Eastside Rail Now's Testimony at the
September 13 PSRC Board Meeting

The following is the text of the testimony as well as supplementary material that was presented by Eastside Rail Now! regarding estimated costs for a three year pilot commuter service on the Eastside railroad at the Puget Sound Regional Council Transportation Policy Board meeting on October 11, 2007:

I want to thank the Chair for your interest in Eastside Rail Now's proposal to start a commuter rail service on the Eastside utilizing the BNSF rail line on a pilot project basis.

In response to your request at the September meeting to provide cost data, we have estimated the costs for a three year pilot service between Renton and Snohomish, as shown on the handout. These costs are based on the assumption that the initial service would be provided by DMU-trailer pairs rather than locomotive-hauled trains.

We have found that very minimal, but functional, stations could be constructed for roughly $100,000 each, and about $150,000 and $200,000 for enhanced versions. We have identified seven suitable locations for initial stations, and thus the total station cost could be kept to $1 million or less.

We have also looked at other costs for an initial service starting with a few round trips per day, and have found them to be very reasonable. They include costs for leased vehicles, train crews and track maintenance.

We are particularly fortunate with regard to the existing track, because it is in fair to good condition and can be used with relatively little modification. In fact, some sections, such as around Woodinville, have been recently upgraded with new ties and ballast and continuous welded rail. This will mean that significantly less expenditure will be needed for gradually upgrading the rest of the railroad to allow higher speeds, smoother rides and greater capacity.

An added bonus of an eventual upgrading of the remaining sections (mainly that between North Renton and Woodinville) would be an improved ability for the railroad to serve as an emergency freight bypass for Burlington Northern's increasingly crowded but vulnerable main line through Seattle.

We propose to use state-of-the-art, bi-level DMUs, which are significantly cheaper to acquire, operate and maintain than Sounder trains. One reason for the low operating cost is a high passenger capacity, at 388 seats per two-car train plus room for many more standees as well as for wheelchairs and bicycles. And each one of these trains is designed to be operated by a single crewmember.

They are also very environment friendly, including high fuel efficiency, low emissions, low noise output and the ability to operate on biodiesel fuel. Moreover, they are comfortable, including having on-board, ADA-compliant restrooms.

The total cost for a three-year trial operation could be well under $10 million, including $1 million for the stations, $2 million for vehicle leasing and $1.9 million for train crews.

Should the train service be operated for a longer term, the costs per train mile as well as per passenger carried could drop substantially. The former is in part because the stations and any trackwork could be depreciated over more years. The latter is a result of both this and a rising numbers of riders per train as people become more familiar with the service and as densities increase around the stations.

Although $10 million might seem like a lot of money to many of us ordinary citizens, it needs to be viewed in the context of both its vastly lower cost than the alternatives (such as $3.9 billion for the first phase of East Link) and the likely enormous long-run benefits.

Thank you.

Supplementary material:

Preliminary Cost Estimate for a Pilot
Transit Service on the Eastside Railroad

The following is a preliminary estimate of the cost for a three year trial commuter rail service on the Eastside (BNSF) railroad between Renton and Snohomish.


Initial cost estimates for three station alternatives are:

(A) Bare bones minimum: 250 feet by 10 feet platform (wood, asphalt, and/or concrete); safety railings and safety markings; several signs (to provide information about train service, safety, etc.); and ramps/paths (concrete, asphalt and/or wood, etc.) to connect to nearby sidewalks or paths: $100,000

(B) Same as (A) above plus: short section(s) of simple passenger shelter; benches; some lighting; additional signage; and a portable toilet (including cost of servicing): $150,000

(C) Same as (B) above plus: longer passenger shelter(s); additional benches; bicycle racks; power outlets (for use in recharging computers, espresso stand, etc.); landscaping near platform and paths; and Wi-Fi: $200,000

Seven locations have been identified for stations that could initially generate moderate or high traffic volumes: Renton, Bellevue, SR-520 park and ride, Kirkland, Totem Lake, Woodinville and Snohomish. The total cost for all seven would be roughly $1 million assuming station alternative (B).


The newest generation of Colorado Railcar vehicles would be well suited for the service. They are relatively inexpensive to acquire and operate (as compared with locomotive-hauled trains), have a large passenger capacity, are FRA and ADA compliant, can be powered by biodiesel fuel, and produce very low emissions and low audible noise. A state-of-the art two-car trainset consisting of a bi-level DMU plus a bi-level non-powered trailer has a total seating capacity of 388 passengers, plus standing room for many more. The 200 passenger trailer also has baggage storage areas, bicycle storage space and fully accessible ADA restrooms. This compares with 58 seats in new Sound Transit articulated buses, so each train has the seated capacity of 6.6 long busses.

Each pair has a base price of $6.9 million. Assuming a 30 year life expectancy, which is very reasonable for rail vehicles, the depreciation cost would be 230,000 per year, and the depreciation cost for three sets for a three year pilot project would be slightly over two million dollars. This is also a reasonable proxy for leased vehicle costs at this conceptual level.


