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Originally published November 7, 2009 at 12:07 AM | Page modified November 7, 2009 at 12:06 AM

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Consortium on verge of owning Eastside railway land

A year after the global financial crisis forced the Port of Seattle to delay its purchase of BNSF Railway's 42-mile Eastside rail corridor, officials say they are on the verge of closing a deal with the help of King County, Sound Transit, Redmond and two utilities.

Seattle Times staff reporter

A year after the global financial crisis forced the Port of Seattle to delay its purchase of BNSF Railway's 42-mile Eastside rail corridor, officials say they are on the verge of closing a deal with the help of King County, Sound Transit, Redmond and two utilities.

"Once we have closed the acquisition with BNSF, then we've got five partners who are ready to go forward to make sure that corridor is used for the maximum benefit of the region," Port spokeswoman Charla Skaggs said Friday.

With the property sale scheduled to close Dec. 15, the Port would own a freight rail line from Woodinville to Snohomish, while King County, Sound Transit and Redmond would buy parts of the corridor or rights to operate trails and passenger trains between Woodinville and Redmond and between Woodinville and Renton.

Sound Transit wants to use a part of the old freight-rail corridor when it extends passenger light rail from Seattle to Bellevue and Redmond, and it could use a longer stretch of the old line for future rail service.

Puget Sound Energy and the Cascade Water Alliance want to buy utility easements in the rail corridor.

Details are still being negotiated and no information was available Friday on the purchase price or the amount each partner would pay.

The Port's CEO, Tay Yoshitani, worked to assemble the new consortium after turmoil in the municipal bond market and costs related to replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct made it difficult for the Port to close its earlier deal to buy the corridor.

The Port last year agreed to buy the entire corridor for $107 million and sell King County a trail easement south of Woodinville for $2 million.

"I think it's fair to say it's a substantially different proposal than we saw previously. No one entity is bearing the burden of this purchase," Metropolitan King County Councilmember Larry Phillips said of the emerging deal.

Phillips said that "probably the largest investments will be by the Port, King County and Sound Transit."

Former King County Executive Ron Sims began bargaining with BNSF more than four years ago for possible purchase of the rail, which he said could become "the granddaddy of trails." Sims later asked the Port to put up most of the capital, at one point offering to trade county-owned Boeing Field for the rail corridor.

"I think these other governments stepping up to share the cost is a great, remarkable development. I was concerned that if we didn't get the deal closed by the end of this year, BNSF might say enough is enough. It's very timely — an early Christmas gift," said Bruce Agnew, director for the Cascadia Center of Discovery Institute, which has advocated putting passenger trains on the rail corridor.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com

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