Martin noted the cost and ridership numbers Sound Transit and the PSRC came up in a study of commuter rail on the Eastside BNSF lines. Comparing these numbers to previous estimates by pro-Eastside BNSF groups and to the costs of the services Sound Transit is operating or planning  to, it becomes apparent that passenger rail service on that line is never going to materialize.

The State legislature mandated Sound Transit and the PSRC study the corridor after Cascadia Center of the Discovery Institute – a pro-Eastside BNSF Rail, anti-light rail group – studied the corridor and said they would be able to build commuter rail on the line with $278 million in capitol costs and a $15.4 million operations with a 5,000 rider projection, which is the same “baseline” estimate Sound Transit had in their study. Other groups came up with similar estimates, for example HDR Engineering said it would take $225~$250 million in capital costs. At these prices building the line seemed very cheap, the operation costs were just a bit more than those of Sounder’s and the whole package seemed like a good deal.

Then comes the Sound Transit PSRC study, which says what I’ve been saying all along: this isn’t as cheap as it looks. At $1.1~$1.3 billion, it costs more than all capital expenditures for Sounder, and some of those aren’t even finished yet: the transit center at Tukwila Station, the D-to-M street bypass, among others, haven’t been completed. Even short of these rider-generating improvements, Sounder has more riders for the cost than the BNSF rail line. 

The operations costs of the line are staggering as well. At a cost $24 million per annum (the low estimate) and 6,000 riders per day (the highest estimate, the one that includes truncating bus service on 405), the service costs more than three times as much per rider as East Link will. East Link is supposed to get a little more than 45,000 riders per day, operate 20 hours a day, and have an $80 million annual operating budget. The “average” case, ie, the baseline ridership estimate for the BNSF line (5015 riders per day) and the middle range of the operating costs ($27 million), has a per rider cost that is higher than that of Sounder North, which has been widely criticized for its extreme costs. Put another way, the Eastside BNSF is $16 a trip at the cheapest, and $22 in the average case, and over $30 per trip in the worst case.

Even if there was serious interest there is no money. Sound Transit has put aside less than 5% of the capital costs. It would be amazing if a generous benefactor or a group of investors gave $1 billion for the line, but that won’t happen. A private investor might have been willing to put in $200 million if the operating costs were $15.4 million a year and there was a subsidy, but no investor would put $1 billion to build a train line that will cost at least $16 a trip to operate.

In summary, the BNSF was supposed to be a good deal: it was supposed to cost a lot less to build than Light Rail and get a good number of riders. Proponents said through a public-private partnership, it would take very little public money to build rail there, and that in comparison East Link was a bad investment. The were clearly wrong, BNSF Eastside Rail costs far too much to build, and still to much to operate. There’s no hope of a public-private partnership here, and thus there’s no hope of a rail line.

71 Replies to “Opinion: Eastside BNSF Commuter Rail is Dead”

  1. For all the dust we kicked up in the last thread, I agree with this editorial in its entirety.

    1. The collapse of Colorado Railcar did not help out much, either. It will be interesting to see what will happen to salvage this corridor in the future, perhaps try a TramTrain, as a branch of East LINK.

      1. I suspect the bike trail will happen as long as the money to build it can be found. The big thing right now is to keep adjoining property owners from encroaching on the ROW like they did along East Lake Sammamish.

        The ROW is more than wide enough over most of the line to accommodate both either a commuter rail line or link and a bike trail.

  2. I suspect the only rail we’ll see in any of that corridor will be if various bits of the existing ROW are recycled for parts of any future light rail. Indeed the B7, C1T, C2T, D5, and all segment E proposed alignments for East Link along with 3 of the 4 proposed O&M bases use a portion of the BNSF ROW.

    Not sure if future expansions using part of the BNSF ROW in ST3 will happen but the possibility should at least be kept open.

    I’ll need to dig in the linked document but I’m quite curious what the cost of just Redmond to Brightwater or NE 12th to Brightwater would be. I’d also be curious what extending Link or a tram along those segments would be, especially since either would be able to more easily leave the alignment to put stations in a better location or serve existing transit centers.

    The traffic in and out of Woodinville at peak travel times is pure hell. Providing a better connection to Redmond or Bellevue (and then Overlake and Seattle) would be a major win.

  3. Even if it is never developed as a full blown commuter rail line. I still think the tracks should stay and be maintained just as an alternative to the main north south BNSF line. Redundancy is always good. To only rely on one major north south rail line seems like bad planning on the part of BNSF in the case of a major disaster.

