Monday, November 15, 2010

LETTER: Citizen Petitions U.S. Transportation Board to Reconnect 'Redmond Spur' to National Rail System.

Redmond Spur Trestle - Sammamish River
Redmond Spur Slide Show  

The following letter was mailed by Redmond Resident Ernest F. Wilson, PLS to the U.S. Surface Transportation BOARD, Washington, DC. on October 20, 2010  (It does not necessarily represent the views of RNB)

"As a citizen of Redmond, Washington, I am very much in favor of immediate reactivation of the so-called 'Redmond Spur' rail line, along with the related and connected portion of the “Woodinville Subdivision” rail line.

At present, the former BNSF Issaquah Branch (aka Redmond Spur) line is inactive. However, the roadbed and rail are still intact all the way from Woodinville south through downtown Redmond to its intersection with Washington highway SR 520 on the easterly side of Redmond. This remaining rail line provides the opportunity for Redmond and the adjacent unincorporated area to once again be connected to the national rail system. The potential economic and environmental benefit from this connection is nearly incalculable. On the other hand, the value of the alternative use, i.e., additional trails within Redmond, is minimal. Nonetheless, shared use of some of the right-of-way may be feasible. I see three major potential benefits to reactivation of this rail line.

READ MORE (below) >>

First, GNP Rly (the rail operator) has already secured shipping commitments from several businesses along the subject rail line, as documented in the referenced docket file. There are numerous other businesses, e.g., lumber yards, roofing supply house, manufacturers, food processors, etc., in this corridor that are potential freight shippers over a reactivated rail line. It is significant that the industrial subdivisions in the northwesterly quadrant of Redmond, through which the 'Redmond Spur' passes, were designed with rail access as an integral feature. There are two east-west 'rail easements' in the recorded plats; each easement branches off of the main spur line. The southerly easement was already partially developed to serve “Building Specialties”, which is one of the businesses that has requested the resumption of rail service to this area. The local power company, Puget Sound Energy, has a substation along the spur, also. They stand to benefit from the possibility of having over-sized equipment, e.g., transformers, delivered to them by rail. These are merely a few of the possible freight benefits of restoring rail service along this spur line.

The second category of business that this reactivated rail line would make possible is tourist excursions, which would be a new economic activity for Redmond. It is well known that the corridor served by the Redmond Spur is home to over 40 wineries, one craft brewery and at least one distillery, along with other attractions. These businesses are enormously popular with area visitors, and could be very well served by specialty passenger trains running between Redmond and Snohomish, not to mention dinner trains. The fact that the subject rail line terminates right in downtown Redmond and Snohomish, and passes through downtown Woodinville makes it ideally suited to such a tourist operation, which GNP Rly has indicated it would eventually like to operate or facilitate.

Finally, reactivating and rehabilitating the Redmond Spur opens the possibility of easily establishing commuter rail service between Redmond and Snohomish (and beyond). The large employment base in Redmond could benefit from such a service running in and out of downtown, which is also the chosen future terminus of Sound Transit's 'East Link' light rail line. In the meantime, Microsoft's 'Connector' bus service could take commuters from downtown to the various Microsoft offices in the city. This would greatly expand the practical housing area for local business employees, while reducing individual car trips. Self-propelled rail cars could be used on this spur line for relatively low start-up cost. Likewise, the immediate cost and impact of additional infrastructure, e.g., loading platforms and parking, to support such a commuter service would be minimal.

In spite of these potential benefits, the City of Redmond, joined by other cities and government entities along the former 'Woodinville Subdivision', wrote to the Board on 13 September 2010 [expressing concerns.]

First, I find it absurd that the City of Redmond has chosen to include the Cities of Bellevue and Renton in their letter requesting a more deliberative process and “full review” of the petitions. Their statement that these two cities “...would be directly and indirectly impacted by the granting of the subject petitions” is simply not true. The only portion of the Woodinville Subdivision (which does pass through Bellevue and Renton) involved in the current petition is a short section south of Woodinville. This 1.8 mile section of the old line does not even enter Kirkland, let alone the other two cities. The only government entities affected by these petitions are Redmond, King County and Woodinville.

