FAQ: Costs and Financing

Q: How expensive would it be to start a rail transit service using the Eastside railroad?

A: As rail transit projects go, it would be extremely cheap. This is because there is already an operating railroad with much excess capacity just waiting to be used. A major cost would be the purchase of the right of way, but this is something that will apparently happen in any event because Burlington Northern, the current owner, has expressed an interest in selling it and King County has said it wants to purchase it (or obtain it in a complex trade).

The cost, exclusive of acquiring the railroad, could be roughly $5 million per mile for the first phase if DMU (diesel multiple unit) vehicles were used, as they do not require costly electrification. The main expenditures would be for the vehicles, adding several passing sidings, construction of simple stations, smoothing some of the track and construction of a simple maintenance facility. If the first stage of operation were the approximately 20 miles from Renton to Woodinville, this would amount to about $100 million, which is much less than what it costs Sound Transit for one mile of its Seattle line.

Q: How does this compare with the cost of other rail transit projects, such as the light rail line currently begin constructed by Sound Transit in Seattle?

A: It is lower than the cost for most new systems, and comparable to the cost for the O-Train line in Ottawa, Canada. Moreover, it is only a tiny fraction of the cost of Sound Transit's line, which is approximately $170 million per mile.

Q: Why is there this dramatic difference in costs, especially since both projects are in the same region?

A: A main reason is that a railroad well suited for transit, including having a great deal of excess capacity, already exists on the Eastside, whereas at least come construction of elevated sections would have been necessary for the Seattle line regardless of the routing. There is also a major difference in philosophies; that is, Sound Transit has gone for a gold plated system, according to its critics, whereas Eastside Rail Now! is advocating a much more conservative approach of minimizing expenditure but getting the best value for it.

Q: Could Eastside railroad transit project be eligible for federal assistance?

A: Yes, it is possible that the project could receive a high rating for federal assistance for several reasons. One is that the corridor has a very large potential ridership. Another is that it could be a very low cost project since the track is already available. In addition, the new Congress appears to be much more concerned about the environment and the quality of life than the previous ones and thus could be much more willing to give priority to transit projects.

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This page created March 5, 2007.
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