Q: For a while much of the public had the impression that Ron Sims' plan to acquire and scrap the Eastside railroad was almost a done deal. Is this impression correct?
A: In reality, the issue is still far from decided. There is intense opposition to removing the rails, both among ordinary citizens and among some government officials, including several members of the King County Council. Moreover, opposition is growing as more and more people start to find out more about what is really going on.
Q: Is there any hope for stopping the scrapping of the railroad?
A: Yes. For one thing, it is not clear that Sims has enough support from the King County Councilmembers and the Port of Seattle Commissioners for this to pass. Both of those have to approve the three-way airport-railroad swap deal. Success is possible, particularly if we can get enough community participation and intensify our efforts to let officials on all levels of government know how we feel about it.
Also, it is possible that scrapping the railroad would not be permitted under existing Washington state law. Even if the deal were to be approved, the plan to scrap the railroad could be tied up in the courts for years. Such a delay could kill the deal, particularly if more reform-oriented candidates are elected to the King County Council and/or the Port of Seattle Commissioners.
Q: Is there any precedent for such a citizen's movement leading to the preservation of a railroad or to the start of a rail transit service?
A: Yes. There are a number of precedents for such grassroots movements overturning poorly conceived or corrupt government decisions. One of the most famous is that of Friedel Klussmann, who founded a group to save the San Francisco cable cars in 1947 after she found out that the city government was preparing to replace them with busses. A much more recent example is the Expo light rail line in Southern California, which will run on a former railroad right of way through the heavily populated and highly congested area between downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica. Citizens fought for it for years against difficult odds, and it is now finally under construction.
Q: What were some of the difficulties faced by the citizens who were promoting the Expo line?
A: One was that the railroad had been dismantled years ago, and thus it is necessary to reconstruct it completely from scratch, including new tracks, bridges, tunnels and road crossing signals. This is extremely expensive. Another obstacle was that government officials kept insisting that there were higher transit priorities elsewhere in the region. However, it is difficult to imagine such greater priorities because the route passes through some of the highest density and most congested areas west of the Mississippi River.
Q: Will it be easier to get transit launched on the Eastside railroad than it was to get construction started of the Expo line?
A: Yes, it is quite likely. One reason is that it could be far less expensive, particularly if the existing railroad is kept intact and the transit service on it is implemented in stages. Keeping the railroad intact is the most crucial part.
Q: Why not just widen the parallel freeway?
A: Experience in cities throughout the U.S. has shown that widening freeways can add to capacity but that it also has some severe disadvantages. One is that it doesn't really reduce congestion for long, as more cars come to take up the added capacity. Another is that it harms the environment by adding to air pollution, noise and visual blight. In addition, it is incredibly expensive, with a total cost possibly eventually exceeding $20 billion for the planned widening of the I-405. This is far higher than the notorious Big Dig freeway project in Boston. Actually, the I-405 freeway has already been widened several times and is currently being widened again, but congestion just keeps getting worse. For a closer look at this issue, please see The Great I-405 Boondoggle.
Q: What would happen if King County succeeds in removing the tracks?
A: This would be a serious setback for the Eastside -- for its transportation, for its economy and for its environment. However, a growing number of citizens on the Eastside are ready to launch a persistent battle to reinstall the tracks should they be removed.
Q: Do the opponents of the railroad really think that they will succeed in removing the tracks?
A: Initially, Ron Sims and others were apparently quite confident that they could. This might be in part because of the success that they had in removing the tracks on the east shore of Lake Sammamish several years ago despite a long and bitter battle with nearby residents and others.
Q: Is the situation different now?
A: Yes, it is very different. For example, at that time the King County Council was unanimously in favor or removing the railroad. This time, however, there is much less support on the Council, and several council members are strongly opposed to it. Also, this time opposition is more broadly based. It includes not only local residents but also advocates of balanced transportation, people who are concerned about the environment and some shippers on the railroad. The reason is that this line has a far greater potential for use for transit and other uses than did the Lake Sammamish line.
Q: Is there any real hope of forcing King County to reinstall the tracks should they succeed in removing them?
A: Yes, for several reasons. One is that informal polls have indicated that most people on the Eastside who are aware of Ron Sims' plan are against it. A typical statement by people regarding the plan is that keeping the tracks is a "nobrainer." Also, pressure to reinstall the rails can only increase as the already bad congestion on the parallel I-405 freeway continues to worsen and gas prices rise. Moreover, the pressure will further intensify as residents become even more concerned about global climate change.
Q: What would be the effect of defeat of the November transportation ballot measure on the Eastside railroad situation?
A: Defeat could be very good for the future of the railroad as well as for the Eastside and the region as a whole. This is because it could cause Sound Transit and other government agencies to go back to the drawing board and begin to rethink their plans and come up with lower cost and more effective solutions. The most obvious of these is, of course, to begin a transit service on the Eastside railroad that could be used by tens of thousands of people per day instead of ripping out the tracks for a bicycle trail that would be used by a few hundred people a day. For more information, please see FAQ: The November Ballot.
Q: What are the most useful things that ordinary citizens can do to help stop the scrapping of the railroad?
A: They include becoming aware of the issues, informing others (including telling them about our web site), contacting public officials and voting for candidates in the November election who want to save the railroad. For more information about what you can do, please visit the page How to Help Save the Eastside Railroad.
Q: Why is it so important to inform more people about Ron Sims' plan?
A: People in this region are not dumb. Once they learn the facts, they know that the plan to scrap the railroad does not make any sense. This has been confirmed by informal public opinion polls. Thus, the more people who are informed, the more people we will have on our side, and the more pressure they will put on the politicians to stop this thing.
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This page created March 4, 2007. Last updated July 19, 2007.
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