County deal for Eastside Rail Corridor to die — for now

Melanie Russell, April 9, 2015, Snohomish County Tribune

Snohomish County is ending its agreement to buy the Eastside Rail Corridor for the time being, but county officials insist it is a small delay on sealing the deal.

The county is heading toward an April 30 purchase deadline it says it can’t meet because of logistics issues with putting a trail alongside the existing tracks.

The 12-mile chunk of rail corridor from Snohomish to Woodinville is the critical cornerstone to getting a tourist train line started.

Last week, the county began asking the County Council to terminate the purchase-and-sale agreement. The county has been negotiating to buy the line from the Port of

Seattle for a few years now.

A short-line railroad currently runs on the tracks. Ballard Terminal Railroad Co. delivers products such as glass and lumber to businesses near Maltby, and the county is still working things out, the county’s point person said in an interview Monday, March 30.

County public works director Steve Thomsen said it came down to agreeing about trails with Ballard Terminal.

“Right now, the current rail operator is in a situation

where it’s difficult for him to settle on what the trail looks like by April 30,” Thomsen said. “So we kind of need to terminate the agreement with the Port of Seattle as it stands right now. We will probably continue dialogue and discussion, and hopefully negotiate a new agreement sometime down the road.”

Thomsen reiterated that the county plans to continue negotiating with the port to buy the rail corridor.

Snohomish’s tourist train idea pictures a route from Woodinville to Snohomish. For this idea to become

reality, the already-existing rail tracks would need to be updated to meet passenger train standards for the approximate cost of $10 million.

Snohomish mayor Karen Guzak, who’s been following the deal closely with the interest of getting a future excursion train in the city, said she understood why this was happening.

“I understand the position of Snohomish County that they were looking at greater liability for underlying property rights than they originally anticipated,” Guzak told the Tribune. “I am not without hope that this can be resurrected at some point in time, though.

We’ve been real involved, a cheerleader, certainly, for this and our city would benefit hugely. The whole region would. But Snohomish County has to deal with the reality. I certainly support the county’s decision to back off of this for now and have hope for the future.”

Thomsen reiterated the deal is not dead, just dormant.

“I am going to restate that we will continue to work with the Port on how to eventually get a trail in that corridor and potentially rail services also,” Thomsen said.

The port bought the entire 42-mile Snohomish-to-Renton line from Burlington Northern Santa Fe in 2009 for $80 million.

In 2013, the County Council authorized the county to spend $5 million to buy the Woodinville-to-Snohomish stretch with money dedicated to parks that was collected from property taxes.

The County Council is expected to sign off on terminating the deal this month. No date is confirmed yet for when that discussion will happen.

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