Facts on King County’s Efforts
to Save the
BNSF Eastside Rail Corridor
King County Goal:
• King County’s goal is to work to preserve the Eastside
Rail corridor for the benefit of the public.
• 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.
• 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
• 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
• 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
• 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
• 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
• 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.
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