Second, Redmond's interest in addressing “potential environmental impacts” is spurious at best. The branch rail line in question has been in existence for well over 100 years! While the track itself is in need of maintenance and repair, it is my understanding that there is a categorical exemption from environmental review for this sort of work. This makes sense, as maintenance-of-way work was conducted by the railroads throughout the period of the line's active use. If anything, there will be a positive environmental impact from reactivating rail service due to reduced truck traffic and emissions.

Third, Redmond argues that there are “significant and valuable public uses” being planned for the Woodinville Subdivision corridor (Woodinville to Renton), and implies that this is also the case for the Redmond Spur. There is no evidence that this is true. Redmond already enjoys a nearby regional trail along the Sammamish River, which roughly parallels the Redmond spur. So it is hard to see how there could be much “...monetary value of lost benefit to the public of precluding a regional trail along this alignment...” To date, neither Redmond nor King County have done anything but talk about possible uses of the rail corridors they acquired from BNSF Railway. GNP Rly, on the other hand, now appears ready to reactivate rail service as soon as all of the necessary approvals have been secured. GNP should be permitted, in fact encouraged, to do so. Their new business will be a welcome addition to the regional economy in the current downturn.
While there are other points that I could make at this time, I close with the observation that the final paragraph of the referenced Cities letter seems to best show their true intent. They seek to complicate and delay GNP's proposed rail service reactivation for no apparent reason other than to impose their own notions of convoluted public process. GNP Rly's petition and proposal is straight-forward and positive. It does not involve significant construction nor any other impact to public interests in the vicinity. The City of Redmond and their co-signers fail to make a case why these petitions are deserving of “a full review”, including “environmental review, consideration of local and regional impacts...” nor do they adequately explain why there should be any extraordinary opportunity for comment by the public or governmental entities. It is just this sort of endless public process and consensus building exercise that has put the Puget Sound region 25 years behind the Portland, Oregon Metro area in implementing light rail. I urge the Board to simply proceed with its evaluation of GNP Rly's petitions and proposal using your normal review procedures and time lines. I am confident that Redmond, Woodinville and King County will ultimately benefit from having their national rail system connection restored by GNP.

By this letter of comments, I also respectfully notify STB that I would like to be a party of record for the purpose of tracking and further commenting on the subject proceedings. Please keep me informed of the progress of your review, and of any local hearings that may be scheduled.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on these petitions now before the Board.

Ernest F. Wilson, PLS
Redmond, WA.

John Marchione, Mayor of Redmond
Redmond City Council
Chuck Price, Mayor of Woodinville
Hon. Dow Constantine, King County Executive
Hon. Jay Inslee, US Congressional Representative
Mr. Wilson's Letter was abridged for clarity and brevity.


John Eliason said...

This is goofy. The spur is dead (as a rail right of way) due to economic forces which have killed the iron horse except between major population centers. Even the Dinner Train, which was the most popular use (albeit a tiny portion of the line) was not profitable and went out of business. Mr. Wilson's petition does not address economic feasibility of any on-going use as a railway and therefore is a non-starter. (I tried to comment on you blog, but it was not working.) John's comments were posted on Facebook.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Wilson has a right to his opinions. I'm not convinced by his arguments, however. "The potential economic and environmental benefit from this connection is nearly incalculable." Really? Incalculable? How about an estimate - or are you saying that you don't know how to calculate any benefits. Just keep in mind that there are incalculable benefits to replacing an obsolete, out-of-service rail line with biking and walking trails.

This connection has been in the works for years with significant publicity in the local media. Hype, histrionics and accusations in the eleventh hour are no substitute for ongoing participation in a public process.

Paul Welton said...

Paul wrote: "@ John, I was under the understanding that the Dinner train was shutdown after the demolition of the Wilberton tunnel and was profitable up to that point. as for the Rail lines, it appears to be much cheaper to move things by rail and this may be the only way to have commuter light rail to Redmond. If we kill this rail line then we may and most likely never will get it back."
--posted from Paul Welton's facebook comment.