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Prospects dim for Eastside commuter train

The Renton-to-Snohomish Rail Corridor survived a legal challenge, but development points to non-motorized use only.

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By Noah Haglund
Herald Writer
SNOHOMISH -- A judge's decision last month to uphold the Port of Seattle's purchase of a rail corridor keeps the line in public ownership.
The prospect of tourist or commuter trains using that corridor to reach Snohomish, however, remains remote for now given a private rail company's ongoing financial woes.
The Port of Seattle in December 2009 paid Burlington Northern Santa Fe $81 million for the Renton-to-Snohomish Eastside Rail Corridor. Three Seattle taxpayers sued in King County Superior Court in July 2010, asking the court to rescind the purchase. The plaintiffs said the Port of Seattle lacked the legal authority to acquire the Snohomish County portion of the corridor because it lies outside the port's district, in King County.
On Dec. 9, King County Superior Court Judge Beth M. Andrus ruled against the men who filed the lawsuit: Arthur Lane, John Allerton and Kenneth Gorohoff.
"We certainly feel like this is a positive development," Port of Seattle spokeswoman Charla Skaggs said. "We're waiting to see whether the plaintiffs will appeal."
The Eastside Rail Corridor lies mostly in King County, but crosses the Snohomish County line immediately north of Woodinville.
All told, it includes 42 miles, including a spur to Redmond. When BNSF sold the corridor, it donated the southern portion between Woodinville and Renton, while the money paid for the northern section.
Snohomish County Councilman Dave Somers has looked forward to the corridor's future potential for commuter trains and other uses. He's growing doubtful, though, that commuter trains will become a reality. That's largely because of developments such as the City of Kirkland's decision in December to purchase a 5.5 mile segment of the corridor from the port for $5 million. Kirkland appears interested in using its segment for mainly non-motorized uses.
"The corridor's starting to be broken up in ownership," Somers said. "It makes it extremely unlikely" that the tracks will be used for commuters.
The port still sees the potential for many uses, including commuter rail.
"Our plans for the corridor have not changed as to the use of the corridor," Skaggs said. "We are committed to multi-purpose (uses)."
Meanwhile, a company working to bring a tourist train to Snohomish remains mired in debt. A federal bankruptcy has declared GNP RLY Inc. of Tacoma insolvent and appointed a trustee to handle the case. In December, the rail company declared about $15,000 in assets and $1.5 million in liabilities.
GNP, which owns no locomotives or railroad cars, has a permanent easement to run freight trains between Snohomish and Woodinville. Founder Tom Payne originally announced that tourist trains would begin service in 2010 between Snohomish's First Street and Woodinville's winery district. Snohomish city leaders were hoping these plans would bolster their historic district.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465;
Story tags » Crime, Law & JusticeRailroadTransit

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