Q: What is the most appropriate type of vehicle for the proposed transit service on the Eastside railroad?
A: The most appropriate, at least for the initial phases of service, would be diesel powered vehicles. They could be modern DMUs (diesel multiple units) or Sound Transit's Sounder heavy rail commuter trains.
Q: What would be the advantage of using DMUs?
DMUs are self-powered rail passenger cars that contain high-efficiency, low pollution internal combustion engines. They are very well suited for use on existing rail lines because they have operating characteristics similar to those of electrically powered transit vehicles but do not require the costly and time-consuming erection of overhead electric wires. Advantages over locomotive hauled trains, such as those used on the Sounder, include much lower costs of operation and faster acceleration.
Q: What would be the advantage of using Sounder trains?
A major reason to consider using the Sounder commuter trains is that some of the existing Sounder trains could be diverted to run from Tacoma to the Eastside instead of from Tacoma to Seattle using the existing track connection to the Eastside railroad west of Renton. Moreover, Sound Transit has a substantial surplus of Sounder locomotives and cars; they are currently being leased out to transit agencies elsewhere in the U.S., but they could brought back and put into use as their leases expire.
Q: Why not use electrically powered light rail vehicles?
It would initially be most economical to use diesel power because of the high cost of constructing the overhead electrical wires. In addition, electrification could add substantially to the time required until service could be started. It would probably make more sense to begin service as quickly as possible and at the lowest practical cost, and then electrify the line at some future date as the traffic volume, train frequency and the number of stations increase. If DMUs were initially used, they could then be transferred to less heavily trafficked rail lines in the region.
Q: Why not use a more modern mode of transportation such as monorail?
A: A major reason that monorail would be inappropriate is that the infrastructure for a rail transit service is already in place and such a service could be started relatively quickly at low cost, whereas the infrastructure for a monorail would have to be built from scratch and at a very high cost. Moreover, although monorail is a great concept, at least in theory, it suffers from some serious practical problems, including cumbersome switching arrangements and difficulty in running at ground level and in tunnels. Monorail is costly not only because it can only run on elevated beams but also because almost everything has to be custom produced and because there are very few suppliers and thus little competition. These are some of the reasons that almost all high capacity transit systems in the world, including those under construction, use steel wheels on steel rails. By the way, monorail really isn't anything new -- the first monorail was built more than a century ago.
Q: What infrastructure is already in place?
A: There is an operating railroad that is currently used to haul freight (including very heavy but fragile fuselages to Boeing's aircraft assembly plant in Renton) and the Spirit of Washington dinner train. The right of way contains a mostly single track rail line with signals and gates for major road crossings. There is a historic passenger station in Renton as well as land for additional stations at various locations along the line. There are several passing sidings and spurs along the route, and there are track connections to other lines west of Renton and near Snohomish. The track is fairly well maintained, despite claims by King Country that it is in poor shape.
Q: Are statements by King County that the track is not suitable for rail transit true?
A: No. The track is currently suitable to begin a pilot or demonstration service. Moreover, the track could be upgraded at a cost only a fraction of that of Sound Transit's proposed light rail line to the Eastside.
Q: What needs to be upgraded?
A: New rails could be installed in a number of locations to provide a smoother and faster ride, and passing sidings should be added at several locations to allow trains to pass each other on the mostly single track line. Some simple stations would also be needed as well as a storage and maintenance facility for the vehicles.
Q: What about amenities for the proposed transit service?
A: This is an important point. Although fast, safe and economical train service is fundamental to the project, there is much more that could be done to maximize the attractiveness of the system and thereby induce as many people as possible to use it instead of driving. A variety of amenities could be provided at low cost on the trains, in the stations and along the right of way. One example would be to make the system computer-friendly, including providing Wi-Fi in both the vehicles and stations. Another would be to make the system as convenient as possible for passengers with bicycles. For more information, please refer to the page Eastside Rail Amenities.
Q: Does the railroad have any scenic or historic value?
A: Yes, it has a lot of both, and this can be considered as an important part of the amenities. It played a key role in the development of the Eastside and several historic structures remain along the route. Among the diverse scenic attractions are Lake Washington, the Bellevue skyline and the farmlands north of Woodinville. The spectacular Wilburton trestle just south of downtown Bellevue is both scenic and historic. For images of some of the scenery, please refer to the page Scenes Along the Eastside Railroad.
Q: Could the right of way be used as a multi-purpose corridor?
A: Yes. The rail uses could include both the existing rail functions (freight, the dinner train and serving as an emergency bypass for Burlington Northern's line through downtown Seattle) as well as transit. All of these could operate on the same track or tracks. Other uses would include a linear nature preserve and a trail for pedestrians and bicycles.
Q: Would it be practical to include a trail on the right of way along with the tracks?
A: Yes, very much so. The right of way has a width of about 100 feet along most of its length. Assuming a generous 20 feet per track, this would leave 80 feet for the nature preserve and trail in the case of single tracked sections and 60 feet in the case of double tracked sections.
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This page created March 5, 2007. Updated March 30, 2007.
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