Several compelling reasons exist for retaining and upgrading the BNSF rail line that traverses the Eastside (formally called the Woodinville Subdivision and referred to below as the Eastside railroad). The most obvious of these, of course, is to provide commuter rail service in the rapidly growing and increasingly congested urban area along the eastern shore of Lake Washington.1 However, another important, but often overlooked, benefit of the railroad is to help provide resilience for both the Eastside and the Puget Sound region as a whole -- and possibly far beyond.
The term resilience refers to the ability of a city, region, or any other system, to survive and recover from disasters, regardless of type or cause. It is used here in its broadest sense, that is, not only to include mitigation of the damage to the economy and to the quality of life that could result from natural and man-made calamities, but also to facilitate recovery as efficiently and completely as possible.2
Major disasters have occurred throughout human history, as a result of both natural events and human activities. And despite the fact that most of us would prefer not to think about it, they will occur again, typically when least expected -- and often when ill-prepared. The catastrophes that occurred on September 11, 2001 in New York and four years later in New Orleans serve as stark reminders of the vulnerability of our large metropolitan areas.
Large urban areas are vulnerable for a variety of reasons, including (a) high population densities, (b) fragility of transport networks and other infrastructure, (c) dependence on remote and precarious sources for fuel, food, water and other necessities, and (d) attractiveness as targets for terrorism. Additional factors that make the Seattle metropolitan area particularly at risk include (a) its unstable geology (e.g., major earthquake faults and active volcanos), (b) its unusually fragile transportation infrastructure, (c) the existence of extensive nuclear facilities and (d) the fact that it is a high profile and valuable target for terrorists.3
Unfortunately, political leaders and government agencies tend to focus mainly on the most immediate problems, as do many businesses and individuals, and fail to adequately consider less visible and longer-term issues such as regional resilience. And even within the limited planning for regional resilience that currently takes place, the focus has been primarily on the immediate response to disasters and relatively little attention has been paid to the more complex long-term recovery process. The good news is that, with advance planning, it is typically possible to do a great deal to minimize the potential adverse effects of those disasters that do occur and facilitate recovery. This can often be accomplished at a rather low cost, particularly in comparison to the potential benefits.
It is widely recognized that transportation plays a crucial role both in the immediate emergency response to a disaster and during the subsequent post-disaster recovery period. If the surface transportation system is highly fragile, as is the case in the Puget Sound region, then this can aggravate disasters and retard the recovery.4
There are four main roles that the Eastside railroad could play in helping to maximize the resilience of the Puget Sound region: (a) emergency rail freight redundancy, (b) emergency freeway mitigation, (c) insurance against fuel supply disruption and (d) emergency evacuation.
The Port of Seattle and the Port of Tacoma are among the nation's largest seaports, and they play a very important role in the economy of the Puget Sound region, as is clear from the fact that the combined value of their shipments was about $75 billion for 2008.5 Both are heavily dependent on rail transportation for the long distance movement of intermodal containers and bulk commodities, which account for most of their overland shipments.6
The prolonged disruption of any part of this rail service would severely hamper port operations, and could thus have a major adverse effect on the local economy. Such disruption could even affect the national economy in some situations, such as during an economic boom, at which time all West Coast ports would be operating at or near full capacity.
Moreover, it is possible that the local effects would last much longer than the period of rail outage, and it is even conceivable that there might never be a complete recovery. This is because of the extremely competitive nature of seaports and the consequent likely long-term loss of some international shipping to other West Coast ports.7 Such has been the experience of Kobe, Japan, whose formerly preeminent port never fully recovered from the effects of the severe damage that it and related transportation infrastructure sustained from the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake.8
The Ports of Seattle and Tacoma are currently connected with the U.S. transcontinental rail network by three routes through the Cascades,9 two of which are fully owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) and one of which is mostly owned by BNSF. They are:
1) Columbia River Gorge: The BNSF component of this route runs from Seattle and Tacoma south to Vancouver, and then east through the Columbia River Gorge via the former Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railway's main line to Pasco and on to Spokane, where it connects with the company's northern transcontinental main line. The route from the Gorge north was the first rail line into the Puget Sound region, having reached Tacoma in 1873. Additionally, Union Pacific Railroad has its own track from Seattle to Tacoma and trackage rights over the BNSF section from Tacoma to Vancouver, where it again connects to its own track through the Gorge and joins its transcontinental network.
2) Stampede Pass: This BNSF route, which branches off at Auburn from the company's main line between Seattle and Tacoma, runs through the Cascades via the 1.8-mile Stampede Pass tunnel and then heads southeast to Pasco, where it merges with the line to Spokane. Completed in 1888 by the Northern Pacific Railway, this was the first of the three major Cascades tunnels. This line was closed in 1983 by Burlington Northern Railroad, which considered it superfluous, but it was subsequently reopened by its successor, the BNSF, at considerable expense in 1996 in response to increasing rail traffic.
3) Stevens Pass: This BNSF route runs north to Everett and then east through the Cascades to Spokane via the 7.8 mile Stevens Pass tunnel. Completed by the Great Northern Railway in 1929 to replace a shorter tunnel at a higher elevation, the Stevens Pass tunnel was then considered one of world's great railway engineering feats and is still the longest mainline rail tunnel in North America.10
Unfortunately, each of these three remaining routes has major disadvantages, including tunnel bottlenecks. The largely water level southern route features the best operating conditions, at least with respect to its minimal grades and curvature, its lack of restrictions on double-stack container trains, and the fact that it has two or more tracks for nearly the entire distance between Seattle and Vancouver (and one single-tracked line on each side of the Gorge). However, the approximately one mile single-tracked Nelson Bennett Tunnel under Point Defiance (northwest of downtown Tacoma) is a serious choke point on this heavily used route.11 In addition, it is by far the longest of BNSF's three lines to Spokane; this is not an issue for the Union Pacific because, after passing through the Gorge, its transcontinental route heads southeast, and thus its trains do not need to travel back north to Spokane.
The Stampede Pass route has a tunnel height insufficient to allow double-stack container trains, which greatly restricts its use to a relatively small number of trains each day consisting mostly of general merchandise and bulk commodities. It also has steep grades approaching the tunnel (2.2 percent compensated on each side) and a change of grade direction (i.e., a summit) within the tunnel, thus adding to its operational difficulties. In addition, it suffers from an indirect routing on the eastern side of the Cascades, although not nearly as long as that of the Gorge route.
The Stevens Pass route features the shortest distance to Spokane together with a tunnel that can accommodate double-stack container trains, and it thus carries the largest volume of intermodal containers. However, the tunnel's capacity is severely limited by the need for each train to wait about 45 minutes after the passage of the previous train in order for the toxic diesel exhaust gasses to be removed (by huge ventilation fans). Diesel exhaust is much more a problem for this tunnel -- that is, for the train crews and passengers that use it and for diesel engines, requiring relatively clean air for combustion -- than for others because of both its length and its steep eastbound grade (about 1.6 percent), which greatly increases emissions from trains traveling in that direction.
