Inbox: Rails, liquor, lean factories, Mount Vernon

By Chuck Taylor

Working on the railroad

Bellingham correspondent Floyd McKay writes at that two trains are on a collision course. One train, bearing the Amtrak logo, carries hopes to build high-speed rail between Portland and Vancouver, B.C. The other is loaded with coal and is pulled by Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) locomotives and is destined for a proposed coal-export terminal at Cherry Point, north of Bellingham. Writes McKay:

So we are aggressively seeking federal funds — the only game in town right now — for a high-speed rail that is problematic unless someone comes up with big money to build a separate track and divorce the system from BNSF. Certainly that is true north of Seattle, where major bottlenecks persist on the present system.

McKay’s story is a deeply reported, classic ball of yarn involving transportation planners, big business, global trade and hometown politicians.

Got a license for that private party?

Soon there will be no state liquor stores, so the Washington State Liquor Control Board has launched a new way to obtain those so-called banquet permits you’re supposed to acquire when you have a private party at a public location at which adult beverages are consumed. You can do it online now.

Six Stigma

Now that you all have finally finished inculcating the ethic of continuous improvement throughout the biggest building in the world out there at Paine Field, it’s time to undo it all. Well, OK, we exaggerate. But business author and consultant Ron Ashkenas, writing for the Harvard Business Review blog, suggests that Six Sigma, Kaizen, Lean and whatever else you want to call it is no panacea, citing a number of quality problems that have plagued adherents — even Japanese automakers. Among other things, Ashkenas suggests:

Take a hard look at the cultural implications of continuous improvement. How do they affect day-to-day behaviors? A data-driven mindset may encourage managers to ignore intuition or anomalous data that doesn’t fit preconceived notions. In other cases it causes managers to ask execution-oriented, cost-focused questions way too early, instead of percolating and exploring ideas through messy experimentation that can’t be justified through traditional metrics.

Taming the river in Mount Vernon

The Mount Vernon Community Marketing Campaign writes us that the transformation of the city’s waterfront has a green light, as in green state money:

Construction will begin in Downtown Mount Vernon on a 24-foot wide pedestrian riverwalk, a 30,000 square foot River Park Plaza and a permanent floodwall, thanks to the city receiving $1,500,000 from the State Building Construction Account and $351,000 from the Department of Ecology Statewide Stormwater Grant Program.

… Construction will begin the Summer of 2012 and include 1,650 linear feet of floodwall, 1,650 linear feet of a 24-foot wide riverwalk an trail connection to the regional trail system and a 30,000 square foot Public Riverfront Park.

More info here.

Permit me to reintroduce myself

Are happy days here again? By one measure, perhaps. Building permit applications in Snohomish County have risen, though most of the increase seems to be due to the revival of stagnant housing projects. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Herald reporter Noah Haglund has the numbers.

Noteworthy on the Web

For you aeroheads out there, Wired magazine has launched a special topic page devoted to “the new space race” — that involving the private sector and a fair amount of Seattle money. They call this page Open Space.