The above sketch is an artist's impression of a two-car diesel multiple unit (DMU) commuter train stopped at a proposed first-stage rail station at the existing 40th Street park-and-ride lot in the midst of Microsoft's headquarters complex in Redmond.1 As part of the Eastside railroad, this station would undoubtedly become one of the busiest rail stations in the entire region,2 surpassed only by downtown Seattle and, possibly, by downtown Bellevue.
Along with the establishment of a commuter rail service on the Eastside railroad, one of the most beneficial and cost-effective transportation projects in the entire the Puget Sound metropolitan area would be the construction of a branch line of the same railroad that would extend from the existing track near downtown Bellevue though the Overlake corridor and via Microsoft's headquarters to connect to the existing track in downtown Redmond.3 Among the important benefits that such rail line would provide are:
(1) Direct rail access to the Northwest's largest employer, thereby allowing more than 30,000 Microsoft employees quick and convenient access to most major destinations on the Eastside, including downtown Bellevue where the company has a rapidly growing presence, as well as parts of Snohomish County, South King County and Pierce County. Most Microsoft employees commute in a roughly north-south direction parallel to the railroad rather than from Seattle.4
(2) Rail transit service for Bellevue's soon-to-be-redeveloped Overlake corridor, thereby facilitating the city's goal of transforming it into a high-density, pedestrian-oriented area.
(3) Greatly improved access to and from rapidly-growing downtown Redmond as well as to and from the nearby Willows Road high-tech area.
(4) Increased capacity and some emergency redundancy for the strategically located Eastside railroad, whose importance can only grow in the future as population continues to increases, fuel prices resume their long-term upward trend, and concern about environmental degradation grows.
(5) An alternative north-south route to allow rail freight traffic to bypass Kirkland, where the line runs near several residential areas. It would also allow Kirkland residents to determine how much passenger service they want for their city.
(6) Facilitating construction of a trail to fill in the gap between existing trails parallel to the railroad (which exist between Woodinville and Redmond and most of the way between South Bellevue and Renton), thereby allowing an almost continuous pedestrian/bicycle/equestrian route between Woodinville and Renton. A trail adjacent to this new rail line would offer several important advantages over one adjacent to the existing railroad line between Woodinville and Bellevue, including that (a) it would likely be much more heavily used because of its passage through Microsoft, the Overlake area, etc., (b) it could be substantially cheaper to build, because it would be much shorter (since two trails already exist between Redmond and Woodinville) and because the rail line and trail could be constructed at the same time, (c) it would avoid objections of many homeowners who do not want a public-access trail adjacent to their back yards5 and (d) the route is less ecologically sensitive.
Fortunately, the right of way is already largely in public ownership, and much of the remainder is in an area scheduled for major redevelopment with provision for a rail line. The route is similar to that selected by Sound Transit for the eastern portion of its proposed East Link light rail line. However, construction of that line, would likely occur far in the future, if ever, whereas construction of a branch of the Eastside railroad in the corridor could be completed in just a few years.
This line could also be constructed at a far lower cost than East Link. Reasons include (a) it could be made mainly single tracked with passing sidings, rather than double tracked, (b) it could be operated with DMU trains and thereby avoid the considerable expense of electrification, (c) the massive vehicle storage and maintenance facility proposed for East Link in the Overlake corridor could be greatly scaled back or eliminated, (d) simplified, low cost stations such as proposed for the rest of the Eastside railroad could be used and (e) construction could begin almost immediately, while materials and construction costs are low due to the recession.
The new line would diverge from the Eastside railroad's main line north of NE 12th Street near downtown Bellevue and head eastward at grade or on an elevated structure roughly parallel to Northup Way (also called NE 20th Street) and Bel-Red Road. It would eventually turn to the northeast and run along unused WSDOT right of way on the south and east sides of SR-520. This right of way would permit running mainly at grade, but with no or few grade crossings. The line would then run below grade near the 40th Street park-and-ride lot and pass below 40th Street (shown in the above illustration) because of the lower elevation of the freeway and parking lot in that area and so as to not interrupt traffic on 40th Street.
The 40th Street park-and-ride lot would be an ideal location for a station because (a) it is already a major transfer/embarcation/debarcation point, (b) it is close to the geographical center of Microsoft's headquarters complex and (c) there is already an overpass that can be used by pedestrians to cross SR-520.
As it approaches downtown Redmond, the line would cross over SR-520 and continue north to connect slightly to the west of that downtown with the existing trackage. This alignment, which differs from that proposed by Sound Transit for East Link, would allow direct service through to Woodinville and areas north of it. The remaining trackage in downtown Redmond to the east of this connection should be retained, initially for possible use for rail vehicle storage, and ultimately for allowing trains to run into downtown Issaquah and beyond after reinstallation of the hastily removed track along the Eastern shore of Lake Sammamish.
2An East Link station in the same area would likely be much more lightly used, because it would not serve the main corridors in which most Microsoft employees travel, as discussed below.
3The initial version of this idea was formally proposed to the Sound Transit Board by Eastside Rail Now! on April 26, 2007. See Eastside Rail Now's Testimony at the April 26 Sound Transit Board Meeting. Unfortunately, however, Sound Transit has not provided an official response, apparently because of its preoccupation with the far more costly East Link light rail line.
4Thus, having Microsoft's headquarters complex served by the Eastside railroad would make much more sense than having it served by East Link. Although the latter would also provide convenient access to downtown Bellevue and downtown Redmond, it would fail to provide any direct service north of Redmond, including to Woodinville and to Snohomish County, and it would likewise fail to provide any direct service south of Bellevue, including to Renton, the Kent Valley and Pierce County. Although East Link would provide service into Seattle for that minority of Microsoft employees living in Seattle, it would be a roundabout service via the I-90 floating bridge rather than via the more direct route across the SR-520 bridge.
5Although a small group of homeowners along the rail line in the Houghton area of Kirkland became very vociferous several months ago in its desire for the railroad to be replaced by a bicycle trail, apparently many other property owners along the rail line are opposed to construction of the trail and want to retain the railroad. One indication of the potential opposition to the trail is the prolonged and bitter opposition by adjacent homeowners several years ago to King County's plan to replace the section of track along the eastern shore of Lake Sammamish with a public access trail.
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Created November 7, 2008.
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