      1. The line was severed when the Wilburton Tunnel was daylighted. This is where I really have trouble pulling my punches aimed at Doug McDonald when I see how the WSDOT was saving only $30mil by doing this. That’s chicken feed compared to what’s being spent on the rest of the corridor.

        What’s really at issue is whether the WSDOT has planned the abutments needed to restore the track back over the freeway. If they didn’t, then it will cost more to replace that segment.


  4. I wonder how many of you bloggers have actually read the report. It is pretty clear that nobody has otherwise you would clearly see that this is only assumed a full, complete, build out of the line. I don’t think anyone who reads these studies fully understand that at all. I hope there is somebody on here that will actually take the time to read the full report before openly posting on something they clearly have no idea what they are even talking about.

    1. James,

      Is the summary somehow misleading? What part of the buildout would you propose not be completed, and how would that affect costs and ridership?

    2. James, let us know if you find something inaccurate about our characterizations. When you’ve read the report. :)

  5. It is very misleading. It goes on to say that this is ONLY the assumption that the corridor was fully built out.

    Cutout the wayside horns, let the communities and cities pay for that. That is a expensive luxury that THEY should pay for, not the rail operator.

    They want to use DMUs? Sure, that is great and all but again the operator can purchase the 30 cars from NJ Transit. $300-400k a car, including refurbishment of the car. Take a look at Utah FrontRunner. 60% of their fleet are the NJT cars and people love them MORE that the Bombardiers (not to mention safer) Locomotives? Used GP40s are cheap nowadays. This corridor will never see speeds above 70mph, just isn’t safe with the curves on it, a GP40 can easily do this job. The Dash 3 technology would make it much more fuel efficient if that is a concern, especially adding HOT START.

    Maintenance facility? Use the existing yard available in Woodinville or Renton.

    Safety issue in Renton? Renton has its own personal agenda but legally it can not prevent trains from running on the line. BNSF owns the right of way through the City of Renton. If the operator were to purchase that bit, they can always completely shut down that entire street that the street running is on. Safety issue resolved.

    Connection at Tukwila? Money talks. The money saved on used equipment can go forward to extending out to Tukwila Station. They are already looking at triple tracking through Tukwila Station, the operator could go 60/40. Instant benefit to BNSF, Sounder, and Eastside Trains.

    Would it benefit to go to Everett? Hell no. Take the train to Monroe, GoldBar, Sultan, the people that need RELIEF.

    1. James,

      You display some ignorance about how rail gets built in this region. Sound Transit wants to build a rail line, neighborhoods scream and threaten to block it, and ST has to spread money around to mitigate the impacts.

      Wayside horns are but a tiny down payment on the BS that communities like S. Kirkland will extort out of anyone that tries to build this.

      The study didn’t even address service through Renton, so for that pipe dream you can add many tens of millions more.

    2. Take the train to Monroe, GoldBar, Sultan, the people that need RELIEF.

      Are you serious? You honestly think that the region’s infrastructure investment should be focused on helping people commute from Gold Bar and Sultan?

    3. You, sir, are out of your gourd. Projects happen when cities get a benefit, not by forcing cities to accept them.

  6. And I forgot to add, the station at NE 8th can be resolved easily. Have freaking buses waiting for the train to arrive. Why do people make this so difficult.

    Everything doesn’t revolve around Seattle and Bellevue. We all deserve fair transportation and the tone on this blog, except for a few, sure in the hell doesn’t seem to notice that.

    1. James,

      When people in Eastern Snohomish County show any inclination to tax themselves for transit (which they didn’t do as recently as last fall), then we can begin to talk about investing hundreds of millions of dollars to connect Monroe, Gold Bar, Sultan, etc.

      Until then, we’re going to focus on the highest ridership corridors among populations that actually put their money where their mouth is.

      1. Actually Snohomish, Monroe, Sultan, Startup, and Goldbar are paying taxes for Transit services, it is the communities mthat are between Snohomish and Woodinville, that voted no to joining CT.

        Further as I understand it, All of King County pays for Metro…
        I have never seen a metro bus, or any other form of metro transit service going out to Skykomish, why do they pay taxes for a service that they never recieve.

        If rail service were extended to Gold Bar, King County should be forces to continue that service East to Skykomish ;)

        Lor Scara

      2. Metro Transit used to run a bus to Skykomish 20 or so years ago–I used to ride it just to get up into the mountains for a day back before I could drive. It may have terminated at Northgate (where I caught it), but there was definitely service. I don’t recall if CT took it over at that time and later discontinued it, or if it was just discontinued by Metro. Skykomish only has around 200 people, and as I recall the bus was used primarily to come in to town as a shopping trip (twice a day; a morning and an evening round trip. There were rarely other passengers on board the times I rode.

