July 5, 2008
A number of people have contacted us recently to find out what's happening in the long-running battle to save and effectively utilize the Eastside railroad and what can be expected in the coming weeks. There has been little news in the mainstream media for some time, and thus it may appear that not much has been happening. In reality, however, this is an exciting time for those of us who are genuinely concerned about the future of the railroad, and thus about the future of our region as a whole. For example:
(1) Although the Port of Seattle cannot really do much until the Surface Transportation Board (STB) approves the sale (expected for late this year) and thus the deal finally closes, it has been proceeding with a preliminary "public process" regarding the future of the railroad. While some parties are not fully satisfied with the way the meetings have gone -- not due to any bad intentions on the part of the Port -- this still represents a huge improvement over the earlier effort to scrap the railroad as quickly as possible and without any attempt at public input.
(2) A public opinion survey commissioned by Sound Transit found -- likely much to its shock -- that starting a demonstration commuter rail service on the Eastside railroad ranks as one of the most desired rail transit projects. Moreover, this popularity is not just confined to the Eastside, but rather it extends to the other parts of the three-county region as well, including Snohomish and Pierce Counties, where much of the Eastside's growing workforce must live because of the far lower cost of housing. (See ST2 Update, First Quarter 2008 Public Involvement, pp. 20-25, Sound Transit, March 13, 2008.)
(3) The Washington State Legislature has allocated $100,000 for a new study of commuter rail on the Eastside railroad, and Sound Transit is contributing another $200,000. This comes in the wake of Eastside Rail Now's public disclosure that the Puget Sound Regional Council's (PSRC) $800,000 "study" of the railroad was severely flawed and thus not suitable for use in making objective decisions about the future of the railroad. The new study will be conducted jointly by the PSRC and Sound Transit.
(4) The Sound Transit board is moving closer to a very difficult decision as to whether it will place a transit measure on the ballot this November. Should it decide to defer the ballot measure, this would put more pressure on the board to start spending money on the Eastside railroad (in large part because of the legally mandated "sub-area equity"). And should the measure be placed on the ballot but be rejected by the voters, this would also be great for the railroad (and, we believe, for rail transit in the region as a whole), just as the rejection of Proposition 1 last November was.
(5) It is increasingly looking like activist Tim Eyman's traffic initiative will appear on the November ballot. This measure would open the HOV lanes to general traffic for most of the day. One consequence would be to severely affect the speed, reliability and operating cost of the so-called "bus rapid transit" that the powers-to-be have decided that we should have in the I-405 corridor instead of rail. Thus, this could clearly work in favor of starting commuter service on the existing railroad.
(6) Efforts are being started to get the Legislature to provide funding for a bridge to allow restoration of the section of track that was removed earlier this year at Wilburton Tunnel in conjunction with the widening of the I-405 freeway.
(7) Eastside Rail Now's recent proposals for (a) a sensible regional rail transit plan, (b) downtown Bellevue's Grand Esplanade and (c) a rail extension to the UB/Bothell are generating a great deal of interest. And they are helping to open people's eyes to the unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that creative use of the railroad would provide for enhancing our region and helping solve some of its most pressing problems.
January 9, 2008
The most powerful elected official in the region was interviewed on KUOW about the fate of one of the most important transportation assets in the region.
It was a strange interview. It was strange because that official, King County Executive Ron Sims, managed to say virtually nothing of consequence despite the great importance of the topic and the considerable time available. It was even stranger because his statements contained numerous and serious errors.
Among the Executive's truly bizarre statements was:
It is Burlington Northern Santa Fe, so it's in very, very poor shape. The Puget Sound Regional Council says it's also in very, very poor shape.
This is both factually incorrect and very misleading. "Very, very poor shape" implies that the track is barely passable and is subject to frequent derailments, even at speeds as low as five or ten miles per hour. The track is, in fact, in generally fair to good condition, and is typical of a secondary main line. It is being used regularly by Boeing to ship its valuable 737 fuselages without problems, it was used for double stack container trains during 2007, and it was used by the dinner train until that train was unnecessarily forced to terminate its operation. Also, the Puget Sound Regional Council's BNSF Corridor Preservation Study, despite all of its problems, did not claim that the track was in "very, very poor shape."
The statement is misleading because it implies that the track is useless because of its supposedly terrible condition. However, even the worst of track can be upgraded, and usually at a relatively modest cost -- a cost far lower than that of first removing the track and then putting in new track at some later date, and a cost only a tiny fraction of that for the ultra-expensive new light rail lines that the Executive has been pushing to build.
Later in the interview the Executive made the even more bizarre statement:
It can't be a two way corridor, and so there's some challenges trying to figure. And the only way you can make it a two way corridor is actually begin to do some condemnation of adjacent properties..."
This statement displays an astonishing ignorance of even the most basic fundamentals of rail transportation. Although some sections of the corridor might only be wide enough for a single track, this is absolutely no obstacle to operating a high quality commuter rail service -- and one that runs in both directions. In fact, most railway lines in the U.S. and throughout the world, including many commuter rail lines, are single tracked. They operate in both directions by using strategically located passing sidings, which already exist on the Eastside railroad.
The Executive completely evaded answering the excellent question asked by a caller regarding his justification for replacing the track with a bicycle trail on the sections of the railroad that are already paralleled by trails. Amazingly, these are the two sections that the Executive wants to purchase from the Port of Seattle for scrapping and replacement by bicycle trails, now that he has been defeated in his original plan to acquire the entire railroad for scrapping.