This route also has the disadvantage that it is, at least currently, the most vulnerable to disruption from natural phenomena, and perhaps from malevolent human activities as well. This is because of (a) its century-old, mile-long tunnel under downtown Seattle, (b) its aging (1914) Salmon Bay bascule bridge across the Lake Washington Ship Canal, (c) its long, geologically-unstable coastal alignment north of Golden Gardens and (d) the unstable soil under most of the track between the Ship Canal and several miles south of downtown.
The downtown Seattle tunnel, although hailed as an engineering marvel when completed by Great Northern in 1905, is built near a series of active earthquake faults, including the very dangerous Seattle Fault12 and lacks modern safety features. A major earthquake, or a derailment and subsequent fire, could close it for a prolonged period, and possibly cause or aggravate damage to the city above it.13 The conspicuous tunnel and bridge also may make this segment particularly vulnerable to sabotage.
The coastal segment already experiences shutdowns for days at a time on a nearly annual basis due to minor landslides from the steep cliffs immediately to its east triggered by winter storms. It also passes through at least two major earthquake faults, including the South Whidbey Island Fault, and possibly several as-yet-unknown ones as well. A moderate earthquake nearby or a major earthquake elsewhere in the region could cause one, or multiple, severe landslides that could make the line impassible for weeks. Moreover, landslides not only block the tracks, but they can also knock rail vehicles off of the tracks and into Puget Sound, as happened several years ago,14 and thereby cause serious pollution from leaking chemicals.
Soil liquefaction is the sudden liquefying of wet, unconsolidated sediments that can occur during an earthquake. It reduces the strength of the soil and thus can cause major structural damage to buildings, bridges, roads, rail lines and other structures. Much of the BNSF main line through Seattle is in areas that have been designated potential liquefaction areas. This includes several miles of the track south from downtown Seattle, which runs between the Duwamish River and the I-5 freeway, as well as all of the track north from downtown through the Interbay area and to the Ship Canal. Most of the remainder of railroad mileage within the city (i.e., north of the Ship Canal) and north to Everett is in areas that have been designated potential slide zones.15
A longer range consideration is the fact that, because much of the line between north Seattle and Everett is only a few feet above sea level, it is expected to become very vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Global warming is widely expected to result in a significant rise in sea levels during the coming decades due mainly to the melting of the polar ice caps, with recent mid-range forecasts projecting an average increase of nearly five feet by the end of the current century.16
Moreover, the rising temperatures are also expected to lead to more violent and more frequent storms.17 The result would be an undermining of the trackbed as well as an increased frequency, and possibly increased severity, of mudslides from the adjacent bluffs. This would lead to more frequent and longer periods of shutdown and other operating restrictions for the line, or it could eventually require its abandonment. Elevation of the tracks on pylons at its current location would be extremely costly, would disrupt rail traffic for a prolonged period, and would raise serious environmental issues. Reconstruction on the bluffs to the east of its current location would likewise be impractical because of the highly undulating topography, the need to displace numerous residences, the enormous cost, etc.
In addition to port traffic (mostly double-stack intermodal container trains) to and from the U.S. heartland, the coastal section also carries a substantial amount of freight and a moderate amount of passenger traffic to and from the area north of Everett, including Canada. Both freight and passenger traffic between Seattle and that area have been increasing in recent years, due in part to growing trade with Canada resulting from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and to the addition of more passenger trains, and this trend is expected to continue over the long term.18 As it is currently the only operational rail link between Seattle and points north, including Everett, Bellingham and Canada, within hundreds of miles -- the nearest remaining alternative rail route being in Idaho19 -- its prolonged disruption or loss would have substantial economic and quality of life consequences in addition to those caused by prevention of port and other traffic from using the Stevens Pass tunnel.
The loss of a rail connection between the Seattle area and the Stevens Pass tunnel could also complicate operations for Boeing, which is still one of the region's largest employers. This is because it has long preferred to ship its 737 fuselages, which it produces at its plant in Wichita, Kansas, to its plant in Renton for final assembly via the Stevens Pass route.
The BNSF route from Seattle south to Vancouver also has experienced damage from winter storms, and such damage, particularly along the coastal sections, could likewise become more frequent and more severe as a consequence of climate change. There have even been times, as recently as January of this year, when two of the three rail lines connecting the Seattle area to the rest of the U.S. have become impassible simultaneously,20 and such situations can reasonably be expected to become more common in the future.
Fortunately, not only is there is a potential bypass for the coastal line between Seattle and Everett, but it is one that could be made available at a relatively modest cost. It is the Eastside railroad, which conveniently connects to BNSF main lines at two strategic locations: to the north-south line south of downtown Seattle (at Black River Junction in Tukwila) and to the east-west line between Everett and Stevens Pass (immediately south of the City of Snohomish)21. This line has sufficient clearances for double-stack container trains as evidenced by the fact that such trains were frequently operated on it prior to the severing of the track at Wilburton Tunnel (just south of downtown Bellevue) in early 2008 and by the fact that it was used to transport loads that were too large to fit though the downtown Seattle tunnel.
Such potential could be realized by constructing a bridge over the I-405 freeway in order to reconnect the track at Wilburton, as had originally been planned by WSDOT, together with making relatively modest upgrades to the track and other infrastructure in order to operate longer and faster trains (including straightening of several curves and possibly lengthening or adding several passing sidings).
A proposal to increase the height inside of the Stampede Pass tunnel in order to allow the passage of double-stack container trains has sometimes been mentioned as an alternative to retaining the Eastside railroad.22 This project would be beneficial in that it could increase total rail capacity through the Cascades and would further add to freight redundancy, at least if the Eastside railroad were kept intact. However, these benefits need to be weighed against the very substantial cost of the project23 and the consequent fact that BNSF has not given it a high priority and thus it could be many years in the future. Moreover, such project would do nothing to replace the other important potential roles of the Eastside railroad, including for commuter rail service and for providing an emergency connection to the rail network north of Everett. Also, as the Stampede Pass route is considerably longer than the Stevens Pass route, a large additional expenditure would be required to shorten it.24
There may be other, more beneficial ways to boost rail capacity through the Cascades. For example, opening the Point Defiance Bypass in a few years will remove the current, ten-daily passenger train movements through the Nelson Bennett Tunnel bottleneck, and operating the separate BNSF and Union Pacific single-track lines through the Columbia River Gorge as a couplet, with each track carrying trains only in a single direction, could further increase capacity. In addition, it could be possible to significantly increase the capacity of the Stevens Pass tunnel by improving the ventilation system in order to reduce train waiting times or, eventually, perhaps by the development of fuel cell locomotives that do not emit toxic exhaust gases.25
The term redundant often has a negative connotation, and, indeed, the first definition in most dictionaries is similar to "the state of being no longer useful or needed." However, a second meaning is the inclusion of extra components that are not strictly necessary for functioning but which provide valuable backup in case of failure. Redundancy in this latter sense is an essential feature of a wide variety of systems, ranging from aircraft to the Internet to some parts of the human body. Redundancy in the case of the Eastside railroad extends far beyond emergency backup for the BNSF main line from Seattle to Everett -- it also strengthens the regional transportation system as a whole, as is discussed below.