    2. Why do people make this so difficult? Good question. Why is it that a transfer cuts ridership dramatically?

      I will leave that question up to you to ponder.

    1. Well, these videos certainly illustrate the level of technological investment that this corridor warrants. How much did VIA spend to install this service? And how much do they pay to operate it, per passenger mile?

  7. 45,000 riders per day on East Link is a pipe dream. That works out to 200 people on every train both directions every ten minutes 20 hours a day. 10 minute headways after midnight will never happen. It doesn’t happen on the London Central Line. It’s sure never going to happen in Bellevue.

    Eastlink replaces the 550. If every bus both directions were full that’s still less than 10,000 riders per day. I have no doubt that peak hour ridership will increase with East Link but not four fold and off peak I doubt there will be much of a bump at all. 50,000 commuters per week is a lot more like it. If they extend to Overlake Transit Center there will be a noticable bump but not the inflated numbers ST wants people to believe. Give it 2,000 and that’s probably generous.

    Multiple this out (52x5x12,000 there is some weekend ridership but I think I’ve more than compensated with the maxed out capacity numbers used for the work week) and it’s just over 3 million riders a year which comes out to about $25 per trip. That’s not allowing a dime for the cost of capital. At a low ball budget price the track and stations are $2.5 billion. Add say another $500 million extras like all the trains they’re running every ten minutes and call it a nice round $3 billion dollars (which is likely at least a billion dollars low). At even just 4% that tacks on $120 million a year.

    Let’s see, East Link at ~$200 million per mile or Eastside Rail at $200 million for 20+ miles. Which one’s the bargain spread?

    1. You don’t know how the riderships are computed. East Link replaces only the 550, but aslso the 545, part of the 167, part of 212, part of 216, 217, part of the 245, 230, etc.

      Second, because it runs more frequently, you’ll attract riders that wouldn’t normally get on a bus, and also people vastly prefer trains to buses.

      Look at the SLU streetcar. That gets nearly 20x as many riders per day as the #70 bus got in the corridor

      1. Or conversely, take a look at the waterfront streetcar bus, which is far emptier than the streetcar used to be despite being free.

    2. Bernie,

      The trains can hold 800 people, and we’re looking at headways of less than 5 minutes during the peak times. So purely from a capacity perspective you’re off by about a factor of 8, and that can take some pressure off your assumptions in the off-peak.

      It’s extremely likely we’ll see tolls on both I-90 and 520, which should also improve the ridership. If I-90 isn’t tolled, the congestion will be bad enough to make the train really attractive.

      You’re vastly underestimating the number of routes East Link will replace. Andrew listed a bunch, but the train will be very competitive with the 271 from DT Bellevue to the U.

      1. My capacity numbers are for the current bus system. The 550 makes 158 trips a day (that’s counting both directions). If every bus were full that would be 10,000 riders a day. During peak hours the buses are standing room only but most of the day they’re running at less than half capacity. I know the train will increase peak capacity and that it will add people that currently drive and pull people from other routes but there just isn’t the demand for 45,000 trips per day on this route, even during the work week. There’s certainly not 200 people going each direction every ten minutes at midnight. The 20 hours a day is a lie (they can’t even keep the bus tunnel open after 7PM), the 10 minute headways all day is a lie (the train will be virtually empty after 8PM even with 1/2 hour headways) and the idea that 45,000 people are going to ride East Link assumes a demand that’s just not there. Not now and not in ten years. 45,000 is roughly 1/3 of the entire population of Bellevue. All of Sound Transit only has 60,000 weekday boardings! I’ve got to believe my guesstimate of 10,000 riders per day on East Link is way closer to reality than what ST wants you to believe and that 10,000 number is probably high.

      2. If East Link were a mere duplicate of the 550, you might have a point, but it also extends east to Overlake and ultimately to Redmond. East Link will also serve large numbers of interlocal trips on the east side, folks who don’t cross the lake. Or put another way, that 800-capacity train can serve 1200-1400 riders or more by the time you add up all the ons and offs between each terminus.

      3. The transit tunnel will be open until 1 am starting this July.

        I don’t find this debate very entertaining since we’re not going to see who’s right until 2030. But I find your understanding of the facts pretty dubious and slightly irrelevant anyway.

        Would East Link having really low ridership help the Eastside BNSF magically get more riders? No.

      4. Bernie… if you replace a stuffed full bus (like the 545 and 550) with a train, you get a lot more riders.

        So far, Sound Transit’s ridership estimates on Sounder and ST Express have been LOW, not high. I think you’re going to eat your words in the next few years with Link. :)

      5. > you’re going to eat your words in the next few years with Link.