The Executive droned on and on with flimsy excuses as to why it is so necessary to replace the railroad with bicycle trails, while conveniently forgetting to mention that the region already has more miles of bicycle trails than almost any other urban area in the U.S. But he failed to mention even once the far more urgent topics of global warming and severe traffic congestion on the parallel I-405, despite the fact that he has for years been a leading advocate of spending tens of billions of dollars on entirely new and vastly more expensive light rail lines supposedly to fight those same problems.
In fact, the Executive claimed to be so concerned about the environment that he jeopardized the years of hard work by his colleagues by coming out strongly against Proposition 1 just weeks before the November 2007 election. The question remains as to why he did not instead begin working with them from an earlier stage to improve that package and thereby avoid a great deal of wasted expenditure and years of squandered opportunity. It has been widely suggested that his sudden switch was less about his proclaimed environmental enlightenment than it was about self-serving opportunism, regardless of the consequences. Although our local tradition of Nordic reserve and politeness prevents his colleagues from saying so in public, it is likely that their feelings for him will never again be the same.
This view that the Executive has little genuine concern for the environment and the taxpayers is further evidenced by, among other things, his stubborn obsession with scrapping the Eastside railroad, regardless of the resulting damage to the Eastside and to the region as a whole. If he were truly so concerned about the environment and fiscal responsibility, he would have reversed his position about the railroad just as he did regarding Proposition 1. Instead, he has remained the dominant advocate for a policy aimed at destroying one of the Eastside's biggest and most cost-effective weapons in fighting global warming, traffic congestion, sprawl and various other problems.
On the basis of his demonstrated lack of understanding of even the most basic of transportation concepts, his apparent lack of genuine concern about the environment, and his unwillingness to be straightforward with his colleagues and the public, some may ask whether Ron Sims is really worth the $165,000 or more that he is paid for his current position. We will not address that issue here. May it suffice to say that it is becoming obvious to a rapidly growing segment of the population that he is totally unqualified to serve in any position with any responsibility for transportation or environmental protection after he finishes his current term in office.
November 13, 2007
Eastside Rail Now! has completed its long awaited review of the Puget Sound Regional Council's BNSF Corridor Preservation Study.
The PSRC study is impressive at first glance, with its massive size, abundance of high quality photographs and drawings, frequent use of trendy buzzwords and endorsements from numerous local political and business leaders -- as well as its $800,000 cost. This is likely a major reason that few people appear to have read it carefully, must less to have questioned it.
However, Eastside Rail Now! found the PSRC study to be severely flawed. In fact, it contains not just one, but several major defects, each of which is so serious that it alone would render the report unsuitable for making rational policy decisions about the future of the Eastside railroad and its generous right of way. Among these defects are the failure to employ any recognized transportation infrastructure decision making methodology, inadequate evaluation of the major potential uses for the railroad, fiscal irresponsibility and the appearance of conflict of interest.
For example, the study virtually completely ignores the railroad's most important potential use, which is as the core of a regional commuter rail system. Its authors brush this off by claiming that the railroad is poorly located, and they conveniently neglect to mention that it parallels the most congested freeway in the entire Northwest and runs through or near most major destinations on the Eastside. In fact, it would be difficult to imagine a more suitable route for rail transit on the Eastside, except possibly something constructed from scratch at a cost of many billions of dollars.
Another example of the extremely sloppy work of the PSRC study is that it completely overlooks the most important environmental issues. Likewise, it neglects to give serious consideration to the potential economic benefits of the railroad as well as to its role in regional security.
The PSRC study is so seriously and consistently flawed and lacking in objectivity, despite the fact that some obviously talented and dedicated people worked on it, that it almost appears that it was designed that way intentionally.
In fact, there is the strong appearance of a serious conflict of interest due to the PSRC's inexplicable decision to appoint a leading bicycle advocate, King Cushman, to oversee its costly study advocating the effective destruction of a fully operational rail line -- which is not only useful for passenger service, but also essential as a back-up freight corridor for emergency circumstances -- in order to develop a bicycle trail that indisputably benefits his personal interests as a director of the Cascade Bicycle Club.
It is disappointing when so much money and effort is devoted to a project that is so lacking in objectivity. But far worse than this waste of $800,000 is the fact that this study is being used to facilitate a policy that will likely have severe consequences for both the Eastside and the region as a whole for decades to come, including an unnecessary cost to the taxpayers of many hundreds of millions, or even billions, of dollars.
Eastside Rail Now! wishes to thank those individuals who provided assistance and/or encouragement for this review (including several PSRC people).
Corridor vs. Tracks vs. Right of Way
The Eastside Railroad and Grade Crossings
Eastside Rail Now! and Light Rail
Continued Growth in Web Site Visits
Continued Progress Abroad, Third World Mentality Here
End of the Dinner Train?
Minneapolis Bridge Disaster and Our Region
Port Kills Airport-Railroad Swap Deal -- a Major Victory for the Entire Region
About the Open Letter to King County Executive Ron Sims
Eastside Rails and Boeing Field
Sinking Viaduct and Traffic Mitigation
Our First Six Months
Support from Thom McCann
The Strange Case of the Already Existing Trails
Encouraging News From Ron Sims?
Why Yet Another Blog?