Photo by Slack Action
Photo by Slack Action

As usual, Publicola gets a great scoop that will be very useful for transit fans trying to discern the difference between Larry Phillips and Dow Constantine:

Phillips said he disagreed with Constantine that the BNSF corridor shouldn’t be reserved for a potential Eastside rail corridor as well as for bike trails. Indeed, Constantine was the only candidate who said during the debate that he didn’t think the BNSF corridor was the right one for Eastside rail. Phillips also pointed out that Constantine actually voted for dual use.

I’ve been looking for something that would illuminate our STB endorsement process, but given the splits on this subject within our own staff, it just muddles the picture more.

54 Replies to “Constantine, Phillips on Eastside Commuter Rail”

  1. I’m still split on the County Executive race, but this policy distinction is in Dow Constantine’s favor. The BNSF route is the wrong one for passenger rail. Parts of it might be repurposed for a future Eastside light rail extension, but as a whole it just doesn’t come close enough to large population or employment centers.

    1. I agree with what you said, but I think this goes in Phillips’ favor, not Constantine’s. Phillips suggests reserving the BSNF corridor for rail use, which is necessary if parts of it can be repurposed for a Link extension in the future. Constantine’s proposal is to scrap any reservation for rail on the line, which would impede possible uses in the future.

      I agree that Eastside Commuter Rail on the BSNF track doesn’t make much sense, but an integrated Eastside Light Rail further in the future would benefit a lot from certain portions of the corridor.

      1. Exactly. Once the rails are ripped up and it becomes a bike path it’s never ever going back. Just imagine trying to run rail along the Burke Gilman or East Lake Sammamish trails.

      2. Dow supports railbanking the corridor. Federal law requires an agreement that the corridor can be returned to rail.

      3. Railbanking requires an agreement that the corridor can be returned to rail. But enforcing such an agreement requires more political will than most local leadership could muster.

        Picture trying to enforce rail-banking agreements on any of our existing local rail-trails. Yes, they were rail lines before they became trails. Yes, there are pieces of paper saying we have to keep them available for rail use.

        But just look at the difficulties King County has had simply repaving the BGT and bringing it up to code through Lake Forest Park, the years of NIMBY lawsuits, encroaching property owners not wanting their illegal structures and landscaping removed, etc. Now, picture that instead of a relatively quiet bicycle path that boosts property values, you wanted to put back in a rail line.

        Do you really think the folks who can’t agree on how to fix the viaduct would be able to muster the nerve to enforce a railbanking agreement?

        (And I say this as a bicycle commuter who rides the train — personally, I would be delighted to have shared rail/trail use of many of our rail trail rights-of-way. I just can’t see it happening.)

    2. One thing I’d caution against is building any sort of trail along the BNSF ROW that would be difficult to replace with either heavy or light rail in the future. I don’t want this turning into another Burke-Gillman or Ironhorse trail where there is really no possibility of re-using the ROW for rail in the future.

      Also I’m a bit concerned the PSRC study included no P&R lots at any station locations, didn’t go beyond Renton Highlands (rather than to Tukwilla, Seattle, or Tacoma), and didn’t seem to assume much in the way of transfers from buses. Also the Woodinville to Redmond section had a weird transfer at the winery area rather than running trains all the way to downtown Woodinville. If I didn’t know better I’d say they picked a conclusion and crafted the study to fit it.

      In a perfect world I’d make WSDOT replace the bridge over I-405 and run a demonstration service with a diesel locomotive and a bi-level coach or two. But I don’t think there is the money to run such a test service so lets make sure we keep the ROW usable for later.

      1. Here is a thought

        What happens if the FRA were to issue a waiver that allowed DMU and Link vehicles to share portions of the East Link Corridor (theoretically this is possiable)?

        If we then had DMU service from Tukwilla (Which PSRC should have included) to the north side of I-90 on ESR, head West along the north side of I-90, and connect into East Link as itexits I-90. Follow East Link throughBellevue and Redmond then transfer back onto the Woodinville Redmond portion of the ESR (elliminating the strange double station) terminating in Woodinville.

        Theoretically the DMU could be built as a Hybrid Diesel/Electric, and could connect to the overhead lines used by Link, eliminating Diesel fumes in Bellevue.

