Dinner train makes tracks to Tacoma
Seattle Times Eastside bureau
The Spirit of Washington is pulling out of King County — at least for now.
The historic dinner train, which has traveled from Renton to the Columbia Winery in Woodinville since 1992 and is credited with helping to revive downtown Renton, will move to a Tacoma route beginning Aug. 3.
The announcement surprised supporters of a proposed Woodinville-Snohomish route, who have been in negotiations with dinner-train owner Eric Temple for months.
Temple said the move to Tacoma on a trial basis does not preclude a dinner train between Woodinville and Snohomish — a route that both cities, and King County, have supported.
"We are absolutely planning to go to Woodinville as well," Temple said.
But the deal with Tacoma was easier because the city owns the rail tracks there, while the Woodinville-Snohomish route requires a complex agreement among the county, the Port of Seattle and the railroad's owner, BNSF Railway, Temple said.
"We kind of ran out of time because the deal was so complicated," he said.
Temple had a deadline. BNSF, owner of the current route, is selling it and has agreed to let the state Department of Transportation tear down the Wilburton tunnel in Bellevue in order to widen Interstate 405.
The train, which has had 100,000 yearly riders, will run its old route — to the winery — for the last time July 31.
The new Tacoma route will run from Freighthouse Square to Eatonville, a 3 ½-hour round trip heading south to Lake Kapowsin, as part of a 10-month pilot agreement between the Spirit of Washington and the city of Tacoma, which owns the tracks. If it's successful, a 20-year contract might be negotiated.
The move to Tacoma shocked some who had been working to create a northern line.
"It's a slap in the face to everyone who's been involved" with efforts to create a northern route, said John C. Erdman, executive director of the Greater Woodinville Chamber of Commerce. He said he had no idea Temple was talking to Tacoma, and he's skeptical that the Spirit of Washington will start a Woodinville-Snohomish route now.
"My gut feel is if it makes a move, then it's gone," he said.
Without a looming deadline, Temple and BNSF have no real motivation to bring a dinner train to the area, Erdman said.
"The pressure is absolutely off him to finish the deal," he said.
But BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said the northern route is "under discussion."
And Temple says he will purchase additional rail cars to start another dinner-train line once a Woodinville deal is finalized. That could happen as early as December, he said.
"There is equipment out there," he said of the vintage rail cars for which the line is known.
Kurt Triplett, chief of staff for King County Executive Ron Sims, said Sims is hopeful that Temple would either shift the train from Tacoma to Woodinville at the end of the 10-month trial or start a second train.
He called the Tacoma deal "a nice temporary solution. They haven't stopped the conversations, nor have we, about moving them to the north."
Temple had unsuccessfully sought $10 million from the state Legislature to build depots at both ends of the northern route.
Colleen Hill, president of the Snohomish County Chamber of Commerce, remains optimistic.
"We've been told we're still in the running, that this is just an interim situation," she said.
Amy Roe: 206-464-3347 or email@example.com
Times reporters Diane Brooks and Keith Ervin contributed to this report. Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.
Information in this article, originally published June 14, was corrected June 14. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the state Department of Transportation will tear down the Wilburton trestle in Bellevue to widen Interstate 405. The planned widening of I-405 involves tearing down the Wilburton tunnel, not the trestle.
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