Sections of the Puget Sound region's freeways are likewise highly vulnerable to natural phenomena, and possibly to malicious human activities as well, and thus they could similarly become impassible for prolonged periods.
Freeways, in contrast to ordinary roads and most rail lines, are particularly susceptible to damage from earthquakes, and from any resulting soil liquefaction. This is because they usually have large numbers of overpasses and underpasses, and often extensive elevated sections, which are typically fairly rigid reinforced concrete structures with limited seismic resistance (even when they conform to legally mandated building codes). This vulnerability was clearly demonstrated by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco Bay area, the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles, and the 1995 Kobe earthquake.
Portions of two freeways in the Seattle metropolitan area, the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the SR520 Lake Washington bridge, are in an especially precarious condition, and they could become unsafe, or even collapse, as the result of even a moderate earthquake, depending on the location of its epicenter. Moreover, not only is the Viaduct itself in a designated potential liquefaction area, but also several miles of its southern extension (i.e., Highway 99) are likewise in such areas. Other freeway bridges, including many on I-405 and I-5, as well as arterial bridges could also be vulnerable, again depending on the location and intensity of the quake. It is not inconceivable that all of the region's freeways could be made simultaneously impassible as the result of a large earthquake, with restoration taking many months, or years in the case of the Viaduct and the Lake Washington bridges.
In addition, the aging SR520 floating bridge could be destroyed by a severe storm, as happened to the western half of the Hood Canal Floating Bridge in 1979 and to part of the I-90 floating bridge in 1990. Furthermore, according to experts retained by WSDOT for the state Independent Review Team in 2008, the I-90 floating bridge could be seriously weakened by the current plans for replacement of two of the traffic lanes with tracks for Sound Transit's East Link light rail line.26 Such risks would be heightened if the frequency and intensity of storms increase due to climate change, as discussed above. Moreover, both Lake Washington floating bridges could be tempting targets for sabotage because of their high visibility and perceived vulnerability.
In such circumstances, the Eastside railroad could play an important role as an alternative means of commuter and other passenger transportation because of its strategic location: that is, because it roughly parallels I-405, the most heavily used traffic artery on the Eastside, and passes through or near most major destinations on the Eastside. After some upgrading, it could easily absorb (a) substantial north-south passenger traffic within the Eastside (e.g., Renton to Bellevue and Woodinville to Bellevue), (b) some interregional passenger traffic between the Eastside and areas to the north and south (e.g., Snohomish, Everett, the Kent Valley and Tacoma) and (c) some traffic between Seattle and the Eastside in the event that one of the floating bridges became unusable. The addition of several short branch lines that have been proposed by Eastside Rail Now!, most importantly serving Microsoft and the soon-to-be-redeveloped Overlake corridor, together with adjusting bus routes to feed rail stations, would further enhance this role.
The railroad could also help maintain road freight mobility in the region in the event that one or more of the north-south freeways becomes impassible for a prolonged period. This is mainly because it could be used to absorb some Eastside passenger traffic from I-405, thereby allowing I-405 to absorb some of the through traffic from a damaged I-5 and/or Viaduct.27
The role of rail lines in providing a substitute for impassible freeways was clearly demonstrated after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, at which time the Bay Area Rapid Transit System (BART) remained fully operational (except for a few hours of suspended service in order to check for damage) and was thus able to accommodate a large share of the passenger traffic that was diverted from destroyed freeways.
Even where there is also damage to rail lines, rail service can often be restored much more quickly than freeways. This is because there are usually fewer and simpler bridges and because of the much narrower width of any trackbed and bridges that needs to be repaired or replaced. Closely related to this is the fact that fewer new materials need to be procured to repair rail lines than freeways -- that is, existing ballast, ties and rails can usually be moved back into alignment, whereas damaged freeways require removal of destroyed pavement and structures, extensive regrading and procurement of large amounts of asphalt, concrete, rebar, etc.
Little doubt exists that petroleum prices will eventually resume their long-term upward trend. This is, of course, a result of the continued growth in worldwide demand for energy, particularly in rapidly developing economies such as China and India, together with the increasing depletion of major oil fields and the diminishing pace of discovery of major new fields.28
Moreover, the potential for sudden and prolonged cuts in the supply of petroleum will likely persist on a permanent basis. Such cut could occur for any one -- or more -- of several reasons, such as the sabotage of oil production or transmission facilities in a major oil-producing country (e.g., Saudi Arabia or Iran), a blockade of Middle Eastern waterways, a change in the oil export policy of one or more major producing countries, restrictions on the mining of Canadian oil sands due to the severe environmental damage that it causes, or damage to domestic refining facilities.
In addition, gasoline prices could rise greatly and/or restrictions could be placed on its consumption as a deliberate policy measure by the U.S. government primarily in response to the growing concern about climate change and its potentially devastating impacts, but also as a means of conserving dwindling world oil supplies and as a revenue raising measure. European governments have successfully employed heavy gas taxes as a means of encouraging the use of public transportation, protecting air quality, discouraging sprawl and raising revenue.
Railroads can conserve petroleum in several important ways. One is the diversion of some traffic from road transport, which uses far more fuel per ton of freight and per passenger due largely to the physics of railways' steel wheels on steel rails operation.29 A second is that railroads are well suited for operating with electric power, which can be generated from a variety of non-petroleum, renewable energy sources.
The Eastside railroad could make an important contribution to the conservation of imported petroleum in the Puget Sound region, mainly because a passenger service on it could provide an excellent alternative to much of the north-south automobile traffic to, from and within the Eastside, as discussed above.30
Long term increases in the prices for, or shortages of, fuel would also be expected to result in the shifting of some truck transport to rail, with the extent of shift being a function of the extent and duration of increases or shortages. The first to shift would be longer distance traffic, but there could also be some shifting of intermediate distance traffic in the event of particularly severe and long-lasting price increases or shortages. With a major shift to rail, the already heavily used BNSF main line through Seattle would become increasingly congested, and the Eastside railroad could provide an important increase in capacity. Also, it is possible that there would be an increase in demand for local rail freight service along the Eastside railroad.31
Moreover, since the Seattle metropolitan area is fortunate to have relatively abundant hydroelectric power and an excellent potential for other renewable and low-pollution electric generation sources such as wind, wave and geothermal energy,32 it is possible that electricity costs will remain relatively steady in the future. Therefore, electrifying rail lines in the region could become attractive in the future in the event of large, permanent increases in petroleum prices.33
The need for a mass evacuation, although an infrequent event, must be considered when formulating comprehensive transportation and security plans for any region.34 An evacuation could be required for part or all of the Puget Sound area for various reasons, including a major volcanic eruption, a nuclear event, or a severe biological incident.