        Theoretically if an Appropriate agreement were reached between Snoco, and ST the system (which in this configuration would have to be a ST system) could be extended from Woodinville through Harvey Field (not into Snohomish propper) and on to Everett.

        Would the Above alternate route generate enough ridership to be considered Viable?
        Does it eliminate enough Objections that it does not go close enough to the existing cores?

        If it were to be found that a DMU service simular to the one that Auburn, Covington, Maple Valley, and Black Diamond have secured funding to study were Viable between Everett, Snohomish, and Monroe (Rail Distance and population are nearly identicle in the two corridors), how would this effect your oppinion of ESR viability (assuming a transfer at Snohomish)?

        Thank you
        Lor Scara

    3. I have no doubts that part of that corridor – especially the parts around kirkland – are useful for far future light rail.

  2. Unfortunately railbanking is more of a feel good term than a real solution. The reality is even with “Railbanking”, the trail will probably never be turned back to an active railway corridor. Once the tracks are gone, you will find stiff opposition to returning a trail back to a railway. Just look at the people complaining about putting light rail trains on the eastside BNSF row (with tracks still intact).

  3. The reality is this bit of track will never be used for Light Rail, or Commuter rail. There are far too many ungated crossings. I-405 just grabbed a big piece of land and there is no money for it in the ST budget.

    Rail banking is the way to go, it’s not needed as a bicycle path, as there are already alternate routes that work pretty well. But once banked, we can put elevated Light Rail down this route and while noisier than I would prefer, it will be better than more freeway lanes. And elevating it will remove the crossing issues, along with some of the noise. In addition, there is no one’s view to block as it’s the freeway on the uphill side.

    1. 100% right. Burke Gilman, Lk Sam, Iron Horse are all “rail banked”. Problem with this bank is there is no withdrawal window. Don’t let Cascade Bike Club or anyone else convince you differently. Rail Bank sounds like they put it in a vault somewhere. The best thing that could happen is to get the Dinner Train back. WSDOT is on the hook to replace the 405 crossing if someone decides they’re going to operate a railroad again. Even if they have to pay for a bridge they come out ahead of what it would have cost to widen I-5 and preserve a tunnel.

      1. WSDOT’s not on the hook for that as far as I know. Can you link me to something that says so?

      2. 2006 WSDOT quarterly report references replacing the tunnel,

        http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/i405/112thAvetoSE8th/QPR/mar2006.htm

        Here in the orginal project description they include rebuilding the tunnel:

        http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/NR/rdonlyres/802C0761-915E-4E58-B367-092A5D0BE468/18555/BellTranspoPotenDRv3_012406.pdf

        The track realignment isn’t as good as the original route but necessary to shorten the span which originally crossed I-5 at about a 20 degree angle. At some point they reached an agreement with BNSF to not rebuild unless since the line was going to be abandon by BNSF. Obviously the value of a rail line is significantly diminished when severed so the right to restore the right of way transfers to a new owner.

        Originally the plan was to shift all lanes of I-405 to accomodate a new railroad tunnel.

        http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/NR/rdonlyres/802C0761-915E-4E58-B367-092A5D0BE468/17998/Chapter4Whata20retheprojectsprincipalfeatures.pdf

        Being able to simply widen the existing freeway alignment was the major cost saving in the agreement with BNSF. This is the original project plan showing the new tunnel and realigned I-405. Interesting that under this plan the old tunnel would have also remained and the RR ROW would only have been temporarily realigned during construction of the new tunnel. So, cheaper if they have to at some point build a bridge; way cheaper if it’s a bike/pedestrian bridge which will be what happens if the County buys the southern portion of the subdivision.

      3. Take a look at SMART in the Bay Area as an example of compatible dual use.
        Pending regular passenger light rail use, bikes and Dinner Train may get along OK.
        Renton especially would love to get this train back.

    2. Whoa there – as a lake-circuit rider, it’s one of the big missing components in our cycle system. You try riding on 148th or through downtown Bellevue – it’s not fun.

      1. Why would you do that? Up the Gold Coast through Medina to Hunts Point and Lake Washington Bvld then over Simons Road or connect to the SRT via Northup to the 520 trail. You really need to get out on some rides with people that know where they’re going.

      2. Oops, meant Quanita Drive from Kirkland. Simons Road works too but at that point it’s easier to just continue north and pick up the Burke Gilman in Bothell. Lot’s of other possibilities.

