July 25, 2007
King County Executive Ron Sims
Bank of America Tower
701 Fifth Avenue, Suite 3210
Seattle, WA 98104
Dear Ron Sims,
We had long held great expectations for you. We had wanted to believe that you were someone special, someone who would rise above the level of ordinary politicians, with their lack of vision and subservience to narrow vested interests, to provide world-class leadership on crucial transportation, environmental and other issues for the 21st century.
Unfortunately, we have been extremely disappointed by your push to scrap the Eastside railroad and replace it with a bicycle trail. This plan represents potential disaster for the Eastside. It could set back transportation and environmental progress by decades. Experience elsewhere has shown that once the rails are gone, it can take many years, or even decades, to put them back in, despite the supposed assurances of the Rails-to-Trails Act. And it would be vastly more costly than leaving the existing tracks in place and gradually upgrading them, as has long been a standard railroad practice.
Moreover, your plan is extremely unpopular. Informal surveys have shown that there is overwhelming support for keeping the rails in place. We frequently hear comments, including from bicycle riders, such as "Keeping the rails is a no-brainer" and "Removing the tracks doesn't make any sense." We have even been receiving e-mails from elsewhere in the U.S. and from abroad by people saying that they are in shock that this is happening in a region which has a reputation for being so progressive. Of the many hundreds of people we have talked to, virtually no one has said "Wow, this is a brilliant idea to rip out an operating railroad and replace it with a bicycle trail and to spend $66 million of the taxpayers' money to do so."
Also, many of us on the Eastside want to start using the railroad for a transit service as quickly as possible. We do not want to have to wait until the year 2027 to get rail transit as promised by Sound Transit. The existing railroad provides a unique opportunity for this, as it parallels the most congested freeway in the Northwest and passes through or near most major destination on the Eastside. It would be used by many thousands of riders daily (versus a few hundred for a bicycle trail). Independent railroad and transit experts have confirmed both its nearly ideal routing and that we could have a simple, pilot transit service in operation at minimal cost within a matter of months.
No, the track is not perfect. Nor has the track been perfect on other railroads on which transit service has been started elsewhere either. But independent surveys by track experts have shown that it is generally in good condition, not the "poor" condition that has been sometimes stated by its opponents. It is in sufficiently good condition that the dinner train has operated for years without problems -- and people will pay good money to ride it. And it is good enough for Boeing to use to ship its fragile aircraft fuselages.
An extensive upgrading of the entire 47 mile railroad to allow higher speeds than the current 35 mph limit and more frequent service could be accomplished for roughly $200 million when funds eventually become available. This is roughly what Sound Transit spends for a single mile of its light rail construction. And it is just a small fraction of the cost of what we would have to pay for reinstalling the tracks after they had been ripped out and replaced with a trail.
Ron, don't let yourself be fooled by the "BNSF Corridor Preservation Study" by the Puget Sound Regional Council. That report, which is often cited by opponents of the railroad to justify ripping out the tracks, is a bad joke (and at considerable taxpayer expense). It uses faulty assumptions and weak logic, and it would not even be accepted in a basic college economics class.
All the supposed obstacles to starting transit service on the railroad can be overcome with your political skills, should you really want to. As just one example, the $66 million that the Port of Seattle would provide to scrap the railroad and build the trail should the airport-railroad swap deal go through would be more than enough to both keep the railroad intact while I-405 is widened at Wilburton and to launch a substantial transit service.
You keep emphasizing what a valuable asset the Eastside rail corridor is and how important it is to preserve it. That is obvious. Everybody knows it and agrees. You don't have to keep repeating it in an attempt to obscure the real issue.
History is replete with examples of leaders who get locked into destructive and unpopular policies and do not have the vision or courage to change course. A truly great leader is one who has the fortitude to admit that they were wrong and reverse a disastrous policy.
Ron, have the courage to change course and do the right thing, before irreversible harm has been done to the Eastside. The Seattle area has a history of serious transportation blunders, and we certainly do not want yet another one. There is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about. We all make mistakes. You would lose nothing. Rather, your flexibility and courage would be greatly admired. Let's dispense with the 1950's type mentality of scrapping railroads and start working together to build the kind of future that we want and deserve. And let's start it now! This is perhaps the single biggest thing that you could do both to benefit the Eastside and to assure an outstanding legacy. It would be a great victory for all of us.
Eastside Rail Now!
info at eastsiderailnow.org