The Puget Sound area is roughly equidistant from two of the most dangerous of Washington's five active volcanos. The very prominent Mount Rainier, sometimes referred to as "America's most dangerous volcano," is only about 55 miles southeast of Seattle. The much less obvious Glacier Peak, which produced some of the largest ashfalls in post-glacial Cascade history, is only about 60 miles northeast of Seattle.
Mount Rainier presents particular peril because of the vast amount of ice, snow and clay that continues to build up on its slopes -- the largest of any mountain in the lower 48 states -- together with its proximity and clear path to heavily populated areas. It has had at least one major eruption during the past several thousand years, generating a lahar (mudflow) that reached Tacoma and the southern part of Seattle. A repeat of such event, even on a much smaller scale, would still cause massive casualties and destroy much of the region's housing stock, warehouse facilities and other infrastructure. It could also cut off major land transport routes for a prolonged period, including I-5 and the rail routes south to Vancouver and east to the Stampede Pass tunnel.35
Either volcano could emit a large volume of fine ash which could descend upon an area measuring hundreds of square miles. Volcanic ash can be a severe health hazard, particularly for people who already have respiratory problems, and it could require a substantial evacuation were it to reach populated areas. It can also cause property damage, including to automobiles and other machinery which uses internal combustion engines, and thereby severely affect both ground and air transportation. Although it might seem that the Seattle area would be protected by the prevailing winds that are from west to east, this is not necessarily the case -- such winds can reverse, as occurred during the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens.
The possibility of a serious incident at the large concentration of military nuclear facilities to the west of Seattle,36 with a consequent need for a mass evacuation, should also not be ignored, nor should the possibility of the intentional release of radiation by terrorists be overlooked. The disaster at Chernobyl resulted in the evacuation of more than 330,000 people from that largely rural area, and the Three Mile Island and other nuclear incidents in the U.S. may have come close to requiring a large-scale evacuation as well. The situation may be similar with regard to the concentration of biotechnology research facilities in the region and the intentional use of biological weapons.
Trains can be a particularly efficient way of evacuating large numbers of people quickly. One reason is that rail lines tend to be more resilient in times of disaster than are freeways, as discussed above. Another is that they can make more efficient use of fuel supplies, which could become restricted due to damage to pipelines or for other reasons. Also, road-based mass evacuations are susceptible to huge traffic jams due to accidents, to running out of fuel by individual motorists, to the collapse of bridges, and to just the sheer volume of traffic, whereas such problems can be largely avoided with railroads.37 Even if the other transport modes are functioning, trains can provide an important addition to capacity.
The trend of the past several years has been to increase the amount of mainline rail passenger service in the Puget Sound region, mainly Sounder commuter trains and Amtrak inter-city service. Although there has been controversy about the financial and other aspects of such rail programs, they have been beneficial from the standpoint of increasing the fleet of passenger rail vehicles available that could be used should a mass evacuation be required. The launching of commuter rail service on the Eastside railroad, and other proposed conventional rail passenger train projects for the region, would result in a further substantial increase in the number of such vehicles available.38
Along with evacuation, rail lines can also play an important role throughout the recovery from a catastrophe. In addition to passenger service, they can be useful for bringing in supplies for relief and rebuilding, especially those that would be restrained or impractical to bring in by truck due to collapsed freeway bridges, size, etc.
For any large potential investment, it is essential to use cost-benefit analysis -- or, ideally, least cost planning methodology, which is based on comparative cost-benefit studies -- in order to determine whether it is actually a wise use of scarce resources.39 This applies equally to investments in planning, in protecting infrastructure, and in other activities aimed at providing regional resilience.
The costs of a major disaster in the Puget Sound region could be enormous. In addition to the rebuilding of infrastructure, businesses and residences, as well as the loss of income to the public and private sectors, they would also include less easily quantifiable items such as death, disease and suffering as well as damage to the environment and to historic structures. Moreover, they could be incurred for years, decades, or even permanently in the form of a long term reduction in the level of economic activity due to departed businesses, as has been so poignantly illustrated by the experience of Kobe. For example, the cost of the 6.7 magnitude Northridge earthquake centered in the San Fernando Valley has been estimated at roughly $20 billion. The cost of the 6.9 magnitude Kobe earthquake was even greater, at many tens of billions of dollars and perhaps well in excess of $100 billion, because the damage was much more severe due both to the greater magnitude and the much denser concentration of population and industry.
Because of the near impossibility of predicting costs for catastrophes which have not yet occurred, it can be useful to first estimate the costs of specific projects aimed at increasing regional resilience, such as those of retaining and upgrading the railroad, and then compare them with alternative estimates of the potential reductions in costs (i.e., benefits) that such projects can provide for possible catastrophes.
Fortunately, the cost of preparing the Eastside railroad for a major potential role in such emergencies would be remarkably low, both in comparison to other measures, such as retrofitting buildings and roads for improved seismic strength, and in comparison to the potential benefits. Likewise, it could be accomplished quickly, with basic track upgrading being completed in a matter of months. For example, a report commissioned by the Seattle-based Cascadia Center estimated that the track for the entire 42-mile railroad could be substantially upgraded for roughly $800,000 per mile. This includes replacing the existing rail with continuously welded rail as well as installing concrete ties and upgrading the ballast.40
The BNSF Corridor Preservation Study by the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) states that it would require "an exceedingly costly investment of over several hundred million dollars" to upgrade the railroad so that it has the same freight hauling capacity as the main line through Seattle41. However, this statement should be treated with caution, as it is based on the assumption of a very intensive freight service that would be supported by the construction of five new passing sidings, each 1.5 miles in length. In fact, a substantial freight service could be accommodated without such additional sidings. It probably would not be necessary to provide the same freight capacity as the main line through Seattle, at least until such time that the coastal route was operating at full capacity or permanently impaired.
Even a cost of several hundred million dollars to substantially upgrade the entire, roughly 42-mile railroad so that it would last for another 50 years or century would be a real bargain, and it would represent an extremely low insurance premium for the region. By way of comparison, this is approximately what Sound Transit is spending for each mile of its light rail system.
Were, for example, $200 million spent for an upgrading of the rail line with an assumed life expectancy of 50 years, then the cost would be roughly $4 million per year. This is quite low in comparison to the $75 billion of port freight business for 2008, a figure that will likely resume its upward trend when the economy recovers. An outage of the coastal rail line between Seattle and Everett could easily reduce capacity to and from Puget Sound ports to cause a loss of $10 to $20 billion, along with other deleterious economic effects. Assuming the potential for a $10 billion loss of Port business per year resulting from loss of use of the coastal route, the cost of the insurance would be a mere 0.04 percent. If the other roles of the railroad in enhancing regional resilience also included, the percentage would be even smaller.
Moreover, were the costs of upgrading the railroad allocated among all of its benefits or uses (e.g., commuter rail, local freight, dinner and excursion trains), the cost of the insurance would be even lower.
