Seattle-Everett Commuter Rail Proposed -- Bn Plan Raises Questions About Regional Rail System
The Burlington Northern Railroad plans to make an official presentation tomorrow to run a commuter train along Puget Sound between Seattle and Everett, contradicting decades of studies that say such a plan won't work.
BN has even made a videotape titled, "In Two Years at 5 Percent of the Cost," which argues that the proposed line could carry as many as 50,000 people a day for less money than other transportation ideas.
BN says the plan is not specifically an attack on a proposed $9 billion Regional Transit Plan, presently the area's other major transportation option, but the presentation seems certain to lead to increased debate about that plan.
Ken Graska, head of Community Transit, the Lynnwood-based transit agency in Snohomish County, agrees the BN plan raises major questions about the Regional Transit Plan.
"I think a lot of people are thinking it," Graska said of the idea that the BN run could make part of the Regional Transit Plan unnecessary. "I think, quite frankly, that's a question people have been afraid to ask."
But D.J. Mitchell, assistant to the chairman of BN in Fort Worth, Texas, said the intent of the proposal was not to attack the regional plan. "It's not either-or," he said. "It's what you can do at this time."
Mitchell estimates it will take at least 15 years to get a regional light-rail system completed here. He also explains that many aspects of the two plans are different, with the BN plan
calling for only a few stops, including Edmonds and Mukilteo.
The light-rail plan is aimed more at regional movements, such as connecting shopping areas.
Under the larger regional plan, tentatively to be voted on in November, transportation needs would be met with two major rail operations: One with an 88-mile light-rail system from Everett to Tacoma, through Seattle, on tracks that don't yet exist; the second by running commuter-train cars on existing tracks between Seattle and Tacoma.
That larger plan did not call for a commuter-rail operation running north from Seattle. The BN plan suggests doing just that.
The BN operation would run 32 trains a day on existing tracks from the King Street Station in downtown Seattle north along Puget Sound to Everett.
BN's presentation is to be made to the board of Community Transit at 3 p.m. tomorrow at Community Transit headquarters in Lynnwood.
BN says a commuter line here could be even more successful than a line it operates in Chicago. BN's film tells about Chicago and makes a startling argument.
"We can look at the Chicago-to-Aurora corridor and see how the same type of approach to commuter-rail transportation will not only be as successful in the Seattle-Tacoma-Everett and Puget Sound region, but perhaps more successful because you have more destinations," said Jim Stoetzel, BN's director of suburban service.
BN says a new platform-type train station could be opened at the North Portal, near the Pike Place Market, where trains go into the 1906 BN tunnel under Seattle.
"In two years, we could have commuter-rail service up and running between Everett and downtown Seattle," said Mitchell.
BN's proposal goes against years of studies that said such a line couldn't work.
In 1989, a BN spokesman gave a long list of reasons such a line wouldn't work, including the fact that much new growth is on the eastern part of Snohomish County while the tracks run along the western edge.
A 1988 study by SNO-TRAN, a Snohomish County transit-coordinating agency, also came to that conclusion. And when hundreds of pages of draft plans were issued in October for the three-county regional plan, no commuter-rail line for the north suburbs was included.
The change of mind came from several factors. In 1991, BN's chairman, Jerry Grinstein, spoke to community leaders here, saying that BN was, indeed, interested in helping solve regional transportation problems. Last summer, a CT staff member, Ray Lloyd, asked BN if it would be interested in coming up with a proposal for a North End commuter line.
Other officials have suggested the plan is a way for BN to get public money to help improve its roadbed and pay other costs, but Mitchell adamantly denies that.
BN executives officially say they're not trying to replace the proposed 88-mile light-rail system. Instead, Stoetzel talks about how the BN plan "offers a true public-private partnership" and would be able to better connect such transit operations as ferries and bus lines.
BN says its plan is "an opportunity for transportation needs to be met without a tremendous investment of public monies." The BN service, carrying 30,000 to 50,000 riders a day, would be one of the largest in the area. Community Transit's express buses from Lynnwood to Seattle, for example, carry about 6,000 people a day.
But the BN proposal raises an obvious question.
"If you do a commuter line on those tracks and have good bus service on I-5, are you going to build another parallel commuter line?" asked Community Transit's Lloyd. "That doesn't make any sense."
Other officials aren't sure the BN plan would help at all.
"When you take a closer look at it, there're some things that make sense and some that don't," said Snohomish County Councilman Peter Hurley. "Frankly, for $100 million, I can do one heck of a bus system.
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