      3. from 520, along Lake Washington Blvd through downtown Kirkland, up Market Street then either along Juanita Drive or continue on 100th Ave NE (no shoulders or bike lanes) and go up Simonds Rd or continue on 100th down the hill to the Burke-Gilman trail by the golf course.

        I used to ride from home up Simonds Road to class at Inglemoor High everyday for a while. Sure beats having to get up early for the school bus or taking Metro which takes forever. I didn’t drive because I didn’t get a drivers license until two years ago.

      4. Alternatively cut over under I-90 to Factoria ride up the hill to Eastgate, go under I-90, cut through the Robin’s wood neighborhood going N on 156th, head down 24th, cut over to West Lake Samamish and head over to Merrymore Park for the trail going North there. (this isn’t exact but if you look at google maps you can see the way.)

    3. It actually would make a very useful addition to the bicycle network. But that shouldn’t stop its use for rail, too.

      Commuter bicycle routes do not have to be linear parks through pristine scenery. The Interurban runs parallel to rail lines and even through an automated switchyard with un-manned locomotives, and it still makes a great bicycle trail.

    1. Interesting. It looks like the part they want to use for the light rail is a 3 mile unpaved extension known as the Georgetown Branch Trail or the Future Capital Crescent Trail. Imagine the fight if they tried to take back the whole thing.

  4. As much as I would like to see some sort of rail transit up this corridor (and a bike path) I really think its best suited for a BRT system. Many of the opponents of rail have a good point, it comes close but never right within a major town center. That being said, having a BRT corridor would allow transit to use the corridor and city streets to transit centers to complete the connection. But I’m not holding my breath, I’ll be happy with a paved bike trail.

    1. BRT would be a great idea for much of the BNSF ROW.

      A few things though, first I’m not sure the ROW is wide enough the entire distance for a two lane road and bike path. Second BRT really couldn’t use the Wilburton section (not without a LOT of work) and most of the rest of the bridges/overpasses would have to be rebuilt for 2 bus lanes and a bike/ped path. There is also the question of how property owners along the line might react to a diesel bus roaring by every couple of minutes, though to a lesser extent you would have the same problem with Link or DMU commuter rail.

      The ROW width issue shouldn’t be too much of a problem though as the area where the ROW is the narrowest is also the section with a major bike trail/route right next to the tracks (I-90 to Renton).

  5. If I recall correctly didn’t the owner of the dinner train offer to buy outright the BNSF right of way to operate its dinner train but was rejected?

    I am also confused about who currently owns the line. I remember reading an article in the Seattle Times saying the Port of Seattle has postponed buying the land. So does BNSF still own the ROW, or the county?

    1. I would be very surprised if the operator of the Dinner Train had the ability to finance that purchase. King County (Ron Sims) put down something like $3M in escrow to secure first rights of refusal. That’s when the complicated airport for ROW swap deal was floated. Eventually the Port just said it would buy (float the bonds) to buy the ROW. The idea was that it would be split (it has) and King County would buy the southern half (Woodinville south) from the Port. Kind of strange that that leaves the Port holding the property in Snohomish County.

      BNSF still owns the ROW but they’ve sold the operating rights to that portion to GNP Railway (Tom Payne operator of the original Dinner Train). That’s what the Port planned to do with it anyway; they never intended to run a railroad.

      Really the most valuable part of the southern portion for commuter rail is Redmond to Woodinville. I think the county would sell this portion to ST if they decide to extend Link beyond Redmond since this is a spur not the main ROW and it duplicates (parallels) the Sammamish River Trail. The section from South Kirkland P&R connects to the East Link alignment through Bellevue but I don’t know if this connection is that important. Especially if they use the D5 alignment bus shuttles via Northup would be easy or just bus transfer to BTC. FWIW I think a Northup Station on the D5 alignment with a Freeway Flyer stop would be a great addition to the system. Better if you could intercept buses before the 405/520 interchange but not really possible until/if ever Link gets to Woodinville.

      1. Which sections of the BNSF alignment end up being the most important for transit have a lot to do with what final alignment is chosen for East Link and what future corridors are planned on the Eastside.

        Right now the most useful is the section through downtown Redmond as this will be used no matter which alignment is chosen for the Downtown Redmond portion of East Link.

