FAQ: Eastside Rail Now!

Q: What is Eastside Rail Now?

A: Eastside Rail Now! is a grassroots environmental organization that is working to stop the proposed scrapping of the Eastside railroad. Additional goals include transformation of this underutilized rail line into the core of a swift, convenient and low cost regional rail transit system and preservation of the right-of-way adjacent to the tracks for use as a linear nature preserve and wildlife migration corridor.

Q: Who started Eastside Rail Now?

A: It was founded by a handful of very ordinary (computer geek, housewife, small business owner, artist, retail employee, writer, etc.) residents of Bellevue, WA.

Q: Why was it started?

A: We were outraged to learn of the plan by King County Executive Ron Sims to destroy one of our region's most valuable and most unique assets -- and to spend many tens of millions of our hard-earned tax dollars to do so. Moreover, Sims wanted to scrap the railroad as quickly as possible, so that there could be no opportunity for a public process and for ordinary citizens to have a say in this very important matter. Once removed, the railroad would likely be lost forever, as it would be politically difficult, and prohibitively expensive, to reinstall it -- despite the supposed guarantees of the Rails-to-Trails Act.

Q: What reason did Sims give for this?

A: The official excuse is that the right of way is urgently needed for use as a bicycle trail. It was also claimed that the railroad is not suitable for rail transit "because it does not go anywhere useful" and "because it has sharp curves."

Q: When was Eastside Rail Now! begun?

A: It was founded on January 2, 2007, and this website was launched two days later. This was followed in March by the start of regular public meetings, which were initially held in a local coffee shop.

Q: How is Eastside Rail Now! being funded?

A: It is being paid for out of the pockets of its organizers.

Q: Is Eastside Rail Now! affiliated with any other special interest groups?

A: There have long been rumors that Eastside Rail Now! was actually set up by, or is somehow affilated with, Eastside special interests that are notoriously anti-transit and pro-freeway. This is because Eastside Rail Now! has vigorously opposed Proposition 1, as have those interests, because it is based in close proximity to such interests on the Eastside, and because there is some -- although an extremely small amount of -- overlap in membership. In reality, however, Eastside Rail Now! is entirely independent of such interests with regard to policy and in every other respect, as is patently obvious even from a cursory examination of its web site. In sharp contrast to such interests, Eastside Rail Now! opposes Sound Transit's plans not because it is opposed to rail, but rather because it strongly supports rail and believes that Sound Transit's plans are so poorly conceived that they are actually detrimental to the future of rail in this region.

Q: What is the "Eastside"?

A: It is that part of the King County that is bordered on the west by Lake Washington and which stretches from Renton in the south to Bothell in the north. It includes Bellevue, which already has the second largest urban core in the state of Washington and which is now in the midst of a massive high-rise construction boom that could eventually give it one of the largest downtowns in the entire western U.S.

Q: Why are you opposed to the plan to scrap the railroad?

A: Because everything is wrong with it. In particular, it could set back transportation and environmental progress on the Eastside, and even for the Puget Sound region as a whole, by decades. Virtually nobody would benefit, and almost everyone would lose. It has frequently been described as "the dumbest idea that this region has ever had."

The railroad is very well suited for use as the core of a convenient, low cost, and environment-friendly rail transit service. This is because it runs roughly parallel to I-405, which is the most congested freeway in the entire Northwest, and passes through or near most major destinations on the Eastside. Moreover, a simple pilot transit service could be launched within a matter of months using the existing rails, and a full-fledged transit service could be started in two years or less -- at a cost of less than what Sound Transit spends to build a single mile of is light rail system.

This region already has one of the most extensive networks of bicycle trails in the country, some of which parallel parts of the railroad, but the Eastside has absolutely zero miles of rail transit. Some of us have lived abroad and have seen the swift and convenient rail transit systems that exist in much of Europe and Japan, even in urban areas much smaller than the Eastside. We do not want the Eastside to follow the example of Los Angeles, with its ultra-wide, monster freeways, its seemingly endless sprawl, and its severe air pollution. We have the opportunity of a lifetime, and we do not want to see it squandered because of narrow political interests and financial gains for a very few wealthy individuals.

Q: Is it really necessary for a city to still have a railroad these days?

A: Yes, it is virtually mandatory for any major city that wants to have a vigorous economy and a high standard of living. Bellevue has the potential to become a truly great city some day -- however, this could not happen without a rail line that provides regional passenger service and also connects it to the national railroad network. Virtually every great city in the world has mainline rail passenger and freight service, and most have an intense network of rail lines. Rail access will become even more important in the future as fuel prices and traffic congestion continue to increase and as people become more aware of the need to take decisive action regarding air pollution and climate change.

