Snohomish County gives commuter-train rights to railway
Just 11 days after the Port of Seattle agreed to buy BNSF Railway's Eastside line for $107 million, Snohomish County gave another company...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Just 11 days after the Port of Seattle agreed to buy BNSF Railway's Eastside line for $107 million, Snohomish County gave another company the right to operate commuter trains where a station could be built in the city of Snohomish.
GNP Railway, which obtained railroad "running rights" beside 350 feet of the county-owned Centennial Trail in Snohomish, wants to run passenger trains from there to Bellevue and eventually to Renton.
It wasn't immediately clear how much leverage, if any, the GNP-Snohomish County deal will give GNP in its bid to become a for-profit passenger rail line. The Port ultimately will decide whether commuter rail is viable and, if so, who should operate it.
"It's a work in progress for everybody," said GNP Chairman Tom Payne. "This is just part of the preparatory work. If you don't do this, you're not going to be running trains out there anyway, so you might as well go home."
Snohomish County Executive Director Peter Camp, a top administrator under County Executive Aaron Reardon, said the County Council directed Reardon to negotiate an agreement with GNP because it wanted to "jump-start" passenger rail service.
"The idea was to provide a springboard to enable commuter rail rather than studying it for decades," Camp said shortly before he signed the 31-year deal with GNP Railway Friday afternoon.
GNP would pay the county a nominal 50 cents for every mile rail cars travel on county land where a station stood decades ago. The company would have to replace the tracks and station that are no longer there. The existing trail would stay in place.
The county-owned land is separated from the part of the rail corridor the Port is buying by a stretch of unused track and a trestle across the Snohomish River.
Camp said Reardon and the County Council weren't attempting to influence who may be chosen to operate commuter rail.
"We're not choosing among a bunch of suitors here. There's only one who stepped forward and said, 'I will do this and I will do this on my own nickel,' " Camp said.
Some rail advocates, including the Cascadia Center at Discovery Institute, have suggested that Sound Transit operate any passenger trains.
"I'm interpreting this deal as a public sentiment that we really want to have commuter rail for our citizens, not necessarily an endorsement that Tom Payne and his railroad are the best operator. We need an open process and a public competition," said Cascadia Center Executive Director Bruce Agnew.
Payne, a former locomotive engineer, transformed a failing rail line into Canada's third-largest railroad in the 1980s and 1990s. He operated a tourist-oriented excursion train out of Tacoma in 2006.
When the Port agreed to buy the Eastside rail corridor, it said it would keep freight trains running north of Woodinville and would sell King County a $1.9 million easement to build a biking and hiking trail south of Woodinville.
King County and the Port have both endorsed the concept of "dual use" in the long term by trains and bicyclists. The Port is about to start a yearlong public process to discuss interim uses.
Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or email@example.com
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