Tourist train a tempting prospect for Snohomish

SNOHOMISH — An excursion train could be chugging into Snohomish by the end of this year, delivering hundreds of tourists downtown every weekend.

Two trains a day would travel from Woodinville to Snohomish on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Each train would carry up to 360 passengers in four cars.

All those tourists and their dollars are a tantalizing prospect for Snohomish.

Despite setbacks, it looks as though it will happen.

“There’s a potential to bring 60,000 visitors to the city of Snohomish,” Karen Guzak, Snohomish city councilwoman said. “It would be an incredible boost to the economy.”

The city is thinking about where a station might be located and the effects of a train rumbling into town. Although the railroad operator plans to make the final decision on the location of a station, city leaders still want public input.

An open house is set for 7 to 8:30 tonight at the Snohomish School Resource and Service Center, 1601 Ave. D.

“We don’t want to wait for this to happen without analyzing the impacts on citizens,” said Ann Stanton, a Snohomish city project manager.

In the past, residents and business people have talked about a desire to see commuter rail service or maybe the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train, which ran between Renton and Woodinville but shut down in 2007.

The city set up a Rails and Trails Advisory Committee to collect information on the effects of any potential rail service and to advise the City Council.

That committee has identified three spots that could serve as stations for the excursion train. Two are outside city limits south of the city off Airport Way and one is downtown.

Stanton said these sites are a way for the city to compare the advantages and disadvantages of each site. The railway operator, GNP Railway of Tacoma, has expressed interest in a site south of the city.

The sites on Airport Way are far enough from downtown that the city probably would have to offer a shuttle, Guzak said. Those sites also are closer to a separate rail line that runs to Everett, opening up the possibility of a future commuter line.

A site downtown would bring tourists directly to the heart of the city. If the railroad operator chooses to put a station in town, city manager Larry Bauman said he’s concerned about traffic and safety.

Still, everyone involved agrees the train will probably happen.

The question is when.

The railroad operator is waiting for the Port of Seattle to complete its sale of the Eastside Railroad Corridor. The port granted GNP Railway the rights to run excursion and freight train service along a portion of the corridor.

That can’t start until the sale closes.

That sale is on hold while the port waits for the nation’s bond market to improve. It had planned to finance the $107 million deal by issuing municipal bonds.

The port also is waiting for the federal review of the acquisition.

“Our commitment has not waned or wavered,” Charla Skaggs, a spokeswoman for the port said. “We are just waiting to finance the acquisition.”

When the sale finally does close, GNP Railway is poised to begin serving freight customers immediately, said Tom Payne, owner of GNP. By contract, his company also is obligated to begin running the excursion train within six months of the deal’s closing.

That’s going to be a tough deadline to meet.

Once the sale closes, GNP has to choose a site for a station in Snohomish and build it, Payne said. It has to order equipment, including the locomotives and passenger cars, which would be shipped from other parts of the country.

His company hasn’t decided where a station for the train would be located in Snohomish.

There are other complications if GNP wants to take the train into the heart of Snohomish.

The Eastside Corridor — and GNP’s access — would end at the Snohomish River.

If the train did come into town, it would take a route that falls along an abandoned railroad corridor the city just purchased for $1.4 million.

The city has plans to use the land to complete a missing link in the Centennial Trail, but it also could accommodate a rail line.

Another section of the corridor running into downtown may not even be available for railroad service under complex federal railway laws.

No one has determined whether the Snohomish River bridge could handle a train.

Last spring, Payne talked about setting up a commuter service from Snohomish to Bellevue. Now, that doesn’t appear to be part of the company’s immediate plans.

“There’s a whole bunch of legislative and legal work to create a commuter service,” he said. “That’s not even on the radar screen.”

Debra Smith: 425-339-3197,

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