        I hope you’re right. I’m really not opposed to light rail. I’m opposed to spending billions if they can be put to better use but what I’m really opposed to is throwing away an existing rail ROW now and not getting any rail service on the eastside for over a decade. Given the usual historical (hysterical?) swings in transit funding might as well be never.

      6. There’s this thing I see whenever people bring this up – “existing ROW”.

        Existing ROW *doesn’t matter*. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Sound Transit has eminent domain power. Sure, it’s cheaper to use existing ROW, but ST can just rebuild a roadway, or take the edges of some property.

        It’s just a cost. When the whole project is horribly cost-ineffective, the ROW costs only matter as much as the dollars they’d save.

      7. Bernie,
        Any solution to improve transit service is going to be expensive at this point. Any solution is also going to take both time and huge piles of money to build.

        The ROW isn’t being thrown away, that is the reason for putting it in public ownership rather than just giving it to the adjoining property owners.

        Even if Eastside Rail were to happen it would take time to build out. Assuming all of the construction capital was available up-front construction time lines would be similar with East Link taking a bit longer.

        But given funding realities neither line is going to be built that quickly. Again time lines will probably be similar. In any case East Link might actually be built a bit quicker than proposed in ST2 depending on the amount of Federal funding ST is able to secure.

        East Link will be built. The political will is there, the funding mechanism is in place, and the cities on the corridor want it. Due to sub-area equity there is a large pool of money that will have to be spent on some sort of transit improvements for the East sub-area.

      8. Martin,

        ST has already came out with a statement that they can not do the 5 minute intervals due to the restriction on the I-90 bridge. Its buried somewhere in one of the documents. I’ll try to dig that up and post it on here. I believe the maximum headway will be every 9 to 15 minutes.

      9. Brian,

        The Link maintenance base plan from ST2 ( PDF link ) assumes trips from Lynnwood to Overlake every 7 minutes peak, and every 10 minutes off-peak by 2030.

      10. Minimum headway should be 6, no more than two trains at a time on the bridge. Works just fine.

    3. Well, let me ask: What’s a better measure for the worthiness of a transit investment, the ridership or the miles?

      1. I think cost per mile is what we should be talking about when looking at the economic effectiveness of a project. That’s why the SLU streetcar is such a folly. If we assume ridership on East Link is primarily end to end, which for the most part I think it will be until the extension to Overlake is built then you could say 7 miles per trip. If you split the line on the eastside BNSF corridor then trip lenghth would be ~10 miles. But I think there would be a lot more incremental boarding with ESR so the average trip distance is probably going to be similar; in the 7 mile range.

      2. What does “mile” have to do with anything? What if only a handful of people live along each “mile”?

        Cost-per-mile is a poor metric because developed areas like Seattle and Bellevue are of course going to have higher construction costs compared to some field near the Gorge — yet these developed areas are the ones that need congestion relief the most. So while it may cost five times as much (for example) to build light rail from Bellevue to Seattle, it will get more than five times as many riders — which means it was a better investment for taxpayers. Similarly, cross-lake corridor is a major bottleneck for the region in a way that the Sultan-Goldbar-Bellevue corridor is not.

      3. If it costs five times as much to build and you get five times the ridership then the cost per rider mile is the same. If it does better than that you’re money ahead. In a comparison of ESR and East Link you’re talking in large part about the same expensive real estate. In one case you have a grade and ROW that’s already established with the BNSF corridor. East Link is either taking existing lane capacity or purchasing new ROW. The cost isn’t 5 times as much but more like 10-20 times as much per mile.

        What keeps getting forgotten is the cost of capital. In the case of East Link that cost exceeds the operational costs. So if you’re argument is that ESR is too expensive then you have to come down against East Link even more vehemently.

      4. I’m getting more and more stupid just reading your comments, Bernie.

        No one respond to Bernard, don’t feed the trolls!

      5. Either you don’t understand cost of capital or just choose to ignore it. I get it. Don’t respond to anyone against your point of view.

        Someone please explain the 45,000 riders per day.

        Seatac airport 85,000 passengers/day
        Sound Transit 60,000 weekday boardings
        Total Jobs in Bellevue 130,000
        Vehicles per day on SR 520 115,000

        45,000 riders is a staggeringly large number for this route. I agree that people will ride trains that won’t ride buses. Increased frequency I don’t see as having a big impact because bus headways are already less than 15 minutes during peak hours and exceed demand off peak. There’s certainly the promise of higher peak capacity which is where the big gains are to be had. But I just don’t see Eastlink carrying 75% of today’s entire ST ridership.

