Second Sounder line in sight

Commuters clamoring for more Sounder trains with better departure times are one step closer to getting their wish.

However, there also could be delays.

The state Department of Ecology on Friday approved permits that allow Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway to move forward with its plan to build four miles of new track between Everett and Seattle.

Those improvements, near Mukilteo and Edmonds, will allow Sound Transit to double the number of round-trip Everett-to-Seattle Sounder trains from two to four.

When the work is done, getting the four trains established in Snohomish County will have cost Sound Transit taxpayers $385 million.

Sound Transit still must get permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Federal Transit Administration before the track work can move forward.

The railway has two years to get the last two trains in service after Sound Transit gets all its permits.

That means the transit agency may miss its goal of putting the final two Sounder trains into service by the end of 2007.

Sound Transit still hopes to make that deadline, said Geoff Patrick, a Sound Transit spokesman.

“We’re basically in discussions with BNSF for when the trains will come on line,” he said. “It’s subject to negotiation.”

BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas did not comment on when the two new Sounder trains will start service.

Commuters have complained that the two trains currently in service don’t offer them enough flexibility in travel times.

The Department of Ecology’s water quality certification requires the railroad and Sound Transit, which is paying for the track improvements, to significantly scale back plans to build up the banks of Puget Sound to make room for the second track. It also eliminates the possibility of a third track.

Those changes were agreed to in the late 1990s, when the permitting process got its start.

Adding a second track won’t prevent the frequent mudslides that interrupted Sound Transit and Amtrak service last winter, but the railway is working separately on that problem, Melonas said.

“We are enhancing drainage on the corridor from south Tacoma through north of Everett,” he said.

The work, which he called “a major project,” includes digging ditches that will divert water away from the tracks. The railroad also is repairing retaining walls that were damaged last winter.

Sounder and Amtrak service was knocked out 12 times between Christmas and the end of January, he said.

“It was the worst winter in the last decade,” Melonas said. “We experienced more passenger (train) interruptions in one month than in the past decade.”

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