Get on board with eastside commuter rail

Not every major transportation solution, it turns out, has to be a decade away or costs billions of dollars.

A major new north-south route in Snohomish and King counties can be up and running in the next year or two, if enough vision and political will can be mustered.

Imagine relatively small, quiet, fuel-efficient trains carrying thousands of commuters and tourists between Snohomish and Bellevue, and perhaps farther south, each weekday — running every hour or even half-hour on tracks that already exist. Imagine a comfortable, scenic rail commute that includes seamless connections to buses to get you right where you need to go. Then imagine a bicycle/pedestrian trail safely using the same corridor, potentially connecting Snohomish County’s Centennial Trail with King County’s extensive trail system.

It’s not a dream, it’s a real possibility. But several critical steps must be taken soon to keep the idea alive.

First, the Port of Seattle must complete its planned purchase of the 42-mile Burlington Northern Santa Fe corridor that runs between Snohomish and Renton, and includes a spur between Woodinville and Redmond. The price tag is around $107 million, much of which the port could recover from private interests who might invest in the route. The port, which is committed to preserving the corridor for both rails and trails, should follow through with this visionary investment.

In the meantime, local leaders should get behind this eminently sensible idea and quickly identify funding sources. The nonprofit Cascadia Center, which is pushing the rail and trail idea, estimates that between $100 million and $250 million will be needed to get the line going — a bargain compared with other projects. Cascadia’s Bruce Agnew, a former Snohomish County Council member, says much of that could come from private investors who could put in amenities along the route. Sound Transit, with its regional mission, would be a good place to start talking about public funding, but no source should be overlooked.

Puget Sound citizens have become conditioned to believe that such projects can’t be done quickly or cost-effectively. This one gives local and regional leaders an enormous opportunity to show it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s a train they — and the region — can’t afford to miss.

To learn more about the proposal to develop the eastside rail and trail corridor, and view illustrations of what stations might look like, visit

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