|Plans for Eastside Rail Corridor gathering steam|
|Written by Sarah DeVleming, UW News Lab|
ShareThe Eastside TRailway Alliance has big plans to breathe new life into the semi-deserted Eastside Rail Corridor, a 44-mile train corridor that runs from Renton in the south to Snohomish in the north.
Currently, the corridor is used to transport freight only a couple times a week, according to Bruce Agnew, director of the Cascadia Center for New Development.
However, the rail corridor could become booming again if all goes according to plan for the Eastside TRailway Alliance. It is hoping to secure $6.2 million in public and private funds to rehabilitate the 15-mile stretch of tracks from Woodinville to Snohomish. This upgrade would mean expanded freight operations, as well as a proposal for an excursion train.
Eastside Community Rail, supported by the Eastside TRailway Alliance, would sponsor the excursion train.
Kathy Cox, excursion train managing director for Eastside Community Rail, said the train would be called the Bounty of Washington: Tasting Train.
“It will celebrate local food, wine and stories [of the region],” Cox said. “It will be a taste festival on a train.”
The Bounty of Washington would run along with Eastside Rail Corridor tracks through Snohomish and Woodinville.
Eastside Community Rail believes that an excursion train would bring people and business into the Woodinville area.
“There used to be a formal excursion train, The Spirit of Washington Dinner Train,” Cox said.
The Bounty of Washington would offer a similar experience, and the majority of local businesses are warming up to the idea, Cox said.
According to Cox, 92 percent of wineries in Washington that responded to a poll sponsored by Eastside Community Rail support the Bounty of Washington, thinking it would be a good business venture.
However, the city of Kirkland has a different idea regarding what to do with its 5.75-mile segment of the tracks: It wants to build an interim trail of gravel on the preexisting rail bed.
According to David Godfrey, transportation engineering manager for the city, Kirkland wants to make use of the tracks as soon as possible.
“We feel like [a gravel trail is] what best fits our vision for the corridor,” Godfrey said. “Nobody is coming forward for any kind of use of the rails. … Nobody said ‘here is an actual proposal we have.’”
The stretch of tracks in Kirkland currently attracts walkers and hikers. A gravel trail would enhance the walking space.
The city plans to build the trail in gravel rather than cement so it will not be permanent, in case the rail segment will need to be rebuilt in the future, Godfrey said.
Kirkland is moving along with the gravel trail plan quickly.
A bid opening has been scheduled to see if any contracting companies could take on the project.
“If they’re in an appropriate range, we can move forward,” Godfrey said.
The city believes that if a gravel trail were put in over the tracks, it would attract new businesses to the area.
If the trail grew in popularity, Kirkland believes businesses would want to set up shop nearby, therefore creating more jobs.
The Eastside TRailway Alliance, however, disagrees. Karen Guzak, mayor of Snohomish and co-chair of the Alliance, believes that updating the rail line — including the segment in Kirkland — would be more beneficial than a gravel interim trail.
“I think there will be some jobs [generated from the trail] but I don’t think there will be nearly the number of jobs if there was a rail line,” Guzak said.
She also sees other benefits to leaving Kirkland’s rail segment in place for the time being.
“We wish that they would leave the rail there so we could do a regional study,” Guzak said. “We also see long-term commuter potential.”
According to Agnew, director of the Cascadia Center, the rail could also be used to transport construction materials to explore “temporary repurposing” of the corridor.
“The rail corridor could be repurposed by bringing construction material in … and taking it back out in a closed loop recycle,” Agnew said. “That would reduce costs to taxpayers.”
In addition, transporting any material by rail is more environmentally friendly, according to Agnew.
Transporting construction material by double dump trucks requires a large quantity of diesel fuel and emits pollutants into the air.
“We can improve air quality and public health by using trains for these construction projects,” Agnew said.
The trail itself has been around for over 100 years.
Previously owned by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, the rail corridor was purchased by the Port of Seattle in 2009 for $81 million.
The Kirkland segment, formally called the Cross Kirkland Corridor, was purchased from the Port of Seattle in 2011 for $5 million.
Regardless of what will ultimately happen to the Kirkland rail segment, the Eastside TRailway Alliance is hoping to get enough funds to rehabilitate the rail corridor from Woodinville to Snohomish by next year.
“I’m not very optimistic we will get all of [the money] by this year,” Guzak said.
Once the funds are in place and the rail corridor is updated, including rehabilitation of bridges that the rail line crosses, the focus will be shifting to the Bounty of Washington tasting train.
If Kirkland does not turn its rail segment into a gravel trail, Cox hopes that one day the Bounty of Washington will go through the city as well.
“We don’t want Kirkland to build over it,” Cox said. “We want to start the excursion service there, too.”
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