        I doubt the D5 alignment will be chosen for East Link, one of the D2 alignments is most likely. C2T and B7 both use a portion of the BNSF ROW, but I think B7 is just as unlikely as D5, C2T still might happen but C3T is also more likely if money for a tunnel is found (otherwise C4A is what will be built).

        For future expansion the BNSF ROW is useful for getting to Kirkland and Totem Lake from Bellevue though using the I-405 ROW or Bellevue Way/Lake Washington Boulevard are also possible. The I-405 routing has the problem of being just as far or further from the main part of Houghton and Downtown Kirkland as the BNSF ROW. The I-405 routing also misses the South Kirkland P&R. I kind of doubt Kirkland would be happy with an at-grade or elevated line along Lake Washington Boulevard.

        South of I-90 the BNSF ROW makes sense for getting from South Bellevue or Factoria to Renton. Again the I-405 ROW could be used too, but they are fairly close together so whichever is cheaper to build probably makes the most sense. A supposed Bellevue to Renton link segment could also go further inland through Newcastle and along Coal Creek Parkway but the population density isn’t much higher and the terrain and greater distance would make construction more expensive.

        Lastly the remainder of the Woodinville to Redmond portion could be used to extend East Link to Woodinville.

        As someone said elsewhere another possibility for the ROW would be to use it for BRT.

      2. There’s been zero support for any East Link extension to Redmond except the one the City of Redmond recommended back in 2006 which follows 520 out to Marymoor and then loops back along the old train tracks to the feed mill. I’m not sure where that ROW stops being part of the BNSF Woodinville subdivision and becomes the old Redmond to Issaquah route. My guess is Leary way because that’s how far BNSF used to operate the occasional 2-3 car “train” required to keep the ROW from being classified as abandon.

        I doubt the D5 alignment will be chosen either but it does offer cost savings which could be a factor if push comes to shove over the funding for a tunnel. The issue though is the council sees Bel-Red as a second Golden Goose and has no incentive (other than tunnel funding) to create a system that’s efficient beyond Bellevue. What I don’t understand is why the City of Redmond ever bought into the BROTS plan. They get no revenue from sales tax or property tax in this area and the spill over traffic congestion is a huge negative.

        The BNSF route from S. Kirkland P&R to Totem Lake has a couple of big problems. First is the section through the residential part of Houghton. Although there is a 100′ ROW all along the line it would be very difficult to actually use along this steep bank. Major excavation, retaining walls, etc. would be required and the political fight would (and I think justifiably) be huge. Second problem is it doesn’t even come close to downtown Kirkland. North of NE 85th St. it passes through a hollow that Kirkland has set aside as urban forest. Again a huge political fight and very difficult to push through a flat 100′ wide ROW. Totem Lake has a number of at grade intersection issues. Totem Lake to Woodinville isn’t really important if Woodinville has a Link connection to Redmond. That section, Woodinville to Houghton would however be a major boost to the bike trail system as it provides a managable grade up and over the ridge. Current options are Norway Hill, St. Michael Hill or back and around the “NE 124th bypass” that takes you up to Kingsgate. Of course you can bypass the whole area and take the SRT all the way to 520 or Old Redmond Rd. But that leaves a huge Island along the 405 corridor that isn’t very accessable without some really steep climbs. Something along the line of a single track interurban might be doable along this route. There are several places where passing tracks can be put in place. Hard to know if the price would justify the ridership. It would probably hinge on operating cost vs just providing bus service.

        The south section would have a lot of utility except you run into the missing Wilburton tunnel, the need to rebuild the historic Wilburton Trestle and the opposition from Renton to complete the connection to Tukwila Sounder Station. A 405 alignment has other problems. I don’t see any other viable alternatives but I also don’t think this section being built in my lifetime unless there’s suddenly much stronger interest in reestablishing railroad service in the near term. The only entity with money to do that is ST and they’ve shown near zero interest in preserving the ROW unless someone else assumes the majority of the cost.

      3. Zero Support for an East Link extension to Redmond? What? Segment E is part of the East Link EIS which means construction can start as soon as there is the money to build it. So far it is the only Link corridor that will be that far along when the time comes to extend Link past ST2. I’m pretty certain the E2 alignment will be chosen with the Redmond suggested modification of staying in the BNSF ROW rather than trying to get Link to the Redmond Transit Center.

