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Kirkland gets go-ahead to remove tracks from key rail-trail corridor

Map showing ownership of Eastside Corridor sections. Kirkland is moving forward on their segment
Map showing ownership of Eastside Corridor sections. Kirkland is moving forward on their segment

Kirkland is about to get a new rail-trail.

We reported just days ago about ongoing discussions of the entire Eastside Rail Corridor. In fact, we suggested that it could even someday rival Seattle Burke-Gilman Trail as the top trail in the region.

Well, get ready for a taste of the trail’s power. The City of Kirkland, which owns the portion of corridor through their city limits, has just received the go-ahead to tear out the tracks, creating a gravelly but likely bikeable trail through the city.

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As with a failed 1970s attempt to reactivate the rail line as a way of blocking that now beloved Burke-Gilman Trail, the Ballard Terminal Railroad filed a legal action to block Kirkland from removing the tracks and creating a trail through its heart.

But the Surface Transportation Board denied their request yesterday, giving Kirkland the green light to move ahead with their plans for an interim crushed gravel trail.

The city is also in the process of developing a master plan for the trail corridor, which will likely include a high-quality paved trail. You can learn more from the project website and this master plan PDF fact sheet. Here’s a projected timeline for that plan:

CKC Master Plan Fact Sheet-timeline

More details from the City of Kirkland:

The Surface Transportation Board denied on Aug. 1 the request by Ballard Terminal Railroad Company to block rail removal along the Cross Kirkland Corridor.

“We are delighted in and grateful for this decision,” said Kirkland City Manager Kurt Triplett. “We were confident in the merits of our case. And we are appreciative that the Surface Transportation Board recognized those merits.”

The City has already contacted the rail removal contractor to begin removing the rails in the near future. The rail bed, however, will remain in place.

In its seven-page decision, the Surface Transportation Board said the harm to the public interest of leaving the tracks in place outweighed Ballard Terminal’s reasons for keeping them there.

“Ballard’s request for an injunction will be denied,” the board wrote. “Ballard has failed to demonstrate, based on the current record, that it will likely succeed on the merits because it appears to have insufficient financial resources and there is insufficient evidence of current shipper need. Given this weak showing, any harm to Ballard resulting from its inability to pay for or recover the cost of installing track is insufficient to warrant an injunction.”

Ballard Terminal filed a motion in April with the Surface Transportation Board to reactivate the rail line. The following month, it requested injunctive relief, which resulted in Kirkland suspending its contract with A & K Railroad Materials, Inc. to begin rail removal.

Matt Cohen and Hunter Ferguson of Stoel Rives represented the City of Kirkland before the Surface Transportation Board.

Click here to read the Surface Transporatation Board’s full decision.

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21 responses to “Kirkland gets go-ahead to remove tracks from key rail-trail corridor”

  1. biliruben

    I don’t know who the Surface Transportation Board is, but can we get them to work their vodoo on the spur rail nonsense in Ballard/Fremont?

    I’m sure the gravelly dudes tootle down the tracks a few times a month to keep the right of way, but as far “harming the public interest” goes, same rules should apply. In fact, it harms not just the interest but it harms the actual public with regular visits to the ER.

    1. I think the difference is that in Ballard the railroad actually owns the ROW and trackage. The city would have to buy the ROW (as Kirkland did, from the Port of Seattle who bought it from the railroad some time ago) for this to apply. Property rights go a long way.

      The reason that the railroad was able to challenge Kirkland in this case is a rule that owners of rail corridors can’t tear up the rails if there’s a railroad that wants to start a viable operation on them. The STB rules the railroad in this case did not have a viable plan, so Kirkland got to tear up the rails.

      1. Biliruben

        Thanks for the explanation, Al. That makes sense.

    2. Someone

      So by you wanting the tracks gone in Ballard. Is your bike clubs going to pay the wages for the people who work the Ballard Terminal railroad. I think supporting jobs would trump adding another bike trail.

  2. Someone

    Goodbye to commuter rail on the eastside. All because you bike riders want a trail. I hope you choke on it.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      There was no plan for commuter rail here. Not sure what you’re angry about.

      1. Jim Cusick

        If you go to the Seattle Library, look up the 1992 Metro Eastside Commuter Rail Feasibility Study.

        During the I-405 Corridor Program, this study was expanded, but before it could reach the Cost/Benefit analysis stage, the City of Renton, and the Kennydale Neighborhood Association asked that it not be studied any further.

        The I-405 Corridor Program expanded the 1992 study from South Kirkland-Renton, to include Tukwila (at the current Sounder station location) – Woodinville.

        In 2009, Sound Transit and the PSRC completed a study of the full corridor.

      2. Jeffrey J. Early

        That’s not necessarily true. The city of Kirkland is working with Sound Transit to see if high capacity transit, specifically light rail, is possible along that corridor—with an eye towards the Sound Transit 3 ballot measure.

        Now, plenty of people think that the idea of Kirkland getting light rail is “naive” and “stupid”, but at least at this point, the idea is still officially being considered. We’ll know more when the master plan is finished.

      3. Jim Cusick

        Just to note, the I-405 Corridor Program analysis came up with a Year 2000 Budget $ amount of $4.5 Billion. for light rail in the corridor.