        Maybe it is valid. The assumption is that East Link will have Ridership on par with BART (adjusted for system length). Overall Seattle and the Eastside don’t come anywhere close to the population of the region served by BART. If someone can pull out numbers from a comparable end of line segment on BART I’d be a believer. BART also claims cost per rider mile down in the 33 cent range which is outstanding.

        BTW, I just check the numbers in the DEIS and the addition of segment D (Bellevue to Overlake) doesn’t change the daily ridership totals. It adds 6,000 segment boardings but the ridership projections for Seattle to Bellevue are 44,000 – 48,000 and the ridership projections when you add the connection to Overlake are 45,500 to 46,000. Explain that one?

      6. Here’s what I have, though honestly, it’s exhausting having this conversation when you basically say “I don’t agree, everyone is wrong!”

        1) Seatac airport 85,000 passengers/day
        How often do you fly? How often do you commute? ‘Nuff said.
        2) Sound Transit 60,000 weekday boardings
        Case, after case, after case has show that when you replace bus service with rail service you get vastly more riders.
        3) Total Jobs in Bellevue 130,000
        What are the total jobs in 2030, when the 45,000 number is supposed to be there? This is a wildly misleading number.
        4) Vehicles per day on SR 520 115,000
        Vehicles is a garbage number. How many people? My bus (242) is packed. Plus, forget 2006, when the 115K number came, think 2030.

        Anyway, the reasons are these: think a few years ahead (20 or so), buses don’t get the ridership of trains (don’t even argue this, this is a proven fact), and the explanation is the timeline of the study (Seattle-Overlake was studied in 2005, Seattle to Bellevue two months ago).

        If you say 10,000 riders, I’ll just say 110,000. You have no science behind your number, you’ve completely made it up. Why is your estimate more correct than Sound Transit’s engineerring firms? Because you will it to be?

      7. Let me add to this…

        Bernie, Redmond has 20,000 more workers around Overlake Transit Center.

        Also, the line is NOT ONE WAY. It also serves people who live in Bellevue or Redmond and commute into Seattle.

        And you realize people take two trips if they use it to commute? One in the morning one direction, and one in the evening the other direction. Ridership is each ride.

        I think you’re misreading the DEIS about the Overlake segment. Point me to the pages you’re looking at?

      8. Here’s the link to the Eastlink DEIS Executive Summary. The ridership numbers start on page 17.

        If someone has insight on the segment boardings vs system ridership numbers please explain segment B. B1 has 4,000 segment boardings and system ridership 46,000, B2 is 4,500 segment boardings but system ridership goes down to 44,500. I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. The B7 which uses the BNSF ROW, has the only commercial property open for development and goes over to 405 is down 3,000 in boardings and system ridership. FWIW I do know from going to the Bellevue City Council meeting how they came up with the business displacement numbers.

        I do get it that ridership numbers are both ways. That’s why when I tried to put the ridership numbers in perspective I took all service (it’s something like 81 into Seattle and 77 Seattle to Bellevue) and multiplied by the number of seats on an articulated bus. Sure the buses are standing room packed during peak but they’re virtually empty for a great portion of the day. I didn’t try to figure contribution from other routes because the 10k number is 1/6 of all ST daily weekday boardings. That seems like a reasonable percentage.

        The numbers I gave for jobs, population, the Airport are all for perspective. They’re current (some are two years old) and there will be growth (I’d expect) by 2030 but the days of rampant development in Seattle peaked years ago and Bellevue is approaching that state. The greatest growth is going to be to the north, the south and to a lesser extent the west. Density in 2030 will undoubtedly be higher but the number of living units in downtown Bellevue has skyrocketed in the last five years which means more people will be living close to their jobs and thereby relieve some of the pressure on cross lake commuting.

      9. Re: segment boardings vs. system boardings – I believe the discrepancy you point out is due to the connections that the different B segments make with C. B1 only connects with C1 (which has a high segment boarding number), but B2 connects with C2, C3 ,C4, and C7 (C4 and C7 have low segment boarding numbers). ST is probably doing some averaging over the C segments to figure out the overall system ridership for B2.

        Also, for those who would rather not download the entire EIS PDF file, these ridership numbers are also available on the East Link interactive map page .

      10. Bernie, I think you mean cost per *passenger* mile.

        Of course, the problem with arguing with you is that if you don’t want something to be cost effective, you’ll just decide the ridership estimates are ‘too high’. Good luck with that.

      11. Yes, cost per passenger mile. I’m not saying my guess is right but I’m not seeing anyone defend ST’s projections either. I’m pointing out that 45,000 per day is a huge number and trying to get a comparison to current demand and ridership.