        The cost difference between D5 and D2A isn’t really enough to pay for the tunnel. Given the support for the D2 alignments I believe the tunnel will be given up before the alignment is switched to D5.

        Any potential Link alignment between Bellevue and Totem Lake would have issues. At grade or elevated along Lake Washington Boulevard isn’t going to go over well. I-405 misses the S. Kirkland P&R and is even further from Downtown Kirkland than the BNSF ROW, it’s also well away from the intersection of 108th NE & NE 68th in Houghton. Any possible routings of a downtown Kirkland loop off of I-405 would be even more disruptive than a similar loop off of the BNSF ROW.

        I’m not sure of the issues with the steep bank, but there would be similar ones with building along I-405. Remember link doesn’t need the full 100′ ROW and in fact doesn’t need all that much more than the current rail line.

        For the grade crossings (esp. Totem Lake) Link can either duck down into a retained cut or go over with a bridge.

        Using any of the BNSF ROW for rail (or BRT) doesn’t preclude having a bike trail as well. It might not be as nice as it would be without trains running alongside, but it still could be done and would beat riding in traffic. I do agree a trail along the BNSF ROW from Woodinville to I-90 would be a nice addition to the regional trail system.

        As for the section South of NE 12th in Bellevue I don’t think it really becomes important for any potential Link alignment until South of I-90 since you have the East Link ROW between those points and probably want to interline. This solves the problem of what to do about the trestle and I-405 crossing. Presumably at the Renton end Link would connect to the Burien to Renton line via Southcenter and (hopefully) the Tukwilla Sounder station.

        I don’t think the BNSF ROW South of the Wineries is ever likely to see heavy rail service again. If there is to be a DMU demonstration it needs to happen soon or it never will. Therefore the only thing we’re likely to see other than a trail is some sections used for Link or BRT. The latter two are quite likely a long ways off, at least ST3 if not ST4.

      4. Zero Support for an East Link extension to Redmond? What?

        No, I’m saying zero support for the south extension to Renton, not Redmond. Lots of support for the extension to Redmond… just not enough to economize and actual get there without another round of funding.

        The cost saving with D5 won’t pay for a tunnel for sure but it might be the difference between what can be found (grants, LID, etc.) and what’s needed.

      5. No, I’m saying zero support for the south extension to Renton, not Redmond. Lots of support for the extension to Redmond… just not enough to economize and actual get there without another round of funding.

        Oh, it sounded like you were talking about Redmond above. I haven’t seen much discussion of an extension to Renton other than maybe a Burien to Renton line. I think the ST board decided for the near future that BRT/Express buses are the solution for the 405 corridor for the moment.

        The cost saving with D5 won’t pay for a tunnel for sure but it might be the difference between what can be found (grants, LID, etc.) and what’s needed.

        Other than being cheaper and slightly faster there is really nothing to reccomend the D5 alignment. Bypassing the biggest opportunity for TOD along East Link seems like a dumb idea. True there is a fair bit of opportunity in Redmond, but not enough to justify bypassing Bel-Red.

        Since ST has said paying for the tunnel is mostly Bellevue’s problem I don’t think they are going to cut corners on the rest of the line to give Bellevue a tunnel.

        I will say I think enough money will be found by the time construction starts to both give Bellevue it’s tunnel and complete the extension to downtown Redmond. This is without cutting corners on the other segments.

      6. Other than being cheaper and slightly faster there is really nothing to reccomend the D5 alignment.

        Well, faster and cheaper sounds like two high priority items :-) Add to that safer since it eliminates at grade segments and crossings in what might someday be office/residential. Honestly for me the concerns are congestion, cut through traffic and visual blight. I live on the hill north of Bel-Red. Early mornings we get woken sometimes by truck back-up alarms. The damn bells and other noise from Oh-dark-thirty until well after the witching hour would be awful. The Link alignments all bypass Auto Row which is closer to downtown and rapidly becoming a ghost town. Using the BNSF ROW there would be in a retained cut (no grade crossing with the existing line). That would be better than at grade through downtown and the cost savings would indeed allow the line to make it to Redmond in the first phase.

        As far as money to tunnel and/or complete the line I think you’re right that it will be there by the time construction starts. But then I’m figuring on the 50% schedule slide we’ve seen so far with Link which puts completion out around 2028.

