Tracks’ future remains for trail and transit

The train is gone for now, but the spirit of preserving a rail corridor between Snohomish and Renton as a trail and transit corridor is not, say King County officials.

On the same day the owner of the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train announced that he’s taking his train to Tacoma for a year, King County Executive Ron Sims and Port of Seattle Commissioner Bob Edwards pledged that the 42-mile rail corridor would be turned into a trail.

The King County politicians also said they intend the land, which stretches deep into Snohomish County, as a possible pathway for future light rail.

King County hopes to soon finish a complicated three-way deal that would allow it to buy the intact rail corridor from Burlington Northern Santa Fe.

The deal would hand over Boeing Field, south of Seattle, to the Port of Seattle in exchange for money it would use to buy the rail corridor and put in a trail. All of the agreements consecrating the deal wouldn’t finish until next year.

Sims said he intends to preserve the rail segment between Snohomish and Woodinville as a working rail line.

That’s a relief to Snohomish County officials who would like to buy the Snohomish County section of the tracks, but don’t have the money.

“We have some businesses in the Maltby area that still use those rail lines,” said Dave Somers, the Snohomish County councilman who represents the Snohomish County portion of the trail corridor.

Somers is among a list of critics who has urged King County and Sound Transit to convert the corridor into a transit line immediately, suggesting that it will be tough to convince trail users and nearby property owners to allow rails to go back in once they come out.

“I personally think it’s a mistake to pull up the tracks along that corridor,” he said.

Even so, the tracks will have to come up anyway because the railroad wants to use them elsewhere, said Kurt Triplett, Ron Sims’ chief of staff.

He figures it would take hundreds of millions of dollars to make the corridor viable for transit.

Sims on Wednesday got commitments from Seattle’s considerable biking and trails activist groups that they would support converting the corridor into a transit line when the time came.

The commitment to preserving the corridor for future mass transit was crucial to getting the Port of Seattle’s support, officials said.

“I wouldn’t support this deal without strong guarantees to preserve the potential for transit use in this corridor,” said Edwards, Port of Seattle commissioner.

In the deal, King County will get $103 million of taxpayer money from the Port to buy the corridor from Burlington Northern Santa Fe, and $63 million more to build a trail along the King County segments of the corridor.

In exchange, the Port of Seattle gets an airport that recently was valued at $174 million.

There’s no money for building a trail in Snohomish County, something that Triplett said will be expensive because of the wetlands and farmlands that would have to be crossed.

“We probably need a partnership with Snohomish to make it work,” he said.

In Snohomish County, the key is that the tracks will be preserved, Triplett said, allowing the limited shipping that happens on the line to continue.

It also leaves the way open for the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train to move north, he said.

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

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