Request for Funding in Sound Transit's
2008 Budget for a Three Year Pilot Commuter
Service on the Eastside Railroad

The following is the text of the testimony as well as the two items of supplementary material that was presented by Eastside Rail Now! on October 18, 2007 requesting funding for a three year pilot commuter service on the Eastside railroad in Sound Transit's 2008 Budget:

We would like to request that Sound Transit include funding for a pilot commuter rail service on the Eastside railroad in its 2008 budget.

We have studied the railroad and its potential very carefully for nearly a year, and have concluded that launching a transit service on it could be one of the most deserving transportation projects in the entire region.

The railroad runs parallel to I-405, the most congested freeway in the entire Northwest, and congestion is expected to intensify despite massive expenditures for continued widening. It also runs through or near most major destinations on the Eastside. Moreover, the track is in fair to good condition and is suitable for an initial pilot commuter service with minimal modification.

The board has already expressed interest in studying the Eastside railroad as part of ST2. We believe that the best way to study it would be to conduct an actual trial service, and thereby avoid a repeat of the problems that plagued the PSRC's "BNSF Corridor Study." We are also convinced that this would be the best time to get started, while the railroad is still intact and people are clamoring for innovative solutions to our mounting transportation and environment problems.

We have found that the total cost for a three year trial could be kept under $10 million, as shown on the handout. This is roughly just one percent of Sound Transit's projected expenditure for 2008. The benefits could be enormous, and they could begin almost immediately. Moreover, funds are already available from the huge surplus of taxes collected from the East King County sub-area.

Should the experiment prove successful, the track could be gradually upgraded while continuing the service to allow for higher speeds, smoother rides and greater capacity, as has been done on commuter rail lines elsewhere.

This would clearly be a win-win situation -- for Sound Transit, for the Eastside, and for the entire region.

Thank you.

Supplementary Material 1:

Request to Include Funding for a Pilot Commuter Rail Service on the Eastside Railroad in Sound Transit's 2008 Budget

Eastside Rail Now! (ERN!) hereby requests that the Sound Transit board include funding in its 2008 budget for a trial commuter rail service on the Eastside railroad (BNSF Woodinville Subdivision). An exhaustive study by ERN! has shown that the railroad meets all the criteria for a successful transit operation and, in fact, could be one of the most promising new rail transit corridors in the Northwest. ERN! believes that such a trial would now be the most effective means of further studying the use of the railroad as the core of a regional rail transit system.

We are all familiar with the growing sense of urgency about traffic congestion and climate change. The Eastside is fortunate to have a still operating railroad in reasonably good condition that goes through or near most major destinations on the Eastside and which also has a great deal of excess capacity. Moreover, this railroad has recently become available for purchase by the public sector. Rail transit on this railroad would provide a convenient and low environmental impact alternative for thousands of commuters.

There is a strong potential demand for transit service on the Eastside railroad because:

(1) The railroad parallels I-405, which the most congested freeway in the entire Northwest. Congestion is expected to worsen in the coming years, despite massive expenditures for widening, because of continued population growth and trip demand.

(2) The railroad goes through or by most major destinations on the Eastside, including (a) through downtown Renton and near the Renton park and ride lots, (b) adjacent to "The Landing," a large mixed use project being constructed in North Renton, (c) near downtown Bellevue (and through the future growth path of downtown to the east) and right by the rapidly expanding Overlake Hospital complex, (d) by the SR520 park and ride lot, (e) near downtown Kirkland, (f) near the Evergreen Hospital complex and the Totem Lake area (which is slated for major redevelopment), (g) through downtown Woodinville and (h) a short walk to downtown Snohomish. Moreover, it is just a modest shuttle bus or bicycle ride away from Microsoft's headquarters complex in Redmond.

(3) Demand for travel on the railroad will increase over time as (a) more people become familiar with the service, (b) the frequency and speed of service increase, (c) more stations are added, (d) higher density neighborhoods develop close to the stations and (e) service is extended over existing tracks to Everett and beyond in the north and to Tacoma and beyond in the south.

A pilot service can be started quickly and at low cost (see cost estimate page for details) because:

(1) The track already exists and can be used with minimal modification for an initial operation due to its fair to good condition. (Several sections are actually in excellent condition as a result of recent upgrades, particularly north of downtown Woodinville.)

(2) The railroad has much excess capacity, because it is currently used only for occasional freight trains (including shipment of aircraft fuselages to Boeing's assembly plant in Renton).

The Eastside railroad provides a unique opportunity in our region, with its immediate availability and the low startup cost for a transit service on it. In fact, it seems like such a good opportunity that it may be hard to believe that it could be true, especially when compared to other rail projects in the Seattle area. However, it should be kept in mind that the situation is very different from that of other Sound Transit rail projects, for which huge expenditures and long delays have been unavoidable because (a) the track has had to be built from scratch in a very challenging geographic and geologic environment in the case of light rail and (b) major track capacity increases were needed in the case of Sounder commuter service.

Our region has made many bad decisions with regard to transportation in the past. Now you have an opportunity to make an excellent decision, one that could start benefiting the region almost immediately and keep on paying increasing dividends for decades to come. It would be a shame to let this outstanding opportunity slip away.

Note: No local government agency has done a serious study of the railroad and its potential, at least in recent years. The PSRC's widely publicized "BNSF Corridor Preservation Study" is severely flawed and is not suitable for use in making decisions about the railroad. Among its numerous defects is (a) its failure to use any recognized, best practices infrastructure decision making methodology (i.e., cost-benefit analysis or least cost planning). Also, (b) it virtually completely ignores the most important potential use for the railroad, which is serving as the core for a regional rail transit system, and, instead, merely makes vague reference to several earlier studies that are said to show there is no demand for rail in the corridor. However, those studies also lack solid methodology and are out of date. In addition, (c) it completely ignores the most important environmental issue, which is that utilizing the railroad for transit could help slow down the widening of I-405 with its consequent increase in toxic emissions, and instead merely looks at the environmental effects of constructing a trail. Although huge in size and cost, what the report mainly does is provide a lot of nice aerial photos and drawings of how the railroad right of way would look with a bicycle trail on it.

Supplementary Material 2:

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 railroad (BNSF Woodinville Subdivision) between Renton and Snohomish.

STATIONS:   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).

VEHICLES:   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.

TRAIN CREWS:   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.

TRACK:   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 siding at Renton station.

OTHER COSTS:   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.

TOTAL COSTS AND FUNDING:   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.

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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