The event was sponsored the Cascadia Center for Regional Development, a Seattle-based transportation study and rail advocacy group and a member of the Alliance, and co-chaired by city of Snohomish Mayor Karen Guzak and Woodinville Councilmember Les Rubstello.
The Alliance also includes the King County Regional Advisory Council, as well as the city councils of Bellevue, Kirkland, Snohomish and Woodinville — all with dogs in the hunt to varying degrees.
Further, it includes the county councils of King County and Snohomish County, and the Port of Seattle.
After brief introductions, Bruce Agnew, Cascadia Center director, began with some background: The Port of Seattle acquired the 44-mile rail corridor from Burlington Northern Santa Fe in 2009.
While most of the King County portion has been sold to public entities, the
Snohomish portion is still owned by the Port of Seattle. A new company called Eastside Community Rail already runs freight from Snohomish to Woodinville via Everett and hopes to run a weekend excursion train at least to the wineries of Woodinville and to Kirkland.
Kirkland, however, bought part of the line for $5 million and is planning to pull up the track, said to be in disrepair, and replace it with a bicycle trail
Kirkland officials are currently seeking bids for the railway’s removal and the work could begin as early as April, they said.
To that end ETRA organizers issued a petition which was signed by many officials and circulated: “We support the retention of the Eastside Rail Corridor track and thus support a moratorium on all removal of track in the entire Eastside Rail Corridor, specifically Kirkland’s 5.75 portion.”
“We just want them to wait,” Gruzak said. “We believe we can have both rails and trails.”
Agnew said the tracks are currently usable for freight but need upgrades to carry passengers, which would amount to about $6 million for the 15.6 miles from Snohomish to Woodinville.
Funding is being sought through federal, state and Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) sources, he added.
The PSRC is responsible for distributing federal highway and transit funds under the Surface Transportation Program (STP) and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program.
“We just want Kirkland to pause and wait for the King County trail way process to play out in 2013 to determine the regional impacts,” he said.
Rubstello said the main goal of the Alliance was to try to acquire federal and state funds to upgrade the infrastructure, and that Woodinville’s interest was in the resurrection of “some kind of a dinner train.”
The Spirit of Washington dinner train operated for 15 years out of Renton with trips to Woodinville and back.
In October 2007 the operators announced it would be shutting down because of low ridership.