    2. Eli

      I agree. What a waste!

      Instead, we should have spent $160 million like Portland building a WES-styled commuter train that loses $30 per passenger in subsidies.

      Oh, and their train ridership is about 1600 people per day…barely a fraction of even the Burke-Gilman ridership.

      After all, bikes are just toys, and aren’t serious transportation, right?

    3. Gary

      Sorry, but that right of way corridor is in the wrong place for commuter rail, besides having way too many ungated/uncontrolled crossings. It was only rated at 25mph… heck a bicycle can beat that because we don’t have to stop to load/unload folks.

      I’m all for rail on the East side, but it needs to be elevated, and go to the city centers.

      1. Adam

        Gary, where would you propose a commuter or light rail corridor on the east side? Personally, I think it would be downright foolish to not reserve/give future priority to rail for the ERC. Cycling trails and running/walking trails can take nearly any route one desires – people and bikes can turn nearly 90 turns. Train corridors, as you all probably know, can’t just be placed anywhere due to max slope restrictions, turning radius requirements, etc. so why not use one that is already in place? Having lived in Kirkland for a year I am of the opinion the ERC passes plenty close enough to critical areas. The ERC is as close as 3-4 blocks to downtown Kirkland. It goes right through the heart of the Totem Lake commercial district. It can be traced right through downtown Woodinville. It also passes through Bellevue just east of I-405 between downtown Bellevue and the future Spring District (ideal in my opinion). At the south end the ERC passes within walking distance of downtown Renton and Boeing Renton and could be tied into the Sounder/Amtrak rail in Tukwila near the mouth of the old Black River.

        If there is even the SLIGHTEST chance commuter rail or light rail will be built along the eastside the ERC must be at the top of the list. To reuse the ERC for rail transit would be the most efficient, sustainable, and least invasive place to do so – think of the thousands of properties and homes that would need to be acquired and demolished in order to build a rail corridor somewhere else.

        I am all for diversifying transit options, including cycling, but like I said earlier bike trail locations are a LOT more flexible than rail. Buses, personal vehicles, bikes AND rail need to be part of the picture.

  3. Nick D.

    This is very disappointing… It would have been nice if the Ballard Terminal Railroad had won this case to keep the tracks in place. They could have been used for commuter trains/light rail, which would take a lot of congestion off 405, and could have been used for revenue freight for business’s in Bellevue and between. Instead, they are going to waste millions of dollars on another stupid trail that we do not need. There are enough other trails around. The city of Kirkland needs to realize what a mistake they are doing.

    1. Kirkland actually has a clue.

      The freight proposal wouldn’t have taken us any distance toward commuter rail on the corridor. The tracks would have needed significant repair and probably double-tracking. And the corridor just isn’t in the right place for commuter rail — it just doesn’t go to any of the established town centers on the eastside, and overall conditions for mass transit on the eastside just aren’t good enough to support such a poorly placed line in the short term.

      Maybe in some time the corridor will develop differently. It sort of depends on how current plans turn out in Totem Lake, Bel-Red, and around the Bellevue Hospital Link station. At that time rail could be built in this space — it’s supposed to be wide enough for double-tracked rail in addition to the trail. But at this point nobody’s jumping at the opportunity to run passenger rail in the corridor and the only company with a freight proposal came late to the show with a flimsy plan. No commuter service possible with the single track there today would be sufficient to spur development, any more than Sounder North has spurred development near its stations. So the right move is to build the trail we know we want now, and perform the upgrades that would be necessary for passenger rail if and when this specific rail corridor is ready to support high-capacity transit service. It may be that trains along this corridor are a good idea in the future. It is not the case that trains on the existing tracks are a good idea now.

      1. Jim Cusick

        Rail isn’t going to be built in the Kirkland section of the Eastside Rail Corridor because the I-405 Corridor Program (2002) has selected BRT in the Preferred Alternative.

        The only question now is, which BRT plan? Sound Transit’s BRT plan includes this ROW from So. Kirkland to Totem Lake. WSDOT’s plan stays on I-405.

  4. Jim Cusick

    This ROW will always be a bike path.

    1. Gary

      Yep, and the thing is, it will stay a bicycle/pedestrian/runner’s path because it will be immensely popular and well used.

      That’s not to say an elevated rail might use some portions of it to get around stuff.

      Besides, these right of ways, were granted to the Railroads at a time when we needed to move the freight. Since the railroads no longer move short haul freight, leaving that job to trucks, we get another chance to decide what to do with this land.

      1. Mondoman

        Gary, there are still plenty of short-line railroads out there that still move short haul freight. Sadly, the recent Quebec oil train tragedy involved such a railroad.

  5. […] Rail removal on the Cross-Kirkland Corridor is underway, and parts of the corridor will be somewhat walkable/bikeable this fall with a packed gravel interim trail ready by spring 2014. […]

  6. I walked the entire length of this trail yesterday. It is not really ready for public use. Most of it is still large, sharp rocks (not gravel) that is difficult and painful to walk on. Bicycling on it, even with knobbies, would not be much fun either.

    Kirkland probably rushed to remove the rails, and then just let it sit. I really hope that when spring rolls around, they will add a soft, hard-packed surface so it is walkable. Right now, it’s not that usuable for those on foot or bicycle.

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