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Facts on King County’s Efforts to Save the
BNSF Eastside Rail Corridor
(Spring 2006)

King County Goal:

• King County’s goal is to work to preserve the Eastside Rail corridor for the benefit of the public.

Current Status:

• King County is still in the early stages of the acquisition process to determine if it is feasible to purchase the corridor. The County has retained an appraiser, title company and other consultants to perform due diligence on the corridor.

• The title and appraisal work are nearing completion, and formal negotiations with BNSF to acquire the corridor are expected to begin later this spring.

Background:

• BNSF’s Eastside Rail Corridor consists of a 40 mile rail corridor running from the north end of Renton to the city of Snohomish, plus a seven mile spur line running between the cities of Woodinville and Redmond. The rail corridor passes through the King County cities of Renton, Bellevue, Newcastle, Kirkland and Woodinville.

• The portion of the corridor that BNSF is willing to sell begins at mile-post five by Gene Coulon Park in the City of Renton. This is approximately one mile north of Boeing’s Renton Plant and four miles north of the depot for the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train.

• Driven by increasing maintenance costs and declining freight use and revenues, BNSF has expressed interest in divesting this rail corridor since the fall of 2003. BNSF has determined that the line is not economically viable for it to continue to operate.

• In January 2004, the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) began an evaluation of the potential benefits of the preservation or purchase of the rail corridor.

• In the spring of 2005, King County stepped forward to try to preserve the entire corridor. Prior to that time, no agency had engaged BNSF in discussions to preserve the entire corridor.


Existing Uses on the Corridor:

• Annual freight car loads on this line have declined dramatically over the years. In 2002, the Eastside Rail Corridor handled approximately 1,000 freight car loads. By comparison, Seattle’s main rail line handled approximately 500,000 freight car loads during the same period.

• According to BNSF, there are no known new potential rail customers with plans to use the Eastside Rail Corridor.

• Existing users of the Eastside Rail Corridor include Boeing, Safeway, Weyerhaeuser and the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train. Weyerhaeuser operates a box plant on the line in Bellevue and the Boeing Company uses the line for certain fuselages. BNSF has indicated that it will work with existing users to accommodate their needs as it moves to discontinue operations on the line.

• BNSF currently operates the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train on the line under a contract with the Dinner Train company that currently ends in November, 2006. BNSF and the Dinner Train are currently in negotiations on an extension for a limited term.

• Under federal law, the Dinner Train (or any other interested party) could acquire the right to continue rail operations on the corridor. The process is known as an “offer of financial assistance” and would trump any deal between the County and BNSF. The likely difficulty with this approach is that the costs of providing rail service and maintaining the corridor may well exceed the revenue that the corridor will generate.

Future Uses and Public Benefits:

• King County’s primary objective is to preserve the Eastside Rail Corridor for public use. If the corridor is broken up for development, there can be no rail, no trail – or any public use.

• The County is not eliminating any options for use at this time and is committed to a full public process to explore all feasible uses following public ownership.

• The PSRC is conducting a study of all feasible uses of the corridor. The County is committed to the PSRC process. The study involves all interested stakeholders, including existing corridor users, trail advocates, cities along the corridor, as well as BNSF and the County. The PSRC expects to complete the study by the end of 2006.

• Portions of the rail corridor may be suitable for development as a recreational trail for walking and biking, for continued rail use, or for rails with trails.

• Since the County’s acquisition of the corridor will involve public money, the County must ensure that both the acquisition and future uses best serve the public interest. To ensure the public interest is served, the County is committed to carefully evaluating all of the key issues involved in the transaction, including acquisition, development, and operations and maintenance costs; liability issues; economic benefits; and environmental protection, among others.

If you would like to subscribe to e-mail updates about this project, please send an e-mail message to listman@metrokc.gov with the words “Subscribe eastsiderail” in the subject line.



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