The Eastside railroad clearly has outstanding potential to serve as the core of a high capacity, low cost and environment-friendly regional rail transit system, as has been discussed in detail elsewhere on this web site. It would allow DMUs (diesel multiple units) or conventional locomotive-hauled trains to operate all the way from Everett or beyond in the north through the heart of the Eastside down to Tacoma or beyond in the south with relatively minor repair and upgrading of the tracks and other infrastructure.
Moreover, even further benefits could be attained by the eventual construction of several short branch lines at relatively low cost. They include:
The Overlake corridor is currently a commercial and light industrial area, but it is slated for a major redevelopment and will eventually include a large amount of high density housing. Microsoft is the largest single employer on the Eastside, and most of its workers travel up or down the Eastside rather than across Lake Washington to Seattle. Downtown Redmond has been growing rapidly and is accommodating an increasing amount of high density housing.
This is the same corridor which Sound Transit has been planning to use for the eastern-most section of its East Link light rail line from Seattle through downtown Bellevue to downtown Redmond. However, the section from Seattle to some yet to be determined location in the Overlake corridor is scheduled for completion in the year 2027, if funds become available, while no estimates have been made as to when the remainder of the line to downtown Redmond would be constructed.
In contrast, the Overlake extension of the Eastside railroad could be completed in just a few years. Moreover, it could be constructed at a far lower cost than Sound Transit's proposed line for several reasons. One is that it could initially be mostly single tracked with passing sidings, instead of the double track configuration proposed by Sound Transit. A second is that it would not have to be electrified. A third is that the large vehicle storage and maintenance facility proposed by Sound Transit could be eliminated. A fourth is that the earlier property acquisition and construction would result in a large savings in real estate, materials and other costs.
The tracks in downtown Redmond could be connected to the existing, but currently unused tracks, of the former line to Issaquah. This would allow trains to continue at least to the Willows Road industrial area and perhaps on to Woodinville.
Bellevue west to the Bellevue Transit Center This would be an approximately half mile spur that would bridge over the I-405 freeway and allow trains to run directly into Bellevue's downtown core. It would be relatively economical to construct not only because of its short distance but also because the freeway has an elevation substantially below those of both the existing railroad to its east and the transit terminal to its west. The spur could be constructed with a wye configuration that would allow trains to enter and depart to and from both the north and the south.
Regardless of whether this spur were to be built or not, downtown Bellevue could still be well served by the railroad. This because a station near the crossing of NE 8th Street could be convenient for a circulator bus system that is being planned for downtown. Moreover, downtown is expanding to the east, because of availability of much land in that direction and relatively little in other directions, and the railroad is directly in the path of such expansion. Moreover, construction of a station there would likely provide a major stimulus for such expansion.
Woodinville towards Bothell This would be an extension of the short spur that runs northwest from Woodinville and formerly extended along the northern edge of Lake Washington and terminated in Seattle. This spur could be easily extended at least the short distance across the Sammamish River and to the new, 128 acre joint campus of the University of Washington and Cascadia College, perhaps utilizing the existing underpass under the freeway. A further short westward extension would allow it to serve downtown Bothell and the rapidly growing area directly north of the lake.
Tukwila to Central Link light rail line This short westward extension would allow improved access to Sea-Tac International Airport and other destinations along Sound Transit's new light rail line. It would be ideal if DMUs from the Eastside railroad could run directly on to Central Link tracks to continue their journey to the airport; however, this might not be possible because of technical and/or institutional obstacles, but a cross-platform transfer could still be quite convenient.
Redmond to Issaquah This is a possibility for the more distant future. It would consist of restoring track along the Eastern shore of Lake Sammamish that was removed by King County in 1998 despite vigorous opposition from nearby residents. This would result in a rail transit connection of rapidly growing Issaquah not only with Redmond but also with Bellevue and the rest of the Eastside. It could also be a first small step towards the restoration of rails through the Snoqualmie Pass tunnel to Eastern Washington to eventually allow a high speed passenger service between Western and Eastern Washington.
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This page created January 12, 2007. Last updated September 2, 2007.
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