One justification that is sometimes made by advocates of scrapping the Eastside railroad is the belief that BNSF would not have proposed abandoning it if it were truly necessary for regional resilience -- or for other reasons -- and that BNSF has adequate plans to deal with regional disasters in the absence of such rail line. However, upon closer inspection, this presumption makes little sense. Like many corporations, BNSF has some interest in the welfare of the communities it serves, but regional resilience is not one of its core areas of concern or competence, nor can it be. Rather, as is true of most large businesses, its main interests must be maximizing its profits and shareholder value. BNSF is, of course, very concerned about the resilience of its own operations, because that can have a major effect on its profits; but providing for the resilience of its system as a whole can be very different from preparing for that of individual cities or regions that it serves.
Indeed, the official reason that BNSF provided for deciding to abandon the Eastside railroad was declining freight revenue and rising costs, and it showed no interest in using its own resources to keep the line open and upgrade it for the public benefit. The railroad company has been primarily interested in the long haul business for a number of years and has had a policy of eliminating all but the most heavily used branch lines. Many of these lines have been acquired by small businesses or local governments, which have been able to increase revenue through active marketing and improved service while cutting costs.42
Whereas the prolonged loss of use of one of the three rail routes could severely harm the Puget Sound ports and economy, possibly permanently, such event would have much less effect on BNSF profits, because revenue from one rail line represents only a tiny fraction of the total from its numerous rail lines and because loss of revenue from that line would likely be, at least in part, compensated for by increased business on its lines serving other West Coast ports. There is a considerable precedent for railroad companies making decisions about abandoning lines that are bad for the communities they serve -- and even bad for themselves -- and the Puget Sound region is certainly no exception (e.g., Milwaukee Road's abandonment of the best route through the Cascades43 and BN's closing of its Stampede Pass route).
In contrast, planning for regional resilience is, or at least should be, one of the core duties of government bodies. They already perform this role to some extent with such things as the establishment and enforcement of building codes, which require fire and earthquake resistance, and with provisions for emergency services and martial law. However, many such bodies around the country have been seriously lagging in the development of comprehensive disaster planning, particularly the long rebuilding and recovery phase following the initial emergency response, and the Puget Sound region is no exception.44
The importance of redundancy in surface transportation is well known, even in the Seattle area, at least in principle -- although apparently not in deed. For example, a 2006 report on regional security commissioned by the PSRC stated:
The redundancy of major components of the transportation system is critical. Man-made and natural events that close or restrict use of several major components of the transportation system underscore the need for increased attention to and investment in system redundancy and the related area of improved emergency response planning.45
Despite this, discussion of and planning for regional resilience has, strangely, been very scarce in the PSRC's much touted and costly transportation plans. For example, the terms disaster, resilience and redundant were not used even once in that organization's 108-page Destination 2030 Update, Technical Appendices46, which was released in April 2007. Likewise, neither term, nor their respective concepts, are mentioned in the PSRC's January 2009 Transportation 2040, The region's new transportation plan, Executive Summary: A Snapshot of the Alternatives47, nor in its February 2009, 317-page Transportation 2040, Alternatives Technical Report48. The terms resilience and regional security were not used even once in the 281-page main body of the PSRC's BNSF Corridor Preservation Study, and although the term redundant was used a number of times, such use reflected confusion about the true extent of the emergency role of the Eastside railroad.49
No nominally comprehensive transportation plan can in fact be a genuinely comprehensive plan without taking into consideration regional resilience, particularly in the aftermath of Mount St. Helens, 9-11, Katrina and other recent natural catastrophes and in the wake of recent data showing that the Puget Sound region is even more vulnerable to earthquakes, volcanic activity and climate change than previously thought.
1) The Puget Sound region is at high risk for a major disaster for several reasons, including its unstable geological conditions, its fragile transportation infrastructure and the fact that it presents a tempting target for terrorists.
2) A great deal that can be done to both minimize the initial damage from disasters and also to speed the recovery from them. This includes advanced planning for not only the immediate response but also for the longer-term recovery. It also includes preparation of the transportation network and other critical infrastructure, a key aspect of which is retaining or creating strategic redundancy.
3) The Eastside railroad can play a major role in helping the Eastside and the Puget Sound region as a whole both to minimize the initial damage from disasters and to speed the recovery from them, through its availability for emergency freight rail redundancy, for emergency freeway mitigation, as insurance against fuel supply disruptions and for use in emergency evacuation.
This role is fully compatible with its other potential roles, the most important of which is serving as the core of a regional commuter rail service. Whereas many steps to improve resilience of the Puget Sound region would be extremely expensive and take decades, retaining and upgrading the railroad, in contrast, is something that could be accomplished relatively quickly and extremely inexpensively -- as a virtually-free byproduct of other optimal uses of the railroad.
4) The importance of the Eastside railroad in providing regional resilience has been largely overlooked by key regional government bodies. This failure is not an isolated incident. Rather, it reflects a systemic problem with transportation planning and disaster planning in the region that has resulted from the failure to employ a rational decision-making methodology, namely cost-benefit analysis or least cost planning methodology, despite the fact that the latter has been explicitly required by state law.
5) A logical next step for regional and local government bodies would be to develop a comprehensive regional transportation plan based on least cost planning methodology as required by RCW 47.80.030. Although not an easy task, such pioneering work could go a long way towards determining the true cost-effectiveness of individual projects and improving the efficiency of allocation of the region's scarce transportation funds, thereby enhancing regional resilience and simultaneously optimizing solutions for such persistent issues such as traffic congestion, air pollution and land use.
2The terms disaster preparedness, recovery and security could also be used in this context. However, security tends to connote preventative measures against malevolent human activities, whereas resilience places more emphasis on the ability to bounce back from largely unavoidable events. The Eastside railroad would do little or nothing to stop disasters from happening, but it would be extremely useful in helping the region recover from them.
3The Seattle area has a great symbolic and practical value as a target for terrorists for several reasons, including its (a) being home to some of the world's wealthiest people and best-known corporations, (b) iconic structures (particularly the Space Needle), (c) large concentration of nearby strategic military facilities, (d) concentration of strategic port facilities (the second largest on the West Coast) and (e) extensive, and vulnerable, ferry system and floating bridges. The region's unstable geology is due to its location near the convergence of two major tectonic plates (with the northeast-moving Juan de Fuca Plate pushing under the North American Plate); this and other factors making the region a particularly high risk area are discussed in more detail below.
4This fragility of the region's transportation infrastructure and its implications were highlighted by Steven Bailey, Director of the Pierce County Department of Emergency Management, when he told the Puget Sound Regional Council Executive Board on June 26, 2008: "Some of these threats, even the terrorism threat, can create a situation post-disaster where we are at risk for a long term failure to get back in business. There is such a tie between our transportation infrastructure and its very high vulnerability and our ability to recover from a disaster."
