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Feds reject railroad lawsuit threatening the Eastside Trail, Kirkland section opens soon

Crews work to pack down the interim gravel Cross Kirkland Corridor Trail to make it ready for biking and walking. Image from Kirkland
Crews work to pack down the interim gravel Cross Kirkland Corridor Trail to make it ready for biking and walking. Image from Kirkland

The case for freight rail service as a reason to stop to the Cross Kirkland Corridor Trail (one part of the Eastside Rail Corridor) always seemed rather weak. But since it would be decided by a Federal agency and laws governing rail are often old and sometimes strange, a lawsuit by the Ballard Terminal Railroad has been hanging over plans to build a game-changing trail along the Eastside Rail Corridor for a year and a half.

But not anymore. The Surface Transportation Board shot down the challenge, determining that Ballard Terminal Railroad “did not appear to be in a financial position to reinstitute service and there was no real demand to reactivate rail service over the Line,” according to the decision document (PDF) and reported by the Seattle Times.

In other words, let’s get to work building a complete Eastside Trail.

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“This ruling is a tremendous victory for the Kirkland community and the Eastside Rail Corridor partners,” Kirkland City Manager Kurt Triplett said in an official statement. “It vindicates the City’s strategy of vigorously defending our rights on the Cross Kirkland Corridor and to have it made available for public use.”

Here’s the decision summary:

This decision denies Ballard Terminal Railroad Company, L.L.C.’s request for authority to reinstitute rail service on a line of railroad owned by the City of Kirkland, Wash., Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority, and King County, Wash. that is currently subject to interim trail use/rail banking under the National Trails System Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1247(d). The Board also denies Ballard’s related petition to partially vacate the notice of interim trail use that had been issued for the line.

A trail along the Eastside Rail Corridor (which does not yet have a full name, so we will just refer to it as the “Eastside Trail”) could connect from the Sammamish River Trail in Woodinville (and, therefore, the Burke-Gilman) to the south end of Lake Washington in Renton. Simply put, it will change everything for the Eastside the same way the Burke-Gilman has revolutionized biking in Seattle and communities along the north end of Lake Washington.

The Cross Kirkland Corridor Master Plan envisions a fully paved trail
The Cross Kirkland Corridor Master Plan envisions a fully paved trail

Though King County and especially Kirkland have gotten a jump on trail work and planning, Snohomish County is also looking at options for a trail along its section of the corridor, which could someday connect the trail to the City of Snohomish and the Centennial Trail.

People who live and work in Kirkland should get their first glimpses into the power of this trail this month when contractors complete work on an interim hardpack trail. Here’s a recent construction update:

Crushed gravel has been put down the full length of the trail (from 108th Avenue NE to 132nd Avenue NE), concrete sidewalks have been installed at most of the intersections with pedestrian ramps currently underway.  Rapid flashing beacons at crosswalks, street lighting, and associated electrical work is being completed. New wood decking and railings are currently being installed at the NE 68th Street Bridge and are expected to be complete next week. Pedestrian crossing islands are underway at three crossings including 6th Street, NE 112th Street and 120th Avenue NE. The installation of fencing for safety and sensitive area protection is progressing rapidly throughout the corridor and expected to be complete in early January. The City is pushing the contractor hard to complete the work so the trail can open in early January 2015.

Here’s a map showing ownership of different King County sections of the Eastside Rail Corridor:

Map showing ownership of Eastside Corridor sections

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15 responses to “Feds reject railroad lawsuit threatening the Eastside Trail, Kirkland section opens soon”

  1. Chad

    The potential for this corridor is very exciting. How amazing would be to have this extend from the South end of Lake Washington to the Burke Gilman and the Centennial Trail?

    Then imagine if someday this trail connects to the Cedar River trail and someday they connect that to the Foothills Trail. To have a paved trail from Orting to Arlington and nearly a complete loop around Lake Washington would be world class.

    I guy can dream can’t he?

    1. Gary

      I dream of the time that the Cedar River trail is connected to both the Soo’s Creek Trail, and to Rattlesnake Lake and the Mts to Sound trail, which becomes the John Wayne trail…to Spokane and points East!

