The work was proposed by King County Executive Dow Constantine and approved by the King County Council. The rails are defunct and abandoned, and the scrap value of the rails should fund the work.
Once the rails are out, the rough and rocky railbed will still not be easily bikeable. It will take more work to create a bikeable soft surface trail and intersection improvements like the section Kirkland opened earlier this year.
Constantine hopes the first sections of usable interim trail will open in two years.
Sound Transit will also remove the rails in the relatively short section that agency owns in Bellevue (blue on the map) as the agency has planned as part of the East Link light rail project. The corridor will support both the rail line and the trail.
There’s also a disagreement breaking out in Kirkland over city plans to work with Sound Transit on rebuilding their section of the corridor to include both a permanent trail and a rapid transit corridor in the Sound Transit 3 funding package. Seattle Transit Blog outlines the bus rapid transit (“BRT”) plans well. Transit alongside the trail could much better access neighborhood centers in Kirkland than relying only on I-405.
On the flip side, a neighborhood group has created a campaign to fight the BRT idea under the name Save Our Trail. They argue against the BRT because it would make the trail less serene, which is true. You can read a recent letter outlining their concerns in Kirkland Views.
Kirkland needs both better transit and better biking and walking access. A complete and safe trail is vital to any corridor development plans. But that doesn’t mean transit and a trail cannot exist side-by-side. In fact, a project done well could allow the two elements complement each other, especially when linked to planned bike share expansion in Kirkland.
We will follow this debate as it develops.
Here is the King County press release about removing the rails:
“After nearly a decade of working to preserve this unique corridor, we can now look ahead to the day people can get out and enjoy it,” said Executive Constantine. “With phased removal of unusable tracks, we could be opening the first interim trail segment in two years.”
“It has been my privilege to lead not only on the work it took to acquire the corridor, but also today’s action which begins to realize its multiple uses,” said Council Vice Chair Jane Hague. “It is my intention to remain engaged in the vision for full development of this corridor of connecting recreational opportunities, cities, our trail network and people with jobs and services throughout the Eastside.”
“Seeing the Eastside Rail Corridor preserved in public ownership to help connect vibrant, prosperous, and sustainable communities is the culmination of years of collaborative work in the region,” said Council Chair Larry Phillips. “The corridor is a tremendous multi-use regional asset safeguarding and enhancing mobility in King County, as well as protecting our natural resources and environment.”
A 42-mile corridor running from Renton to Snohomish, through Woodinville, Kirkland, Redmond and Bellevue, and parts of unincorporated Snohomish and King counties, the ERC is owned and managed by King County, the cities of Kirkland and Redmond, Sound Transit, and Puget Sound Energy. The ERC was purchased with the goal of developing a shared, uninterrupted multi-use corridor through the spine of east King County.
The current rail tracks along the ERC are outdated and are no longer usable for rail service. Since there is no current use of the rail line, and in line with the policy related to the development of the ERC, Executive Constantine proposed removing the rails to improve operational efficiency and safety and enhance the corridor’s recreational function and value.
The County’s removal project would more than double the area of the corridor that is free of the old rails.
“We’ve witnessed the success of the interim trail improvements made by the city of Kirkland to their portion of the rail corridor, and the warm reception the improvements have received from residents and businesses in the community,” said Councilmember Rod Dembowski. “I am excited about making the corridor more accessible to other communities as quickly as possible, so that more folks can take advantage of this tremendous regional asset. Full Steam Ahead!”
The cities of Redmond and Kirkland have removed and salvaged the rail tracks in their portions of the corridor; and Sound Transit has indicated that it will remove the rails on its portion in preparation for the construction of the East Link Wilburton Station and the Link Operations and Maintenance Satellite Facility.
The 2012 legislation adopted by the Council when the County purchased a portion of the ERC said the County Executive could not proceed with any rail track removal without coordinating with Sound Transit and obtaining approval by motion of the County Council. The salvage value of the rails should cover the cost of removing the rails.
Freight and other rail use were discontinued several years before the County’s acquisition. The condition of the old rails, ties, ballast, drainage structures, and other equipment is poor and requires costly maintenance. Salvaging the removed rails would generate revenue that could help offset the cost of removal or support other corridor development activities. Market prices for steel at the time of removal will determine the actual revenue amount.
Along with King County, the ERC is owned and managed by the cities of Kirkland and Redmond, Sound Transit, and Puget Sound Energy. Through an ERC Regional Advisory Council, the partners envision a future backbone to connect a world-class regional trail system that also preserves Eastside commuter rail options and supports an array of utility services.
The King County Parks and Recreation Division is currently working on an Eastside Rail Corridor Regional Trail Master Plan for the new trail, extending from Renton to Woodinville, that would serve the region’s non-motorized transportation needs, provide expanded recreational opportunities, and connect communities like never before.
It is expected rail removal would begin at a 1.3-mile segment south of Kirkland, which has already removed rail and developed a trail through its portion of the corridor. It is likely King County would begin developing an interim gravel trail at that location, extending the length of usable trail within the ERC.