5This figure is the total of both imports and exports and consists of about $40 billion for the Port of Seattle and $35 billion for the Port of Tacoma. The former was ranked as number 12 and the latter as number 15 in the U.S.; as a single entity, they rank number five, behind Los Angeles, Houston, Newark and Long Beach. Source: Foreign Waterborne Trade Report, Port of Seattle, 2008, p. 6.
Taken together, the two ports also rank as the third largest container port complex in the U.S., behind Los Angeles/Long Beach and New York/New Jersey.
6According to BNSF, in 2002, 76 percent of all international containers arriving at Puget Sound ports were transferred to rail and transported to inland hubs. Another 21 percent of imported containers were moved by truck, mostly to warehouses, factories and retail stores within Washington. A small percentage of international containers were shipped south to Oregon and California or north to Canada. Of those containers sent to inland hubs, the final destinations were 70 percent to Chicago, 15 percent to East Coast states and 15 percent to East Coast ports for ocean shipment to Europe. Source: Washington Transportation Plan Update, Freight Movement, Draft as of June 20, 2005, pp. 30-31.
7A great deal of investment has recently been made, is currently being made, or is planned, for upgrading alternative West Coast ports and thus make them more attractive for shippers. For example, the Alameda Corridor, completed in 2002, is a 20-mile rail freight route connecting the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to staging yards for the transcontinental rail network near downtown Los Angeles. It includes a ten-mile, three-track trench that allows freight trains to avoid more than 200 grade crossings and thus travel at higher speeds and thereby reduce port congestion. As a consequence of the success of this project, construction was subsequently begun on the first phases of the Alameda Corridor East, which will provide a major eastward extension. Moreover, consideration is being given to the eventual electrification of the entire route, mainly to reduce air pollution but with the added benefits of increasing operating efficiency and reducing fossil fuel consumption.
Also, the Prince Rupert Port Authority in British Columbia is planning a large expansion of its capacity. This still small seaport, located hundreds of miles northwest of Vancouver BC, is the northwestern-most North American port that is connected to the continent's rail network and is about one day closer to Asia by ship than Vancouver BC. It also has the deepest ice-free natural harbor in North America, minimal congestion around the port, and a mainline rail connection that has both considerable excess capacity and good access to the U.S. Midwest.
8The decline has been dramatic. Before the 1995 earthquake, Kobe was Japan's busiest seaport and one of Asia's busiest. However, as of 2006 it ranked only fifth in Japan (after Nagoya, Chiba, Yokohama and Kitakyushu and tied with Osaka) and about 33rd worldwide for total cargo volume, according to World Port Ranking - 2006. Its worldwide ranking for container traffic was even lower at 38th.
9These routes can be seen on the Washington State Rail System map on the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) website. A fourth route (not shown on the map) was constructed by the now defunct Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (Milwaukee Road), the last entirely new transcontinental rail line. Operation was begun between Chicago and Seattle in 1909 via a steep surface alignment through Snoqualmie Pass, which was replaced by a 2.3 mile tunnel in 1915. The Milwaukee Road had the most efficient route through the Cascades because of its relative directness (on both sides of the mountains), its high roofed tunnel (which is suitable for double-stack container trains), its relatively easy grades (a maximum of 1.74 percent compensated on the western side of the tunnel, 0.7 percent compensated on the eastern side, and level inside the tunnel), and its electrification (which extended all the way from Othello in Eastern Washington into downtown Seattle and Tacoma). It was scrapped in 1980 in what many consider to be one of the most egregious of the numerous blunders that have characterized transportation planning in the Puget Sound region -- and which continue to be made right up to the present.
10Some urban transit and mining tunnels might be longer, and substantially longer mainline railroad tunnels are in use abroad. (The record for a mainline rail tunnel currently in operation is the 33.5 mile underseas Seikan Tunnel between Honshu and Hokkaido in Japan, and the longest under construction is the 35.5 mile Gotthard Base Tunnel through the Alps in Switzerland.)
11The Nelson Bennett Tunnel originally had two tracks, as did the rest of the line south from Tacoma to the Columbia River. However, one track was removed in order to relocate the remaining track to the center of the tunnel where the ceiling height is sufficient accommodate double-stack container trains. (The single track section actually extends several thousand feet beyond both portals of the tunnel.) This route is used by both BNSF and UP freight trains as well as by Amtrak long distance and regional (Cascades) passenger trains. Some congestion relief is expected in a few years with the reconnection of the former Prairie Line, which will allow passenger trains to bypass the Nelson Bennett Tunnel (and all of Point Defiance) and thereby considerably shorten their travel time; however, this bypass will not be used by most freight trains, mainly because of the steep grade (about 2.5 percent southbound) on the new connecting segment near downtown Tacoma.
12BNSF's downtown Seattle tunnel is at risk from earthquakes from several known sources, including the nearby Seattle Fault, and possibly from as yet unknown ones as well. It was not until 1992 that scientists became aware of the fact that the Seattle Fault is an active fault zone, perhaps the most active on the West Coast. This fault zone has been associated with violent earthquakes averaging about every 750 years during the past three millennia, with the last one about 1,100 years ago, and thus it is quite possible that it could have another major seismic event during the current century. For more information, see Seattle Fault old, active and just 8 miles down, Seattle Times, February 20, 2005.
13It is instructive to consider the fire that occurred in the 1.4 mile long, 1895 vintage Howard Street rail tunnel under Baltimore beginning July 18, 2001. Ten cars of a 60-car freight train traveling at a low speed derailed and burned for four days. Temperatures reached as high as 1,800 degrees, and some of the cars glowed orange from the heat. Freight traffic throughout the East Coast was severely disrupted because of the loss of the use of the tunnel, with some trains being diverted as far west as Ohio. Fortunately, there was no structural damage to the tunnel, and freight trains were able to resume limited operation through it in six days, but the situation could have been much worse had there been more flammable or explosive cargo on the train. This fire also resulted in a massive disruption to other activities in downtown Baltimore, with some effects lasting much longer than the fire. Effects included the closing of several streets for days (and closing of a two block section of Howard Street for more than six weeks), damage to electric power and optical fiber cables, the rerouting of many bus lines, suspension of light rail service through downtown for more than seven weeks, and major losses to many businesses.
14On January 15, 1997 five cars of a freight train were derailed by a landslide in Woodway, just north of the Snohomish County line and adjacent to Edmonds, and were pushed into Puget Sound. It is indeed fortuitous that the slide did not occur about two hours earlier, when an Amtrak train carrying about 650 passengers passed over the same track. BNSF was able to resume freight traffic, but at reduced speed, nine days later. See Landslides Triggered by the Winter 1996-97 Storms in the Puget Lowland, Washington (online edition), USGS, 1998.
15This can be seen on the maps Areas Prone to Liquefaction and Landslides and Major Transportation Corridors, City of Seattle, 2003. It is no coincidence that almost all of the rail trackage within Seattle is in a danger zone; rather, it is the result of the hilly topography and the consequent low cost and operational advantages that the city's early railroad builders realized in constructing rail lines along shore lines and on fill in former wetlands.