Q: Who wants to scrap the railroad?

A: It was started by King County Executive Ron Sims, with support from the hard-core bicycle lobby. Recently a very small, but highly vocal, number of NIMBYs, mostly in the Houghton neighborhood in Kirkland, have joined in.

Q: Why would anybody want to do something so dumb as to scrap the only rail line in a large and rapidly growing urban area in order to replace it with a bicycle trail?

A: We don't really know, but we suspect that it is because there could be quick political and financial gains for a very small number of people. What is also puzzling is all of the governmental effort that has been devoted to it, including wasting $800,000 of taxpayers' money on an obviously biased study that was supposed to justify scrapping. It just doesn't make any sense. However, it should be kept in mind that this is not the first time, and it won't be the last time, that government officials have pushed projects that are poorly planned, irresponsible and destructive. We can all think of other examples, including at the national level in the other Washington. When our "leaders" betray us and attempt to do things that are contrary to the best interests of the citizens, it is time for ordinary people to speak up and take action.

Q: Why does Eastside Rail Now! claim to be an environmental organization? Isn't it really just a rail advocacy group?

A: It is because automobiles (particularly when taking into consideration their entire lifecycle, including materials procurement, production, use, fuel consumption, disposal, etc.) and freeways are perhaps the biggest source of environmental destruction. They are the largest single source of air pollution in our region and the main facilitator of sprawl. Scrapping the Eastside railroad would set back environmental progress on the Eastside by decades, whereas utilizing it as the core of a low cost rail transit system would be one of the most important ways in which we could help prevent further environmental damage on the Eastside.

Moreover, Eastside Rail Now! is working to protect the unique greenbelt formed by the railroad's mostly 100 foot width right of way. The hard-core bicycle lobby wants to pave over as much as 30 feet of it over for use as a bicycle raceway, and some road advocates want to pave even more of it for use as a second north-south freeway. Instead, we are endeavoring to have its native vegetation restored and let it serve as a linear nature preserve and wildlife migration corridor, in addition to its rail functions.

In addition to opposing the endless widening of the toxics-spewing I-405, we also want to make the Eastside safer and more pleasant for pedestrians, bicycle riders and equestrians.

Q: Why is Eastside Rail Now! opposed to bicycles if it is supposedly an environmental group?

A: Eastside Rail Now! is not at all opposed to bicycles, just as it is not opposed to pedestrians. In fact, one of our long-range goals is to make the region safer and more convenient for them, as they are far better for the environment and public health than are more cars and ever-wider freeways. We just don't believe that scrapping our area's only railroad -- and the only alternative for hundreds of miles to BNSF's vulnerable north-south line through Seattle -- and also devastating our unique greenbelt is the way to do it. Nor do most other people we have talked to. Running trains on the Eastside railroad would greatly benefit cyclists for a variety of reasons, including because they could freely take their bicycles on board and because they could breathe cleaner air. Eastside Rail Now! is also in favor of creating an extensive network of high quality pedestrian and bicycle routes throughout the Eastside, one example of which is the proposed Grand Esplanade for downtown Bellevue.

Q: What is the "Now!" for in Eastside Rail Now!'s name?

A: At least two things. One is that urgent action was initially necessary, as efforts were being made to scrap the railroad as quickly as possible.

Another is that a rail transit service can be started up in a relatively short period of time because the track and other infrastructure is still mostly intact. In fact, a simple pilot service could be launched in a matter of months. This contrasts with Sound Transit's plan to bring light rail to the Eastside by the year 2024 -- and on a much less useful route and at a vastly greater cost.

Q: How has Eastside Rail Now! been working to stop the scrapping of the railroad?

A: The most important activity has been informing both the public and public officials about the true nature of the plan to scrap the railroad and its likely consequences. This outreach is being accomplished through a variety of means, including via this website, the holding of public meetings, testifying at Sound Transit board meetings and other government meetings, calling into radio talk shows and having private conversations with officials in various levels of government.

Q: Has Eastside Rail Now! made any progress?

A: Yes. Very substantial progress has been made. For example, (a) in sharp contrast to when Eastside Rail Now! was begun at the start of 2007, scrapping the railroad is no longer perceived by the general public as "a done deal," (b) there is far more awareness of the existence of the railroad and its potential and (c) there is a large and growing amount of region-wide support for launching a commuter service on the railroad. However, much remains to be done.

Q: Eastside Rail Now! seems to have a really worthwhile and timely project. Is there anything that I could do to help?

A: Yes, there are a number of things. They include becoming informed about the issues, educating others, attending meetings, and contacting public officials. For more information, please refer to the page How to Help Eastside Rail Now!

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This page created March 5, 2007. Last updated October 23, 2008.
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