A 1920s trolley car that Woodinville could use to connect its wine districts with downtown is up for auction at a low price, but it’s probably too late to purchase it, council members agreed at last week’s City Council meeting. Still, several council members said the city should keep trying to start a trolley service within the city.
The starting bid for the trolley car is $179,000 – a good bargain compared to the $550,000 that the Issaquah Historical Society spent to buy and refurbish a similar trolley car, said Councilmember Les Rubstello. But the deadline for the auction is Nov. 20.
"There’s a lot of loose ends, admittedly," Rubstello said. "Who’s going to operate it? Where’s it going to be stored? Who’s going to maintain it? Do we have agreements yet with King County to run on their rails? No. Do we have agreements yet with the Eastside Community Rail to run on their rails? No. None of those things are in place."
Because the auction is so soon, he didn’t suggest Woodinville bid on the trolley car, but he proposed that the city try to buy a similar car soon to start a trolley service on Woodinville’s existing tracks, which run between the southern wine tourism district, downtown Woodinville and northern wine warehouse district.
Rubstello said when he was on the planning commission, businesses in downtown complained that the city devoted all its resources to businesses in the tourist district. A trolley would alleviate that problem by connecting both tourist districts with the central business district.
"Early on, when we talked about this years ago, it was just more pie in the sky," Councilmember Scott Hageman said. "But now that there’s such a huge amount of customer traffic in the tourist area, and we’re still talking about it, how do we get them up here to the CBD? How do we get that circulation mix that we all want to see?"
Hageman was enthusiastic about moving forward with the trolley project because it would help Woodinville differentiate itself from other cities, he said. Rubstello said many nearby cities don’t have railroad tracks or only have them on the outskirts of town.
"Having a trolley running among our major points of interest in town — I’ve been trying to think of any town that could even do that, because most towns, if they have train tracks, they have freight rail running on them, and they aren’t available to trolley service," Rubstello said. "And the towns that have tracks and no service, like Redmond and Kirkland, have tended to pull their tracks out. We’ve left ours in, and so we could actually put existing rail infrastructure to our own use. It’s an extremely unique idea in that it runs within our city."
Mayor Bernie Talmas said that although he liked the idea of connecting the tourist districts and downtown with a trolley, the hardest part of the project would be getting the right of way.
"Why is it that guys like these mechanical gadgets so much?" wondered Councilmember Susan Boundy-Sanders (who was the only female council member present at the meeting.)She acknowledged that citizens have asked for transportation around town, but she’s concerned because the estimated cost of $200,000 to buy the trolley and get it to Woodinville wouldn’t cover right of way, easements, platforms, operational costs and legal fees. The city should do a feasibility study before buying a trolley, she said.
"I don’t want to put us in the position where we have a trolley, we’ve spent $200,000 on a trolley, therefore we must spend all this other money to get it into operation — simultaneously eroding our bargaining position because everybody who bids on all the other parts of the project would know we’re desperate because we’ve spent this initial $200,000," she said.