Spirit of Washington Dinner Train closes

The station may be closed for good to those who had hoped to ride the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train into Snohomish County.

The train’s best hope — perhaps its only hope — for long-term survival was to move north where it would run from Woodinville to Snohomish, Eric Temple, owner of the railroad, said Monday.

That dream now appears stalled — perhaps permanently — and the train has ceased operations in Tacoma.

In what was hoped would be a temporary move, the train in August moved to Tacoma because its usual route along tracks through King County’s east side were closed so I-405 could be expanded.

Some hoped King County would buy the Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks from Snohomish to Renton and allow the dinner train to travel from Woodinville to Snohomish. However, negotiations for the tracks have stalled.

“Until there is a deal possible from Woodinville to Snohomish, there’s nothing we can do,” Temple said. “The problem in Tacoma is we’re burning through the money. I’m unwilling to spend more money to prop it up (there).”

He said ticket revenue has fallen by 25 percent and that the cost of operating the dinner train has shot up.

Fifty people who work in the company’s Renton office were notified on Monday that they were being laid off. Most layoffs were effective immediately.

“I think, for the most part, the employees were very understanding,” Temple said. “They’re all very proud of what they do and they’ve done a great job. They can certainly sense that ticket sales weren’t as good but they were still pretty shocked. They all presumed that I would prevail and pull it out. I failed them.”

He said he would hire them back if there is a breakthrough in securing the tracks from Woodinville to Snohomish.

Temple was devastated that the train is now parked.

“This was my baby,” he said. “It wasn’t our biggest money-making business, that’s for sure, but it was always something we loved and took pride in. I always wanted to build the next Space Needle, something that transcended time. I think we were on our way to doing that before the sale (of the rail line).”

The latest development came as a surprise to Colleen Hill, president of Snohomish Chamber of Commerce.

“I have no idea about that,” Hill said.

Snohomish officials and business officials remain hopeful that the dinner train would come to their town.

“Everything we’ve heard from Eric Temple and dinner train people indicates that they remain very much interested,” city manager Larry Bauman said.

Herald Writer Yoshiaki Nohara contributed to this report.

Reporter Lukas Velush: 425-339-3449 or lvelush@heraldnet.com.

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