16See, for example, Scientists to issue stark warning over dramatic new sea level figures, The Observer, March 8, 2009 and Ocean expected to rise 5 feet along coastlines, San Francisco Chronicle, March 12, 2009.
17The Observer, op. cit. states:
Such destruction would not be caused merely by rising sea levels, however. Other effects of global warming will also worsen the mayhem that lies ahead: in particular, the increase in major storms. "When we talk about the dangers of future sea-level rises, we are not talking about a problem akin to pouring water into a bath," added Dr Colin Brown, director of engineering at the Institution of Mechanical Engineering. "Climate-change research shows there will be significant increases in storms as global temperatures rise. These will produce more intense gales and hurricanes and these, in turn, will produce massive storm surges as they pass over the sea."
18The average number of trains, including passenger, on the single-track Blaine to Everett line was about 14 daily during 2004, and the line's sustainable track capacity as of that year was 18 trains daily, according to Washington Transportation Plan Update, Freight Movement, Draft as of June 20, 2005, p. 31. Most of those trains originate in, terminate at, or pass through Seattle. The same report projected that the daily average would reach 21 trains by 2025 if capacity were increased to 30 trains daily. Capacity could be increased by lengthening existing passing sidings and/or adding new sidings.
19This is a connection between the Union Pacific Railroad and the Canadian Pacific Railway at Eastport, Idaho and Kingsgate, BC. Much of the traffic that passes through this connection is shipped by Union Pacific to and from the Port of Portland via its Columbia River Gorge line. Although two branches of the Kettle Falls International Railroad, a short line which operates on former BNSF trackage, cross into Canada north of Spokane for short distances, they do not connect to the Canadian rail network.
20The BNSF tracks south of Puget Sound, near Centralia, and north to Canada, near Stanwood and Ferndale, were flooded, and about 100 feet of track were washed out near Stampede Pass. The only route into and out of the Seattle area that remained operational was through Stevens Pass. See Floods cause rail woes in Washington, Puget Sound Business Journal, January 8, 2009.
21A wye just south of the Snohomish River allows trains coming from the Eastside railroad to proceed both east to Stevens Pass and west to Everett. A wye formerly also existed at Black River Junction, but now only the northern segment remains; however, it would be a relatively simple matter to reinstall the southern segment.
22For example, it was discussed in BNSF Corridor Preservation Study, PSRC, May 2007.
23Gregoire unveils port roads initiative, Seattle P-I, January 19, 2007 states that the cost would be $65 million for the main part of the project but that there would also be "various accompanying construction projects," which could refer to improved track alignments on either or both sides of the tunnel. The more recent BNSF: No double-stack plans for key PNW tunnel, The Journal of Commerce Online, May 21, 2008, places the cost at up to $300 million. This article also mentions the proposed $25-million contribution from the state to encourage BNSF to start the project but quotes a BNSF official who stated that his company has no plans to begin for at least five years because of sufficient capacity based on current projections.
24The Legislature wisely made provision for a creation of a major rail shortcut in Eastern Washington through the passage of legislation (RCW 79A.05.115 and RCW 79A.05.120) in 1999 that facilitates restoration by an appropriate rail operator of track and service over the former Milwaukee Road main line between Ellensburg and Lind, both of which are served by BNSF. As these sections are to expire on July 1, 2009, a new bill (HB 1717) was enacted in April of this year that will extend the deadline to July 1, 2019. The new bill also extends the east end of the corridor to Marengo, which is served by Union Pacific. The legislation contains no provision for financial assistance.
25The University of Washington's proposal use of the Pioneer Tunnel, a smaller tunnel parallel to the main Stevens Pass tunnel, for the National Science Foundation's proposed "Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory" (DUSEL) discusses how this project could also benefit the main tunnel. Specifically, it could facilitate improvements in the ventilation system that would increase tunnel capacity and improve safety for rail crews and passengers, and it would also facilitate the installation of equipment for the automated monitoring of the contents of the containers passing through the tunnel. Although this location for the DUSEL was rejected by the NSF, some of the ideas in the proposal could still prove useful. See Arguments for a "U.S. Kamioka": SNOLab and its Implications for North American Underground Science Planning, W. C. Haxton, et. al., Center for Experimental Nuclear Physics and Astrophysics and Dept. of Physics, University of Washington, April 11, 2006, pp. 14-15.
26In 2006, a state-appointed "Expert Review Panel" raised questions about installing light rail on the I-90 floating bridge, and panelist Alan Kiepper, retired president of the New York City Transit Authority, emphasized that the trains and rails would load the span to 97 percent of its intended capacity. He also reminded the other panelists of the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which collapsed in 1940, as another example of overconfidence by engineers. See I-90 floating bridge can be made safe for rail, officials say, Seattle Times, July 21, 2006. Subsequently, it has been revealed that there are other problems that could further increase the vulnerability of the bridge to storms in addition to, or in conjunction with, the greatly increased weight. They include an immediate loss of structural integrity from the removal of some concrete and rebar and plus an additional, gradual loss of structural integrity due to accelerated corrosion of the rebar from the leakage of the 1500V return current. Moreover, all of this would be occurring in an era which is predicted to have more frequent and more violent storms (see note 17 above).
27Were the Viaduct to become impassible, up to 110,000 vehicles would attempt to enter I-5 daily, according to Washington Transportation Plan Update, Freight Movement..., op. cit., p. 15.
28U.S. oil production peaked around 1970 at close to 10 million barrels per day, as had earlier been predicted, and it has been generally declining ever since, reaching about five million barrels daily in 2005. Output in Mexico, the third largest source of oil imports for the U.S., has also peaked and, in fact, Mexico may lose all of its ability to export oil in just a few years due to the rapid decline of its Cantarell oil field, the second largest ever discovered, from aggressive drilling and consequent damage to its geologic structure. Moreover, there are reports that Saudi Arabia's Ghawar oil field, the world's largest, has passed its peak production. There have been few new discoveries of significance in recent years, despite intensive exploration, and at the same time worldwide demand has continued to rise, most notably from China and India. The 2005 article The oil supply tsunami alert by Kjell Aleklett, professor in physics at Uppsala University, summarized it well:
Fifty years ago the world was consuming 4 billion barrels of oil per year and the average discovery was around 30 billion. Today we consume 30 billion barrels per year and the discovery rate is now approaching 4 billion barrels of crude oil per year.Although there is a large amount of oil available in tar sands and oil shale, particularly in Canada and the U.S., it is costly to extract. But the biggest problem is that it is extremely damaging to the environment, particularly in that it consumes vast quantities of water and causes much air pollution.
29Steel wheels on steel rails produce much less friction than rubber tires on asphalt or concrete, and thus much less energy is required to move an equal load. There is also an energy advantage in the ability to link numerous freight cars (often hundreds) together, thus allowing use of just one or a few central power units (i.e., locomotives) rather than having a separate power unit for each load (i.e., each truck) and also reducing wind resistance. According to Environmental Advantages of Inland Barge Transportation, Inland Rivers Ports & Terminals, Inc., one gallon of fuel can transport one ton of freight 202 miles by rail but only 59 miles by truck.