        The argument made in the post that ESR wasn’t cost effective was based on ridership and operational cost provided by ST. They too can play a numbers game to support their position and in fact have a history of doing so. Granted sometimes the projections were for systems that through no fault of ST weren’t build out as planned. And again I have to point out that cost of capital has to be included to get a fair cost per passenger mile.

      12. ST’s projections are probably LOW.

        East Link will have a one-seat ride between Lynnwood and Bellevue and all points between. Sure, it’ll run every 9 minutes in 2021, but it’ll run every 6 minutes well before 2030, which is when that ridership estimate is for.

        I happen to commute from Capitol Hill to Overlake Transit Center. This would be my way to work, and the way to work for many other Capitol Hill and downtown commuters there – basically half the ridership of the 545. Sure, the 545 might be faster *sometimes* – but when there’s a little traffic on I-5, it takes so long just to get to the 520 ramp that Link would get me to work sooner. That won’t change with the new 520, either.

        Sound Transit has no history of any ‘numbers games’. Their ridership numbers have to agree with federal models for them to receive FTA money.

        And yeah, the cost of capital, amortized over its life, has to be included to get a fair cost per passenger mile. That’s where Link excels, and that’s where this eastside monster fails miserably. It costs more than Sounder North, and Sounder North was built partly for political reasons!

      13. Cost per mile is BS. Look at U-Link. Sure it is one of the most expensive light rail segments ever built, but it got a VERY high score for cost effectiveness from the FTA. This is due to both the high projected ridership and huge travel time savings.

  8. Why rebuild the entire line? Trains can still run on it. Take a look at VIA Rail, they are running self-propelled DMU trains daily on an old freight railroad and they are doing just fine. Just getting some DMUs, and building simple stations doesn’t cost a billion.

    Videos of VIA DMUs:

  9. Andrew, we get it…you don’t like ESR. Give it a break buddy, cause it’ll be built anyway.

    1. I’m not saying this because I don’t like the eastside (I do, and I work there) or commuter rail (I took cal-train for years) or because I want to be contrarian.

      I’m saying it because the line is too expensive for the riders.

    2. Uh, Phil… you’re insane. Sound Transit is already pulling that money. Good luck getting someone to lay tracks!

    3. “By 2030, the Bel-Red plan could usher in 4.5 million square feet of office and retail use, which would more than double the amount of office space there now and produce 10,000 jobs. And the plan would pave the way for 5,000 housing units and 9,500 new residents.”

      Folks on the Eastside aren’t going to wait forever for a gold plated ST project. The tracks are there and can be used for minimal cost compared to any other transit alternative on this corridor.

  10. I do believe that GNP (groans) will still move forward with doing the line between Snohomish and Bellevue. We’ll have to wait and see. The comments from Bruce and Tom Payne were pretty amusing.

    1. Tom Payne has a proven track record in the RR industry. The partnership with the Ballard Terminal Shortline lends credibility to the idea this will become a working RR under Port of Seattle operations. Modest plans to start with 6 commuter trains in the morning and 6 in the evening seem like a smart way to judge demand before billions are sunk into a project. If it doesn’t pencil out the freight and excursion operations will at least keep the line operational which leaves options open for the future. Once the rails are gone (Burke Gillman, East Lake Sammamish, Snoqualmie Pass, etc.) they’re unlikely to ever return. If the cost per trip is $12 and fares are $3 then that’s not out of line with other transit subsidies.

      1. Bernie… which one of the old heavy rail enthusiasts are you? It’s obvious. You’re really into these diesel things, but you throw away light rail. Sorry, man, move on, we have newer and better technology these days.

      2. There are also newer and better concepts these days, such as the TramTrain, which started in Karlsruhe, Germany, and has spread across Europe. Most of the operations are electric, but there are a few diesel, and in some cases, a combination of Diesel and Electric. Unfortunately, our safety rules prevent it from being done out here, but perhaps the Eastside line could be a test case. It is interesting about safety and the track sharing concept in Germany. In some cases, these Light Rail lines share the same track with the ICE Trains, although it is restricted to lines where the latter can’t go over 100MPH anyway. Also, the Germans have much better signal systems than us, although they have had at least one major wreck with an ICE Train.

        Also, there are reasons NJT are retiring the COMET I cars, they were built by a company that no longer exists, for a railroad that no longer exists, nearly 40 years ago. Even though you can upgrade them, the cars are still old. Also, the COMET Is are cattle cars compared to the COMET VIs that replace them. THere were complaints that when they ordered the COMET VI, some like the NJ-ARP cried foul that 3X2 seating was being dispensed with, but rider feedback suggested 2X2 seating. So the cars only seat 30 more than earlier COMET cars.