  6. I don’t think we should EVER be giving up rail ROW, or old streetcar ROW. They were built in the first place to connect areas being built for people. Not all rail based systems should hit highly populated areas along the whole line. Some of them should just go through fast and ‘connect’ population and job centers.

    1. Agreed — giving up existing ROW over the last century is something that will cost us a lot of money over the next one.

      (Just in the last couple of decades we’ve seen some old wide streets that were wide because of their streetcar ROW, be filled with medians full of trees and plants — lovely, but it means we will probably never get streetcars back on those routes now. The neighbors would scream bloody murder.)

  7. Good to talk with you at the PubliCola Party last night, Martin! Is STB planning on making Endorsements? Any thought to organizing a transit issues forum with TCC and some others? Maybe include TOD and the current land use code revisions in the discussions?

    1. *L* I just went from this page over to Publicola, and noticed we’re caught in a pic they posted!

    2. Yes, we’re planning to do endorsements.

      There’s been talk between some different organizations about doing a forum, but we have yet to see a formal plan and will not be driving forward on one ourselves. We’d be happy, however, to contribute resources to a collective effort.

  8. What does rail banking mean? Does that mean you leave the tracks for future use, or you do a land swap for some other place you want to put rail?

    1. Rail banking means that the corridor must be left intact. That’s about it. It does more to guarantee that a bike trail will exist than that it will used for rail ever again. While theoretically that’s it’s purpose once the rail line is abandon any reestablishment of rail has to jump through all the EIS hoops that it would if rail had never existed there before. That means even if the public decides it wants rail the courts can say no. Railroads tended to push through the easiest route which was often along waterways and wetlands. Development that tends to grow around a long green belt isn’t usually going to scream put rail here.

      1. Depends somewhat on the corridor if there will be substantial obstacles and how long it has been a trail vs. a rail line. LACMTA has converted a number of old rail right of ways to either BRT (Orange Line) or light rail (Blue Line, Gold Line, Expo Line). There is also the example of WMTA in DC using some rail banked corridors for light rail. One thing to keep the objections from the cyclists down would be to ensure any conversion back to rail included a cycle trail.

        On the other hand if someone wanted to use either the Interurban or Burke-Gillman trail right of ways for light rail, commuter rail, or a streetcar I’m sure it would be tied up in court until the sun grew cold. Not to mention that the local cyclist community would make a big stink even if there was to be a bike trail alongside the new tracks.

        Hard to say how things would go if the Eastside Rail Corridor is converted to a trail and Sound Transit decides to re-use part of the ROW for BRT or a Link extension at some point in the future. ST has been remarkably effective in not allowing the EIS process drag on forever.

      2. Commuter rail is different than freight- you will have to go through an EIS, etc. to get commuter rail anyway.

      3. Was the old MILW Pacific extension railbanked? Because if BNSF wanted a third line from Seattle to Minneapolis/St. Paul, then it’s pretty self-explanatory.

      4. I’m not sure if it was railbanked, but portions are now trails, for example the Ironhorse trail and whatever the trail along the Cedar River from Renton is called.

      5. The Iron Horse is definitely rail banked. That was I believe the Milwaukee Road main east west corridor. What’s now the Summit East (aka Hyak) ski area was the first ski area in the pass and was called Milwaukee Ski Bowl and was served by the train. Beyond the political fight how would you get from Rattle Snake Lake to Seattle? I suppose you could try to take back the Snoqualmie Valley trail too but they you’re running all the way up to the BNSF mainline over Stevens Pass and that is maxed out already.

        I’m pretty sure the Cedar River Trail is also a rail banked rails to trails project.

      6. If the Ironhorse was to be re-used for rail I expect the old ROW all the way to Renton along the Cedar River would be used.

        In any case I don’t see it as too likely unless there is a big push for HSR to Spokane, I-90 might make more sense as a ROW anyway in that case.

        Stampede Pass is far from maxed out and throughput could be improved by installing modern signaling. Throughput on Stevens pass could be improved by also upgrading the signaling and by electrifying at least the tunnel. Supposedly fumes in the tunnel are the big limit on traffic over Stevens at the moment.

  9. Maybe we should follow Portland’s example with what they did to an abandoned rail line. THe Portland to Lake Oswego line was abandoned by Southern Pacific. To preserve the ROW, they let a non-profit organization operate trolleys over the line. The track passes multi-million dollar mansions as well as many well to do areas like the Woodinville Sub. The track is still intact and the ROW is preserved. Not only that, “trains” (a trolley counts, right?) still run on it. A win-win situation.If the ROW had been turned to a trail or the tracks removed like the Burke Gilman then the possibility of restoring rail service would have been slim to none.

