current ridership.

    I’ll have a full out post on this tomorrow. I’m going to read the entire report and post my findings but from what I have seen around, they seriously need a new study/focus group.

  10. Sounder ridership on the north line has been a fairy tale, for the most part. Remember, this project was built to achieve political goals, against the advice of planners and engineers. Without a huge investment (probably more than $1.2 b) I don’t see the eastside rail line producing much ridership. Although, when East Link comes on line, and the two systems share a hub station, DMU ridership could spike upwards.

    1. That is another item left out of the report, the effect of an eastlink connection on ridership of the ESR

  11. Yeah I found that kind of odd. Ah well.


    The way I see it, if ST didn’t do it, WSDOT would have ended up doing it. It’s best to get it down now than later. It benefits Sounder, Amtrak, and BNSF ultimately by making the corridor faster and more efficient.

    1. It also benefits to have an alternative to the one main north south line if something catastrophic happens. To not have an alternative route in place is just bad planning on the part of BNSF. While not a money maker obviously(otherwise they wouldn’t be wanting to get rid of it), keeping it in shape as an alternative is well worth it.

      I’ve never really understood the current corporate obsession that cuts across all industries to not having redundancies in place if and when something goes horribly wrong, just to make their quarterly profit look better.

  12. Also in this report –
    The draft report said building a biking and hiking trail beside the tracks north of Interstate 90 would be costly. Parsons pegged that cost at $245 million to $359 million.

  13. The comment was made that there is an existing trail adjacent to I-405, which is true – for now. It will go away when I-405 widening moves south – WSDOT is all for preservation of the right of way to accomodte the existing trail (which they are obligated to replace).

    Also, the cost of replacement of the rail/trail access at the Wilburton Tunnel site will be borne by WSDOT as a mitigation cost of the I-405 project, and shouldn’t be counted against the cost of a new rail line or trail. Obviously, a trail only bridge would be cheaper – and likely would carry nearly as many travellers as any commuter rail on this turkey of a route.

  14. I agree that stopping at Coulon Park would be a turkey route. Anything short of Tukwilla Station makes no sense and would doom this route to curiosity. Tukwilla Station ROW is there it just wasn’t surrendered by BNSF because they still need it to serve Boeing Renton Plant. I’m sure Boeing would be happy to work with BNSF coordinating the scheduling of it’s planes and it’s people.

    At the north end the route needs to go at least as far as Overlake Hosptial. Connecting to Kirkland/Totem Lake wouldn’t be that much more work and given the traffic on that stretch of 405 makes a lot of sense. The real key to ridership is to combine ESR with an east to west build out of East Link to provide service to Microsoft and Redmond ASAP.

    If this were done the cost per mile of extending to Woodinville and Snohomish vs. tunneling under south Bellevue and floating tracks across the lake would seem make this a far more effective use of tax dollars. The $1.2 billion dollar price tag probably represents the true cost with the overruns to do a first rate job on the entire ESR project. The proposed budget for East Link is most likely way understated but still 3-4 times more than ESR and serves only a small area which already has viable transit and the option for BRT at far lower cost and much quicker deployment.

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