        NJT is ordering more EMUs now, and supposedly a few Dual-Modes to go along with the Dual-Mode Locomotives they ordered. They got one interesting electric branch line operation, the Dinky as it is called, running between Princeton Junction and the town of Princeton(the University town is on the branch line), sometimes called PJ&B, the Princeton Junction and Back.

  11. Sorry about the double post, put too many links in the first one.

    One thing people knock with the South Lake Union Streetcar and then criticize the new plans, is they ignore that over 1 mile of the proposed Ballard and U-District lines already exist now. The plans call for them to use Westlake Ave as far as Mercer Street where they split. the very route of the South Lake Union Streetcar. ALso, on a map of the old streetcar system from the 1920s, there was a line on Westlake, one used by the interurban to Everett.

  12. So, lets see now, using the methodology of a federal agency that opposes commuter rail, ST has concluded the line would be too expensive, so they might as well spend that $50 million somewhere else.

    Well, fish gotta swim, etc, but it’s sure amazing how fast ST became the new boss, same as the old boss.

    And that’s probably the takeaway here. ST has now become an institution trusted by the voters that the other institutions have to treat as an equal. ST is not about to throw that away by indulging in some wild enthusiasm for rail transit, or endorsing a start-up scheme that operates with less than 100% new equipment and a copper-clad guarantee of success.

    Well, give it another decade and then we can flip the record over and play the “If only…” side. We’ve heard it all before.

  13. The assumption that just because you have tracks laid for freight fifty years ago, you should use that for a modern rail corridor is a silly one. This very rudimentary map gives you an idea of how the BNSF corridor avoids density rather than embracing it like East Link. I wish one of you guys would do a better one.

    The lowball cost numbers by Cascadia and others ignore the complexities of building in an urban area. Litigious neighbors, safety and enviromental concerns, expensive stations, and difficult sections along the alignment all raise the price tag significantly.

    A high quality bike trail without the rail has the potential to carry far more commuters. The Burke-Gilman’s daily commute ridership is greater than the estimated ridership for the BNSF corridor. Bikes have more of a watershed as riders access the line from miles away and ride north or south to Microsoft, Bellevue, or Renton.

    For a billion dollars we should extend East Link to Redmond, or send a spur towards Issaquah. We should just build a great bike trail linking the urban Eastside cities and forget this silly pipe dream. This is one of those “great ideas” like laying crappy rail in the bus tunnel at the last minute and having to tear it up.

    1. You know, the other thing everyone seems to completely miss that Development follows the Transportation System, not the other way around.

      The reason east coast cities and other ‘transit meccas’ look the way they do is because when the rail lines were built 100 years ago, they went to suburban and rural communities, and then the density grew around them.

      “The Burke-Gilman’s daily commute ridership is greater than the estimated ridership for the BNSF corridor”

      I would like to see how the data was collected.

      By the way, anyone involved with keeping a rail system on the BNSF corridor has NEVER excluded sharing with the cycling community, so I’m at a loss as to why you need to call commuter rail on this corridor a ‘pipe dream’


  14. I have to admit, when I read through the original editorial, and then all the following threads, I felt I was seeing a re-hash of all the typical arguments on other forums such as the Seattle P-I, or the Seattle Times. Generally, they are filled with the age-old arguments about cost-effectiveness, trip counts, ridership, and so on, usually posted by the same cast of characters. In fact, I see some familiar names here, many of with whom I share the same opinions, …almost.

    After spending a few years on the I-405 Corridor Program’s Citizen Committee, with allies like Peter Hurley of Transportation Choices, and opposite those such as Kemper Freeman, Janet Ray of AAA, and members of the Trucking Industry, I have come to understand more of the nature of their position.

    Do you realize that those groups that see ‘transportation’ as single occupancy vehicles only are just tickled pink to see the conversations that are happening here on what is a TRANSIT-blog? The biggest concern I have is that the conversation here seems to follow the typical PNW ‘transit-mode-wars’ pattern. My version of transit is better than your version, my train is better than your train, my rail is better than your rail.

    During the I-405 Corridor Program (around the year 2000) we looked at proposals ranging from the most expensive ‘Roads Only’ alternative, through combinations of roads and transit, and balanced on the other end by a ‘Rail only’ alternative.

    To recap (in Year 2000 Budget $):
    Alternative #1 – Rail Only; 5.3 Billion (ST’s LRT Tukwila – Lynnwood)
    Alternative #2 – 1 lane each direction + Rail (see above); 8.6 Billion
    Alternative #3 – 2 lanes each direction + transit improvements (i.e. BRT); 6.7 Billion
    Alternative #4 – Roads Only, 3 lanes each direction, no transit improvements; 11.3Billion

    When these all went through the Cost Benefit analysis, which used a horizon year of 2030, the only one that had a positive ratio was Alternative #3. Alternative #1’s performance was dismal. What surprised me was that Alternative #2 and #4 had the same ratio. Why?