30See note 1 above.
31The transition to rail freight would be particularly tempting for businesses such as lumber yards and new car dealerships, which were historically served by the Eastside railroad and a number of which still exist adjacent to or near the right of way. With very large increases in fuel prices, there would even be an incentive to use rail freight to serve some facilities that are not located adjacent to the railroad; this would be accomplished by transporting trucks on railroad flatcars close to their final destinations and then having the trucks offloaded and driven the rest of the way, as has been done to some extent in Europe.
Historically, location patterns have changed over time as a function of transport costs, and there is no reason to expect that this relationship will not continue in the future. Thus, if fuel prices increase greatly and remain at a high level, it is likely that there would be a reversal of the trend that existed during much of the twentieth century for manufacturers, wholesalers and other large-scale users of freight services to disperse away from rail lines and to instead gradually relocate along rail lines. Such trend could be further strengthened if there were also a shift of consumers and the labor force towards a greater concentration in higher density urban areas.
32Indeed, locally-generated electricity was formerly used quite successfully to power a substantial portion of the rail transportation network in the Puget Sound region, a network that was far larger than the one that exists today. Electrified rail lines included the Milwaukee Road between Seattle and Tacoma and to Othello in Eastern Washington, the Great Northern Railway through the Stevens Pass Tunnel, the Puget Sound Electric Railway (between Tacoma and Seattle), the The Seattle-Everett Interurban Railway, and extensive streetcar systems in Seattle and Tacoma. Furthermore, this substantial network existed at a time when the technologies for electricity generation, transmission and consumption were less efficient than at present and when the technology was not available to effectively harness wind and other alternative energy sources.
33Although electrification of rail lines is costly, there are substantial benefits in addition to fuel savings that would help offset such costs, including increased capacity (due to faster acceleration and greater tractive effort on steep grades), reduced locomotive maintenance costs, greater locomotive life expectancy, reduced air pollution and lower noise output. Thus electrified railways are common throughout much of the world, including most main lines and many branch lines in Europe and Japan. China is electrifying its railways at a rapid pace and currently has the world's second most extensive network, after Russia. Even oil-rich Iran has been electrifying some of its intercity rail lines.
34In fact, mass evacuation plans are mandated by federal law for some situations, such as for areas near nuclear power plants and possibly for urban areas that are subject to nuclear or biological attack. Likewise, mass evacuation plans are being developed to cope with a possible eruption of Mount Rainier. Neither the state, King County, nor the City of Seattle had developed mass evacuation plans as of mid-2007, with the excuse being given that there is little likelihood that it would be necessary and because evacuation would be extremely difficult. However, as a result of federal prodding and funding, King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, together with Seattle, allocated an initial $350,000 to begin development of a plan for the Puget Sound region.
35The Super Flood, Seattle Weekly, October 19, 2005, provides an in-depth look at how the real threat of Mount Rainier is a surging wall of mud that could bury some of the region's outer suburbs.
36The Navy's Trident ballistic submarine base at Bangor, on Hood Canal, about 20 miles west of Seattle, houses one of the nation's largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons as well as a number of nuclear-powered warships. Each of the eight nuclear Trident submarines based there carries as many as 192 thermonuclear warheads, and the base has bunkers and other facilities for storing and working on additional nuclear warheads. Such bases may seem relatively benign because reports of incidents are rare; however, accidents can -- and do -- occur, in even the most carefully operated nuclear facilities, just as they can in every other type of facility, but are often kept secret. For information about a potentially serious incident at Bangor that was made public, see Nuclear missile allegedly damaged, Seattle P-I, March 11, 2004.
37This was demonstrated in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco Bay area, in which all of the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) and other rail lines survived intact but there was massive damage to area freeways. These rail lines played a key role in maintaining regional mobility. This resilience has also been demonstrated in wartime, particularly in the World Wars in Europe, where it was found that damaged rail lines could be repaired much more quickly and using far fewer resources than roads.
38This ability to provide for a mass evacuation, because they are connected to the nationwide railway network, is one of several advantages of conventional rail lines as compared with light rail and other local rail systems, which are mainly limited to operation just within an urban area. Operation on the former can be by locomotive-hauled trains and diesel multiple unit (DMU) trains. In addition to the Eastside railroad, DMU services have also been proposed or are being studied for use through Stampede Pass to Eastern Washington and from Everett to Bellingham.
39Cost-benefit analysis is a best practices tool that has long been used by economists and others to evaluate projects. It basically consists of comparing the present value of total costs with that of total benefits over the projected lifetime of the project. Both costs and benefits consist of not only easy-to-quantify monetary expenditures but also of other items that can be more difficult to measure, including effects on public health and the environment. Those projects for which the aggregate costs exceed the aggregate benefits obviously will make society worse off and should thus be rejected. Among the projects for which the benefits exceed the costs, those with the highest benefit to cost ratios should be selected. Unfortunately, many government agencies fail to apply cost-benefit analysis, fail to apply it correctly, or apply it in a deceptive manner in order to benefit narrow political and/or financial interests, thereby resulting in an inefficient use of tax revenues and inefficiency for the economy as a whole.
Least cost planning methodology, commonly referred to as least cost planning, is a newer technique for evaluating potential projects that is based on cost-benefit analysis but moves beyond it to evaluate the entire range of alternatives. It is required by Washington state law (RCW 47.80.030) for transport planning by regional organizations, such as the PSRC, although to date they have refused to use it. For more information, see A Brief Introduction to Least Cost Planning, Eastside Rail Now!, September 2007.
40Eastside BNSF Rail Line Inspection Report, Read Fay, Cascadia Center, November 21, 2007.
41BNSF Corridor Preservation Study, PSRC, May 2007, p. 64.
42In no way should this be interpreted as a criticism of BNSF, as that company has been attempting to specialize in what it does best and leave branch line operation to local organizations and specialist short line operators that can operate such lines most efficiently. Rather, it should be commended for offering the Eastside railroad to the local community at a reasonable price and intact for what the community determines are its best uses.
43See note 9 above.
44This was echoed by Steven Bailey, Director of the Pierce County Department of Emergency Management, who told the PSRC Executive Board on June 26, 2008: "We have no local, regional or state economic recovery plan post-disaster."
45Consideration of Security in the 2007 Update of Destination 2030, DKS Associates, August 24, 2006, p.6.
46Destination 2030 Update, Technical Appendices, PSRC, April 2007. This report does use the word "security" several times, but it is mostly in two very brief paragraphs on p.39 which completely overlook -- or ignore -- the concept of resilience and its importance in transport planning.
48Transportation 2040, Alternatives Technical Report, PSRC, February 2009.
49As discussed above, the report attempted to explain that the emergency freight redundancy role of the Eastside railroad would be eliminated by enlarging the Stampede Pass tunnel, and it completely overlooked any other roles for the rail line in providing regional resilience.
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