Assuming three active trainsets, each operated with a two person BNSF crew (engineer and conductor), and a total of eight full time crew members paid railway union wages and benefits averaging $80,000 each per year, the total would be $640,000 per year or $1,920,000 million for three years. This figure would be substantially lower if it were assumed that only two of the trainsets were in active use and the third was kept as a spare, and thus fewer employees were required.

Were the railroad to be acquired by an existing or specially created local government agency, labor costs could drop dramatically because of the ability to use single-person crews, the ability to use specially trained transit workers (as will be done on Sound Transit's light rail lines) instead of BNSF employees, and greater employee flexibility.


Relatively little expenditure would be required for track work for the initial phase. This is because it is in fair to excellent condition. The track is already in fair to good condition on the North Renton to Woodinville segment, and it has recently been upgraded by Burlington Northern northward from downtown Woodinville. With an initial service of a few round trips per day, it might not be necessary to install any additional passing sidings, with the exception of reinstalling an apparently recently removed sidings at Renton station.


There would, of course, be a number of additional costs, including fuel, vehicle maintenance, track use charges and insurance. Fuel and maintenance could be substantially lower on a per passenger basis than for busses and Sounder trains because of the efficiencies of the newest generation of DMUs.


The total cost for a three-year trial operation could be well under $10 million, including $1 million for the stations, $2 million for the vehicles and $1.9 million for wages.

Should the train service be operated for a longer term, the costs per train mile as well as per passenger carried could drop substantially. The former is because the stations and any trackwork could be depreciated over more years. The latter is a result of both this and rising numbers of riders per train (including the economies achieved from running longer trains) as people become more familiar with the service and as densities increase around rail stations.

This total cost the proposed pilot service is so low that all, or a large part of it, it could likely be paid for with the funds included in ST2 for a study of the railroad. It would also represent a nearly insignificant share of the excess of tax revenue that Sound Transit has collected from the Eastside sub-area.

If ST2 is rejected by the voters on November 6, then Sound Transit would be legally obligated to expend approximately $3 billion in Eastside revenue within the East King County sub-area by 2028, and Sound Transit is therefore the appropriate source for these minimal funds.


1) The estimates for station costs were provided by a highly experienced local construction contractor who has an understanding of railroad technology. Their reliability has been confirmed by examining actual expenditures for simple stations elsewhere.

2) A 250 foot platform length should be sufficient for trains which initially consist of a DMU and non-powered trailer pair. Each of the two vehicles has a length of 89 feet, in the case of the models produced by Colorado Railcar.

3) High level platforms would be more costly than low level platforms, but they would provide easy access for wheelchairs, bicycles, etc. The platform height for Colorado Railcar vehicles is 24 inches from the top of the rails.

4) Although a traditional, heritage station exists in Renton, there is no ADA-compliant platform. The Totem Lake station would initially mainly serve the large Evergreen Hospital complex; later it could also serve the large mixed use projects that are planned for the area. Another station to be considered for the future is North Renton in order to serve the large mixed use project that is being constructed on former Boeing property.

5) Costs for the initial station configurations could also be kept low by operating the pilot service in a manner similar to that of Sound Transit's light rail line in Tacoma, thereby eliminating the need for ticket machines.

6) DMUs (diesel multiple units) are self-propelled rail passenger vehicles that are powered by built-in diesel engines. They can be operated in a manner similar to electrically powered light rail vehicles and are well suited for use on existing rail lines that are not electrified. Each Colorado Railcar DMU can haul at least two double deck trailers. Colorado Railcar is the leading U.S. manufacturer of DMUs. For more about DMUs, see http://www.eastsiderailnow.org/dmu.html.

7) FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) compliant means that the vehicles can be used on mainline railroads on which freight trains also operate without time segregation. Time segregation most commonly consists of requiring that freight trains be operated only at night and only in an interval several hours after the final transit run and several hours before the first run.

8) Were it to be found that there is little demand for rail transit on the Eastside, the vehicles could be used elsewhere in the region, such as north of Everett or on the Lakewood line. Also, they could easily be sold or leased out to other cities, as the excess Sounder trains were, because of the strong demand for such vehicles.

9) The track upgrading by Burlington Northern has included replacement of ballast and ties and the installation of continuously welded rail. This existing upgrading provides a head start and a cost savings on the eventual future upgrading of the entire railroad for higher speeds, smoother rides and greater capacity.

10) Upgraded track would enhance the ability of the railroad to serve as a freight bypass for BNSF's increasingly heavily utilized but vulnerable main line through Seattle. Thus, it would make sense that some portion of the expenditure for upgrading be allocated to regional freight mobility budgets rather than to transit budgets.

For links to other testimony by Eastside Rail Now!, see Index of Public Testimony.

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