    Simply because the payback for adding 3 lanes in each direction or 1 lane in each direction + LRT was beyond the horizon year. I spoke with the analyst working on the project, and he said that no planner wants to go beyond the 30 year horizon because they don’t know what technology might be available.

    If you ask the same question after 2030, using the same horizon span, you will get the same answer for congestion relief. Building roads isn’t futile because “if you build it, they will come”, it’s futile because you build a ‘system’ that can only pull 2100 vehicles per hour off the adjacent lanes. Once filled, then congestion either increases, or you have to build another lane.

    Imagine if we built Link like that? Okay folks, after we get 3 trains an hour up and running, once they’re full, we have to build another track, bore another tunnel, build another station… ad infinitum. It’s exactly how we deal with road building.

    Why does road building matter on this Blog?

    Because no one here (along with the general public) questions that spending. The gas tax, which is the biggest social engineering project invented, has been portrayed as a user fee. If you want to understand who subsidizes who, then pretend you are an entrepreneur, and build yourself a congestion reducing roadway, and charge a toll for it.

    I think it’s counter-productive for some members of the Discovery Institute to defend Commuter Rail on the Woodinville Sub with negative arguments against LRT from Seattle to Redmond. These are, after all, two different corridors. What should be happening is the defenders of cost should be involved in the planning being done now for East Link. Even though most planners have heard many arguments and suggestions before, there is always something to be learned, and insight gained from a new face.

    I also think it’s counter productive to look at the ST/PRSC’s analysis as a reason to not build the commuter rail option, since what they are doing is building the system as if it will last way beyond the 30 year horizon. Planning for the long term, imagine that!?

    Now, does the cost of ST’s version preclude having commuter rail on the Woodinville Sub now? Absolutely not. Five percent of $1.3 billion is $50 million. If I wanted to buy 6 trainsets, 3 cars + locomotive, for let’s say $2mil per vehicle, then I’d be spending $48mil on equipment. Analysis the Discovery Institute and All Aboard Washington was involved with showed that modest improvements to remove speed restrictions because of track conditions will allow 40 mph over most of the line. What I’ve heard from others in the railroad industry is the cost is somewhere around $60million. Sound Transit spent approximately $500,000 for the temporary Tukwila station, so you could add another few million for very simple station accommodations.

    My really rough speculation above is definitely within the original estimates given in Andrew’s editorial and in line with the numbers we were hearing during the I-405 planning. Why didn’t you read about it in the I-405 analysis? Simply because the City of Renton and the Kennydale Neighborhood Association wrote to the I-405 Executive Committee requesting any study of the BNSF corridor be moved off the table.

    The major tenet of the planning for the I-405 Corridor Program was that all municipalities had to be in agreement as to what would be included in the Cost Benefit analysis.

    The BNSF Corridor analysis never got there. The farthest we got was a ridership estimate for a Woodinville-Tukwila segment of approximately 3100 riders a day. Cost was roughly estimated at $300 million, but at that time, BNSF wasn’t selling, and no one was asking.

    Right-of-way acquisition is certainly a major factor in costing out an alternative. Sound Transit’s LRT option (Alternative #1) was based entirely on acquiring new ROW, except for parts of the Woodiniville Sub around Kirkland, and parts where it could be in the median on I-405.

    RK’s comment “You honestly think that the region’s infrastructure investment should be focused on helping people commute from Gold Bar and Sultan?” is revealing in one respect. RK completely ignores the fact that we already spend millions of dollars on helping people commute from that area. It’s called SR9, SR522, and I-405.

    I appreciate the intellectual exercise of ridership comparisons, cost per mile, and other minutiae, and believe me, I’ve seen plenty of that (and have plenty of documents that led up to the I-405 EIS to sort through).

    However, I cannot see how some of you can make blanket negative statements about these proposals when all of you (presumably) are transit supporters. I’m assuming that not all of you are ‘roadganger’ trolls.

    Rail is rail, any standard system (with the exception of BART) is built on the standard gauge of 4’81/2″, and arguing which one is better by dismissing the other one has no constructive purpose.

    For all it’s accomplishing, everyone on this blog could just as well march over to an auto dealership showroom in Bellevue, (they’re not busy nowadays), and beat each other over the head with bats. It would at least provide the public with some entertainment.

    It sure as hell isn’t solving how to move this region away from its complete dependence on single occupancy vehicles.


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