    Pictures and Videos

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/rrshutterbug/2952536333/in/set-72157607959550824/

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibSuDQ2wbV4

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/rrshutterbug/sets/72157607959550824/

  10. I think you all need to think about this corridor more holistically in terms of transit. I am a huge rail booster and want to build as much rail in this region as possible. But I think Dow Constantine is exactly right on what should happen on this corridor for now.

    Rail may someday make sense on this corridor, but that time is not now. What we can do now is buy this corridor and build a trail soon that will serve thousands of commuters every day. The Burke-Gilman serves over 3,000 commuters a weekday and an Eastside trail could carry as many or more due to the lack of good bike connections on the Eastside and the tremendous movement north-south on the Eastside. As a bike corridor this trail would serve as a bike freeway in a sense that would drain a huge bikeshed of three miles or so on each side taking in much of the density on the Eastside to carry people to their jobs at Microsoft, Downtown Bellevue, or south to Renton where is would link to the Green River Trail and the Interurban. Bike trails don’t need to be located right next to density. But rail should.

    The BNSF corridor avoids most density on the Eastside. This is by design, people didn’t want to live near a track. One must walk 3/4 of a mile to downtown Bellevue, or over a mile to Microsoft from the tracks. Cities could rezone existing single family neighborhoods to provide some density, but frankly Bellevue has better opportunities they are pursuing in Bel-Red, Downtown, and Meydenbauer Bay. It doesn’t fit with the plans for density in the cities along the rest of the corridor either.

    This is a poor investment. The recent PSRC study estimated costs at $1.2-1.6 billion at least. The track is in horrible shape and only has symbolic value. Keeping it is the equivalent of laying poor track in the Seattle bus tunnel at the last minute. It will be torn up for any serious rail. There are 107 (!) at-grade crossings–almost all unimproved since trains infrequently ran on the line. Commuter rail would need frequency, and this would cause mobility problems for east-west travel on the Eastside. This corridor is also very curvy and average speeds would be estimated at 24 miles per hour after spending that billion dollars. You would likely have to build expensive grade separated crossings at a bare minimum at 8th NE in Bellevue and 124th in Kirkland.

    If this was the right corridor for the Eastside, Sound Transit would have used it. But it is not. We need rail that serves and encourages density. Building an expensive line that is estimated to carry less riders by rail daily than bicyclists is not where we should spend our money. We should focus on extending light rail before any investment in this corridor.

    And what entity is going to pony up the billion-and-a-half dollars to build this trail? Likely not ST, even in ST3. We can build a world-class trail now that will serve thousands of commuters and recreational users. Or we can waste years and money on an expensive rail corridor that is likely to be highly litigious and difficult to design and construct. BRT and park and rides are also a poor and expensive option here. The BRT wouldn’t be that rapid and park and rides at $30,000-60,000 a stall aren’t in the cards for a train that would carry few. The spur will be sold to Redmond no matter what happens to the rest of the trail.

    I’ll bet most of you debating this have actually never been on much of the corridor unless you rode a dinner train. Correct me if I am wrong. Larry Phillips is pandering by supporting dual use on the corridor right now. He wants to try to make the rail advocates on the left and the Discovery Institute nuts on the right both happy, while giving lip service to bikes.

    You can be pro-rail and not support building rail here or at least now. Lets do what we can do that will serve us now, rather than pursue an expensive pipe dream.

    1. I think the ridership numbers for an Eastside Commuter rail were a bit cooked. Two problems with the PSRC study were it didn’t even go to Downtown Renton much less Seattle or the Tukwilla Sounder station and the line for the Redmond spur had a whacky transfer at the Wineries rather than going into Woodinville. Based on what people like Brian have said I think their figure of $1.3 to $1.6 billion was a bit off as well.

      That said I’m not a big ESR supporter. I’m only interested if some sort of demonstration can be done relatively cheap. At this point I’m mostly interested in ensuring sections of the corridor can be re-used for either Link or BRT.

      The three sections most interesting to me for BRT or Link ROW use are Bellevue to Totem Lake, Coal Creek Parkway to Renton, and Redmond to Woodinville.

