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Originally published November 7, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 8, 2007 at 1:00 PM

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Snohomish

Rail-corridor plan is encouraging to dinner-train owner

Different landlord, same intentions. Eric Temple, owner of the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train, said he was as surprised as anybody by...

Times Snohomish County Bureau

Different landlord, same intentions.

Eric Temple, owner of the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train, said he was as surprised as anybody by last week's announcement that the Port of Seattle, not King County, probably will assume ownership of the 42-mile rail corridor between Snohomish and Renton.

Port Commission President John Creighton said he's a fan of the dinner train, which in July was forced to abandon its 15-year route between Renton and Woodinville's Columbia Winery. An expansion of Interstate 405 required severing the rail through Bellevue.

"If we could figure out a way to have them operate from Snohomish to Woodinville, it would be wonderful," Creighton said.

Thursday's announcement came just two days after Temple had announced his own decision to shut down the dinner train and lay off its staff. Temple in August had moved the dinner train to Tacoma, after negotiations for the Snohomish-Woodinville route bogged down. But higher expenses, declining ticket sales and complications with Tacoma Rail, the operator of his new route, doomed the popular train.

Temple said his continued interest in the northern route depends upon who ultimately operates the 14-mile stretch of rail through Snohomish County. The Temple family also owns Columbia Basin Railway, which had been negotiating a five-year agreement with BNSF Railway to operate that line, which connects in Snohomish with BNSF's main line running east-west along Highway 2.

"We have no intention of running the dinner train on someone else's railroad," Temple said, because of lessons taken from the Tacoma experience.

Creighton said the Port would seek a third-party operator for the Snohomish portion of the rail corridor, using a public bid process.

"That's encouraging," said Temple, who planned to contact Creighton to discuss the issues.

The port's tentative $103 million deal to buy the full rail corridor from BNSF would close a political saga that began in September 2006, when King County and the Port announced a complex transaction under negotiation with BNSF and the state. One aspect involved the Port buying the rail corridor and then trading it to King County for Boeing Field.

King County Executive Ron Sims wanted to convert the former dinner-train route into an Eastside trail, while the Snohomish County rails would remain in place for freight traffic — and perhaps a relocated dinner train. The rail corridor north of Woodinville is considered wide enough to support a trail next to the tracks.

Controversy over the Eastside rail-to-trail issue stymied the original proposal. Creighton said his Commission strongly supports keeping the corridor in Port hands to ensure it remains available for potential rail projects in the future.

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For now, however, the rails are to be ripped out. Under the new proposal, King County would spend $44 million to build the Eastside trail, while Snohomish County would be responsible for any trail construction north of Woodinville.

The Port's purchase deal is expected to close by late March, Creighton said.

Snohomish County is waiting until the corridor's fate is settled before discussing any plans about trail-building, said Tom Teigen, the county parks director. The corridor could link King County's trail system with Snohomish County's Centennial Trail, which now starts in Snohomish and goes north. Officials hope that trail will eventually go all the way to the Skagit County border.

"It's a great opportunity," Teigen said.

Diane Brooks: 425-745-7802 or dbrooks@seattletimes.com

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