EVERETT -- Community leaders from here to Bellingham hope to use the Vancouver Winter Olympics and the Everett I-5 widening project to kick-start their bid to bring commuter rail service to Marysville, Stanwood and beyond.
State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, and others made a pitch Wednesday to use a new, smallish passenger train to get commuters to Everett and Seattle from 2006 to 2009.
That's when I-5 in Everett will be ripped up, temporarily making one of the state's most congested sections of freeway even worse.
After the road is patched, commuter rail supporters want to use those same trains to get folks to the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. They hope to borrow some railcars from the Alaska Railroad, which has about 40 trains that it uses only during the summer cruise ship season.
If the trains are a hit, they want to make the service permanent for the growing number of commuters who live in the north but work in Everett or Seattle.
"We need to find a way to put this in place," Haugen said. "There's huge support for this in the north. It's amazing how much farther north the traffic (congestion on I-5) is occurring."
The goal is to have four round-trip commuter trains roll from Bellingham to Everett each weekday morning, and back again each evening.
The trains, a cheaper-to-operate, scaled-down version of a passenger train, would arrive in Everett early enough to tie into what eventually will be four daily Sound Transit Sounder trips from Everett to Seattle.
"The goal would be to leave Mount Vernon by 6 a.m. and get to Seattle by 8 a.m., and to get the cost under $20 per round-trip," said Bruce Agnew, project director of the Seattle-based Cascadia Center at Discovery Institute, which is leading the north sound rail study.
The scaled-down train is a self-propelled locomotive that carries 92 passengers, which means it would use far less fuel than a typical train, said Tom Janaky, the company's vice president of sales.
"It would cost one-sixth of what it costs to operate a normal passenger train," Janaky said.
If the number of riders increases, each specialized locomotive can pull two coaches for a total of 492 passengers.
Rail service is critical to commuters who live north of Everett, especially Boeing Co. employees who live in Skagit County, Mount Vernon Mayor Bud Norris said. He commuted to Everett from Mount Vernon for five years.
"To have a community service like a train would have been heaven-sent," Norris said.
Currently, two Amtrak trains serve the Seattle-to-Bellingham corridor, but they don't run at times commuters need them.
The commuter rail plan was put together and presented Wednesday by the North Sound Connecting Communities Project, a partnership between the Cascadia Center at the Discovery Institute in Seattle and city and county leaders from Snohomish, Island, Skagit and Whatcom counties.
A study is due by the end of the year on how much it would cost to start the service, Agnew said. The study is being funded by a Federal Transit Administration grant.
A hurdle would be access to Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway tracks, which only grudgingly gave Sound Transit access to its tracks from Everett to Seattle.
Since service north of Everett would not interfere with the railroad's main line to the Chicago and the East Coast, gaining access to the tracks might be easier, Agnew said.
Track improvements would have to be made from Everett north to the Canadian border, and in Canada if matching service were to continue into British Columbia.
Reporter Lukas Velush: 425-339-3449 or firstname.lastname@example.org.