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Originally published Monday, August 5, 2013 at 8:49 PM

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Federal panel: Kirkland rail line can give way to trail

The federal Surface Transportation Board denied an injunction sought by Ballard Terminal Railroad that would have prevented Kirkland from tearing up old railroad tracks to make way for a trail.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Backed by a favorable ruling from the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB), Kirkland’s plan to open a 5¾-mile hiking and biking trail next year is back on track.

The STB gave the city the go-ahead Thursday to remove the old railroad tracks on which a short-line railroad had hoped to restore freight and excursion rail service.

Ballard Terminal Railroad, which operates freight trains on three short-haul lines in Western Washington, had sought a preliminary injunction that would have prevented Kirkland from ripping out the tracks on the Cross Kirkland Corridor — the portion of the Eastside Rail Corridor the city bought in 2012.

Ballard, supported by its partner Eastside Community Rail, also hoped to obtain STB permission to resume freight rail service on portions of the abandoned rail corridor now owned by Kirkland, King County and Sound Transit.

But the STB refused to issue the injunction sought by Ballard Terminal Railroad, finding instead that the company “does not appear to be in a financial position to reinstitute service” and failed to show that two shippers who had expressed interest in hauling building debris by train would actually do so.

The ruling allows interim trail use along the abandoned rail line, subject to possible future use for passenger or freight rail.

Kirkland’s interim public-works director, Pam Bissonnette, said the city has notified rail-salvage contractor A&K Railroad Materials that it now can pull up the steel rails, allowing the city to open an interim gravel trail between Totem Lake and the South Kirkland Park-and-Ride by the fall of 2014.

“It was something that the entire populace of Kirkland voted on, to move ahead, and it was a disappointment when we got held up. We’re very happy to be able to move on again,” Bissonnette said.

“As this news is becoming more and more known, people are so delighted,” said Mayor Joan McBride. “ We can’t wait until the rail is out. This doesn’t preclude rails going back in at another time. We realize that, but now we’re going to be able to pursue that interim trail.”

Kirkland bought its portion of the rail corridor from the Port of Seattle last year for $5 million and has budgeted $3.6 million to build an interim trail. Meanwhile, the city and a King County advisory committee are studying the long-term future of the King County portion of the rail corridor, which connects Renton, Bellevue, Kirkland, Woodinville and Redmond.

Bissonnette said there has been “some misunderstanding” that Kirkland wants a trail without rail. In fact, she said, the city is committed to some form of transit alongside the trail and is collaborating with Sound Transit on transit options.

The City Council was scheduled on Monday night to consider an agreement under which expansion of Google’s Kirkland campus would be supported by an at-grade road crossing and an elevated pedestrian crossing of the trail, and paving of 700 feet of the trail.

Ballard Terminal Railroad general manager Byron Cole could not be reached for comment Monday.

Eastside Community Rail manager Doug Engle said the STB didn’t give Ballard sufficient opportunity for the railroad to show there was a demand for freight service and that Ballard “has been running its other two lines for 15 years and is fully capable of building this railroad into a profitable business as well.”

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

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