Only you can help prevent train deaths

  • Gary Haakenson<br>
  • Thursday, February 28, 2008 9:15am

Once again we have witnessed a tragic loss of life on the train tracks in Edmonds. My heart goes out to the family that has lost a loved one. Sadly, accidents like this have many victims. Witnesses have the memory imbedded in their minds and hearts. The engineer of the train may never get over the sight and the helpless feeling as he approached. The police and firefighters who responded to the scene likewise will have a tough time forgetting what they saw. The investigators from the railroad and the city not only had to fight their emotions, but also had to dodge oncoming trains as they did their investigation.

And, once again, the subject of fences along the tracks has also popped up. I believe, and Burlington Northern-Santa Fe concurs, that fencing is not the answer. Wherever train tracks and human beings meet, we will always have trouble. And that is really odd! Anyone who has ever stood at the train tracks and experienced the passing of a train understands that a human is no match for a train. Trains are more powerful than man or automobiles, and always will be. Trains, however, can’t think. Somehow, we have to take advantage of our cognitive abilities to win the war with trains.

I’ve found that residents who live along the tracks have a healthy respect for the power of a passing train. Maybe that’s because they have daily contact with them. Those who have less contact with train activity have less of an understanding of the awesome power that trains possess. I know that we have made some progress in the arena of educating kids about the perils associated with drinking and driving. Taking mangled cars and graphic photos to the kids has been an eye opener. Maybe it’s time to do the same with train accident re-enactments. Burlington Northern has a school program that they willingly put on, and I hope that schools will become more proactive in this area.

The responsibility for education lies first and foremost at home. In my mind, many other groups share this responsibility. Schools, Burlington Northern and public safety officials can play a large role. We have to find a way to impress upon our youth, in particular, that the odds are heavily against you when you take on a train. I hope we all find a way to take on this education role, even in some small way. Here’s hoping we find a way to solve this ongoing problem.

The Brightwater pendulum

I haven’t written about Brightwater in awhile, yet I am deeply concerned that the pendulum is swinging back toward Edmonds. I have watched many King County Council meetings, as well as King County Water Quality meetings, and the members’ sentiment seems to be taking a turn toward Edmonds as their choice for the plant. The incredible cost escalation for this treatment plant has made the King County Council very nervous. As well they should be.

But maybe it’s time for them to look away from Snohomish County entirely and look in their own backyards. Since this project has been proposed, population estimates have decreased and the need for the plant has been pushed out several years. King County will tell you that their capacity will run out at their Renton and West Point plants, and that drives their need for Brightwater. It’s time for the King County Council to expand those two plants to address their needs and, at the same time, save their taxpayers and ratepayers an incredible amount of money.

The inconsistent hand with which King County has played throughout the Brightwater process came up again last week as it became known that they were allowing extensions to the deadline for responses to their draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The original deadline was Jan. 21 and many groups received an extension to Feb. 5. Not everyone had this privilege or was aware of it, so some groups will gain the advantage of more time to respond. When I became aware of the option, I directed staff to ask for the extension as well. And we were granted it. The consensus of opinion so far is that the draft EIS is unbelievably vague and fails to deal with many of the concerns that staff and citizens brought to King County’s attention during their public hearings on Brightwater.

Once again this year, our district legislators have asked that the House and Senate vote on a bill to eliminate the “eminent domain” capabilities that King County is using to site Brightwater in Snohomish County. Call, write, or e-mail your elected representatives in Olympia and tell them how you feel about this bill. It’s fascinating that King County has fought us on the grounds that we can’t keep an essential public facility from being built here and, at the same time, is fighting to keep a sex offender facility from being built in King County.

I’ll close with a quick lesson in “newspaper 101.” While I write every word in the monthly columns that are printed in local papers, I do not create the headline that accompanies them. The editor or his staff comes up with that part of my column. At times this has caused some confusion, and even I have wondered how a particular headline was chosen.

January 2003 is gone. Have a happy February.

Edmonds Mayor Gary Haakenson writes a monthly Forum column for The Enterprise.

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