      1. I dream of the time that this dream feels crazier than the dream of a Cedar River trail where transportation cycling hasn’t been legislated out of existence, or the dream where popular transportation cycling routes have traffic signal cycles that meet the barest needs of the people biking on them (any of the cities the ERC passes through might be the next LFP, operating ticket stings against people biking that don’t follow pedestrian signals to the letter… and many street intersections on hills nearby are surely like Fremont/39th, long and steep enough that a cyclist could enter on green and be caught in the middle on red). I’d trade a hundred trails to Spokane for a couple transportation departments that reliably considered how people move through intersections on bike.

  2. biliruben

    I hope they don’t have the same endless option of appeal for this corridor as they used to forever bond together as the “Make the Missing Link Permanent” club. Trying to hold back the next leap of human kind into the present.

    1. Kirk

      Considering that the Ballard Terminal Railroad is owned by Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel, I think it would be safe to assume that if there is any possibility of appealing this ruling, these NIMBY obstructionists will do just that.

      1. jay

        I wouldn’t worry about that too much. Did you read the decision?
        There are several parts, in one part Ballard wanted an injunction to prevent Kirkland from removing the rails because: “Ballard would not be able to afford to install new tracks once Ballard prevailed on its underlying petitions”
        Kirkland, King County and Sound Transit responded with: (I paraphrase) “these jokers are full of …”
        It seems the board agreed and denied the injunction. “Following the Board’s denial of a preliminary injunction, Kirkland removed the track.”
        So, in summary, Ballard admits they can’t afford to replace the tracks (pretty obvious from the way they maintain the tracks in Ballard), the tracks are now gone, and almost nobody who counts thinks they were a serious contender to start with. Not a great basis for any appeal. Though, oddly, the decision was not unanimous, It’s unclear what the dissenters motive was, in my opinion the majority’s decision pretty clearly addressed (and demolished) his stated objection.

    2. biliruben

      They are also apparently train-nuts. I like my trains okay, but only when the go someplace useful.

  3. I’m really excited to see some progress here. It’d be nice if it were a solid surface rather than gravel, though. Considering what’s going on with the East Lake Sammamish Trail now, that could happen someday.

    1. City of Kirkland is actively working on it. They’re in competition with Redmond’s Central Connector and Seattle’s Bell Street Park for the “Most Pretentious Design” award. Barring some kind of political sea change or financial disaster, they’ll get it done, though of course it would be better if they got it done faster and more efficiently.

      In my more conspiratorial moments I can’t help but think that the excesses in cost and design of so many projects intended to support cycling really prop up an auto-dominated status quo. Quick, efficient bike projects are bike projects we can do everywhere, and everywhere is where we need them.

      1. Kirk

        Agreed on the overwrought projects. Perfect is the enemy of good. Get ‘er done, move on and get more done.

  4. […] Terminal Railroad loses its appeal to reactivate freight rail on the Eastside Rail Corridor (PDF here), and Cross Kirkland Corridor […]

  5. ROW is expensive. Then you get some for next to nothing and you piss it away with a trail. People on the eastside can walk to work I guess. Let’s turn Central Link into a walking trail too. That would be a good use for it. It’s not like there’s much demand to ride it (ignoring the almost 40,000 people per day).

    1. J. A. Zumwalt

      Grant McWilliams, despite his sarcasm, has an advanced notion.

      Right of Way is extremely expensive, even more so in the built up Seattle-Bellevue metropolitan area. There is enough space for both trail and transit to intermingle, and if they can do it successfully and safely all over Europe, and in California, so can we.

      Heck, in Marin County, they’re keeping all the options open: a giant bike trail alongside regular transit service on gantlet tracks that are also designed to accommodate freight traffic (http://main.sonomamarintrain.org/). It’s crazy to think that there won’t one day be demand, or that redundancy isn’t is a good thing for transportation options– our region’s only northbound freight rail line, conveniently bypassed by this corridor, hangs by but a major mudslide away from impassibility.

      The fact of the matter is, we can have our cake and eat it too here. We can massively expand our fabulous trail network, and offer fast transit options, as well as reliability and redundancy to freight shipments in emergencies. The use of the corridor should be inclusive of a trail, rather than exclusive of everything else. However, I’m sincerely worried that once an exclusive trail is open in Kirkland, local NIMBY’s will fight any proposed rail enhancement, with no regard to the benefit of the region overall.

  6. […] from Renton into Snohomish County and intersects many existing and planned bike routes and trails. A complete Eastside Trail could do for the Eastside what the Burke-Gilman Trail has done for […]

  7. nick

    Enjoy your bike trail while you can. The ultimate goal by the King County is to turn this into a High Speed Light Rail…. good bye bike trail

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