      A Link spur to Kirkland and Totem Lake will at least be looked at before the next round of Link expansion. There just aren’t that many ways to get between Bellevue and Kirkland that have reasonable costs and travel times. I-405 is even further from any desired station locations (S. Kirkland P&R, Houghton, Downtown Kirkland) than the BNSF ROW and WSDOT will want to keep the tracks out of the way of any future highway expansion. Therefore use of at least part of the BNSF ROW will be looked at and very likely will end up one of the better alternatives in terms of cost, ridership, and community objections.

      For BRT use, buses could enter/leave the ROW at the grade crossings at NE 8th in Bellevue, 108th NE near S. Kirkland P&R, 6th S and NE 87th near downtown Kirkland and at NE 124th and 124th NE in Totem Lake. Such a line would be able to use existing transfer and P&R facilities at Bellevue Transit Center, S. Kirkland P&R, Kirkland Transit Center, Totem Lake Transit Center, and Kingsgate P&R. There is also an opportunity for a station on the ROW at Houghton. To control grade crossings, particularly where buses are entering or leaving the corridor I would envision installing traffic signals similar to what LACMTA uses on the Orange Line.

      I’m not sure what the costs of turning that section of ROW into a BRT line would be but I’m guessing it would be less than putting in Link. It would provide a transit bypass of a rather congested section of I-405, preserve the corridor for future rail conversion, and provide access to 520 BRT and East Link for people traveling to and from Kirkland and Totem Lake.

      Note that I don’t think using the ROW for Link or BRT would preclude putting in some sort of trail, especially as the ROW is relatively wide between Woodinville and Bellevue.

      With the section from Wilburton to Renton, there hasn’t been much talk of Link in this corridor (at least as compared to a Kirkland spur). However if such a line is ever built there aren’t too many routing choices between Factoria and Renton. While I-405 and the BNSF ROW are very close in this section, using the BNSF ROW might prove more practical.

      For BRT you are mostly concerned about moving buses between Renton and Bellevue there isn’t much in the way of population or employment along 405 either until you get to Factoria/Eastgate. I think there are some small P&R lots and freeway stations, but due to the proximity of the BNSF ROW these could be easily served from there as well. One huge advantage of using this section for BRT would be bypassing one of the most congested sections of 405.

      Another thing about this section is there is already a perfectly good bike route/path between I-90 and Renton, using this route for a bike trail would duplicate what is already there. I suppose the existing trail could mostly be removed, especially the on-street sections, but it is hard to argue this section is needed all that badly.

      As for the Redmond Spur, the City of Redmond seems to have a pretty good plan for the corridor. A bike trail on both sides of the Sammamish Slough would be fairly useful. Due to the topography it is fairly easy to utilize the full ROW on this section which combined with the lack of residential uses nearby should make putting rail or BRT in at a later date relatively easy.

    2. Is there an official source that shows the full year bicycle commuter ‘ridership’ numbers?

      Who tracks that anyway, and how does one differentiate leisure (summer) bicycle use vs. the serious bicycle commuter?

      Jim

  11. Sure a lot of speculation going on here for a federally regulated railroad, which locals don’t own yet. Until the Port actually buys the line, which has been put off a few times already, there is nothing to talk about. If you want to preserve the corridor, we better put some pressure on our local politicians and KC to get it done as they – not the Port, will be supporting a trail and rail when that makes sense.
    We must figure North-South rail out on the Eastside because we can’t build roads fast enough to keep up with the congestion. This economic slowdown only distorts the reality of I-405 traffic just last year. East Link and Eastside Rail can easily coexist on the same tracks or crossings where necessary at minimal cost. As a matter of fact, it expands ridership on both systems.
    What about running the train under NE 8th and 124th?
    ST says they don’t have the money to go from Bellevue to Overlake and it has been less than a year since the election!
    The PSRC numbers are misleading. They include a $400M train control system that you only need if you are running freight during the day, which is not going to happen (3 nights a week is the plan I heard). Add 16 $20M stations, 32% for outside consultants ($400M), $10M a mile for a trail and it is easy to see how $1.6B was the total. The bottom line is ST doesn’t want to do it, but GNP Railway says they can for about $400M, including a paved trail, but it won’t be as fancy.
    I am willing to put my tax dollars into that solution.

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