• Evan Smith<br>
  • Thursday, February 28, 2008 9:13am

Will we be riding on the railroad

‘tween Everett and Sodo?

Do we really have an agreement

to make the north line go?

We hear about lots of riders

on the train line from the south.

But is talk of an agreement

just pap from ST’s mouth?

Those of us north of Seattle have felt left out as Sounder trains full of commuters have made their way between Seattle’s King Street Station and Auburn, Tacoma. Lakewood and other southern points and helped bring people from those southern points to Mariner and Seahawk games.

We were told that there was no such service to the North because of the lack of an agreement with the Burlington-Northern Santa Fe Railroad; then, last week, we saw a demonstration of Sound Transit’s commuter-rail service from Everett toward Mukilteo, Edmonds and Seattle. This, we were told, was the result of an agreement between Sound Transit and the Railroad to upgrade the tracks.

Critics tell us, however, that the parties have only “an agreement to make an agreement.” They say that the announcement about the preliminary agreement with Burlington Northern to run commuter trains from Seattle to Everett is not as good as it sounds.

Representatives of Citizens for Effective Transit Alternatives say that what they call the “pre-agreement” leaves major blanks for costs and benefits that will be filled in after the checks are cut and bonds are sold.

They also say that commuter rail requires lots of government subsidy and takes riders from other forms of transit rather than from autos, but isn’t any form of transit subsidized by government? and won’t any form of transit we build take riders from buses? And doesn’t moving people from buses to trains reduce traffic?

And even Sound Transit’s harshest critics will admit that it’s it better than running light rail down city streets and digging expensive tunnels under hillsides?

CETA representatives say that the Everett to Seattle Commuter Rail portion of Sound Move, as presently proposed, is not affordable or doable to the extent voters expected and need.

The critics point out that voters are not getting what they were promised in the 1996 Sound Move Plan: 1) cost-sharing contracts with Burlington-Northern within two years of the vote;. 2) track and facility costs of $107 million (1995 dollars); 3) four stations including Bond Street in Edmonds, Mukilteo and an Everett “Multimodal” station (additional $25 million 1995 dollars); 4) six trains each way during commute time between Seattle and Everett; 5) daily boardings of 2,400 to 3,200 from Seattle to Everett and 10,600-14,000/day from Seattle to Lakewood.; and 6) service to start within five years at the most.

CETA says that what Sound Transit is delivering seven years later is quite different: 1) a preliminary agreement with Burlington-Northern, not unlike the preliminary agreement with the Port of Seattle for where the light rail line would go, is not signed, not decided and not financed; 2) track and facilities, costing $224 million plus interest are not yet set; 3) one station in Everett, one temporary platform in Edmonds and an eventual stop in Mukilteo; 4) one train each peak period — with maybe four, if there is an actual agreement; 5) daily boardings for the Seattle to Lakewood/Tacoma service are 14,000 per week, not per day; 6) service will not start for at least seven years after the vote, more like nine years for anything more than one train each way per day.

CETA members say that Sound Transit should assign the Washington State Rail office the responsibility to negotiate, build and implement commuter rail.

They say that the State Rail office has a proven track record with successful implementation of agreements and service with Burlington-Northern and that Sound Transit has an abysmal record for both. They say that Sound Transit is years behind schedule, millions of dollars over budget, and that ridership, while encouraging, is way below projections. One reason for that, they say is that people need more service to be enticed out of their cars and that one train a day, coming and going for $230 million and counting is not the way to run a railroad.

They also suggest that additional stations in north downtown Seattle, Ballard, Richmond Beach should be considered, to be served by shuttle buses.

They ask 1) where the extra money will come from; 2) why an actual agreement is taking so long; 3) when other stations and services will really happen; 4) whether anyone has actually seen the preliminary agreement.

What should happen? Sound Transit should get the north commuter rail line moving as soon as possible. I want stops not only in Everett, Mukilteo and Edmonds but also in Richmond Beach, Ballard and downtown and also north of Everett in Marysville.

Schedule enough trips to meet commuter needs throughout the day and special trips for major sports events. It has to be cheaper than the parking around the sports venues, and it will alleviate the heavy traffic around the stadiums before and after games.

Yes, it will cost money. That’s good if it will take away enough money to scrap the light-rail line.

Light rail runs down city streets, where it is a danger to both traffic and pedestrians, and it requires expensive tunnels under City hills. Monorail won’t get caught in traffic and won’t be a danger to pedestrians.

I also want to see the Sound Transit board represent more diverse points of view. When the King County executive can fail to reappoint a County Council member who disagreed with him on transit matters, it shows that it’s not a representative body. We had to scrap the old Metro agency because it didn’t meet one-person/one-vote requirements. Sound Transit’s board is even less representative. Someone should challenge that.

Evan Smith is Enterprise Forum editor.

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