SE King County (WA) Commuter Rail Proposal

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SE King County (WA) Commuter Rail Proposal

Postby Vincent » Wed Dec 16, 2009 12:45 am

Apparently the success (?) of WES has inspired communities in SE King County to propose building a DMU commuter line from the Auburn WA Sounder station through Maple Valley, Covington and Black Diamond. The commuter DMUs would use the BNSF Stampede Pass subdivision. There aren't any cost estimates for building the new service, but the trains would be an alternative to an expansion of SR-169, which has been estimated to cost $600 million. Senator Patty Murray has secured $360,000 for a study of the proposal.
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Re: SE King County (WA) Commuter Rail Proposal

Postby CarterB » Wed Dec 16, 2009 11:19 am

I understand the route from Auburn up to/thru Covington...but what route to Maple Valley and Black Diamond?? The old, long abandoned, Northern Pacific (Columbia & Puget Sound Railroad) lines up to Maple Valley
http://content.lib.washington.edu/cdm-d ... =442&y=115
and down to Black Diamond?
http://content.lib.washington.edu/cdm-d ... X=1&REC=13

now the museum http://www.rgwrail.com/images/feb182007%20054.jpg
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Re: SE King County (WA) Commuter Rail Proposal

Postby wigwagfan » Thu Dec 17, 2009 4:03 pm

Looking at aerial maps of the area, I can't possibly see how a commuter rail route would work in the area.

1. The route has quite a few curves, lowering top speed of the rail option.

2. There appears to be only two logical added stations. Of those two - neither are located in "dense, transit-friendly" areas. One appears to be right next to a major (Puget Energy?) substation; the other appears to be sandwiched between very non-dense, scattered residential neighborhoods.

The plus is tying directly into the Auburn station so it isn't an isolated network like WES is (I do not call the connection between WES and MAX at Beaverton TC seamless). I wonder if instead of a "WES" style route, employing a system more like NCTD's Sprinter, but a very cost-reduced system, might make more sense. Then again - is there enough ridership that'll take advantage of it; and the over-reliance on park-and-ride commuters (and their associated costs in parking lots, lighting, security, landscaping) make "low cost" virtually impossible. If the track itself is decent (Class 3 or higher) I wonder if a "temporary" system using a Budd RDC with temporary platforms (not unlike Tukwila) could be used, and if successful then upgrade it to a more permanent system.
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Re: SE King County (WA) Commuter Rail Proposal

Postby Vincent » Fri Dec 18, 2009 1:21 pm

I'm not strongly opinionated about the proposal, but for starters I would say that the pro and con arguments would go something like this: Con--even with DMU equipment, it's going to cost more than it seems and there will need to be a subsidy of the service; Pro--the area is growing and the major highways that serve the area (169 and 18) are inadequate and there isn't a "no-build" option that is viable. So there's going to be a lot of major construction projects in the next decade--should the plans also include an expanded rail project? Many of the residents of the Covington, Maple Valley, Black Diamond area aren't commuters to downtown Seattle, but they are communting to other stations on the Sounder route or other places that could be served from an Auburn transit hub via ST commuter buses to Bellevue, Renton, Federal Way, etc. One major advantage of the route is that it is in relatively good shape, so there wouldn't need to be a huge upgrading of the rail line before service could begin. Compare that to the condition of the BNSF line through Renton and Bellevue that some folks are proposing for an eastside rail commuter service and it's clear that the SE King County proposal is a much lower cost project than the eastside proposals.

Getting the money for a study is usually the easiest part of a proposal. I don't think BNSF will be a major roadblock and the project might be the start of an eventual connection to Ellensburg, Yakima and the Tri-Cities--using WA funds--if the North Coast Hiawatha proposal fizzles out.
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Re: SE King County (WA) Commuter Rail Proposal

Postby wigwagfan » Fri Dec 18, 2009 4:15 pm

Pro--the area is growing and the major highways that serve the area (169 and 18) are inadequate and there isn't a "no-build" option that is viable.


Vincent, you're probably much more of an expert than I ever could be, but looking at maps the BNSF route doesn't seem to do a very good job of serving any of these communities; they don't go through the city cores, but rather serve an out-of-the-way route that tract developments back up to.

I wonder if other options (i.e. enhanced bus service) make more sense from central areas (I haven't compared with a Metro map so I don't know what the current service levels are), and I'm not quite sure if "no-build" is not an option.

Frankly - I wish "no-build" was an option with WES - because as we're quickly finding out down south, WES hasn't done a damn thing, and now we're talking about widening 217 (about 20 years overdue). Expanding WES service isn't even on the back burner anymore, it's almost become a toxic topic in local political circles and basically nobody wants to even bring it up for fear of bringing up every negative issue that it has been synomyous with.

It's probably a good thing that Colorado Railcar went out of business BEFORE WES opened, because certainly it wouldn't be getting good press now. From what I understand, even the Sprinter has its share of political issues that have limited support for that system and type of commuter rail (a.k.a. "diesel light rail") for the future.
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Re: SE King County (WA) Commuter Rail Proposal

Postby Vincent » Fri Dec 18, 2009 6:15 pm

When I say "no build" is not an option I'm speaking of roads, transit and rail all together. Something is going to get built, the question is will it be roads plus rail or just roads. Because that area has grown so rapidly over the last 20 years, there really aren't any city centers to speak of, it's just a sprawling mess of sub-divisions, strip malls and undersized roads. There's very little existing transit in the area, mostly because of the auto-centric nature of the area. The Kent-Kangley Rd (SR516) and the Maple Valley Highway (SR 169) are both insufficient to handle the existing rush hour traffic loads. So in a best case scenario, a rail line might help to create some city centers and relieve (slightly) the commute times, but the cost will be high and there will be a strong local lobby for more roads, more roads, more roads.
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Re: SE King County (WA) Commuter Rail Proposal

Postby Vincent » Thu Jan 14, 2010 1:56 am

This proposal now has its own reference page at WSDOT: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/planning/Studie ... efault.htm

Over the Christmas break I did a little reconnaissance trip through the area where the DMU would run. Wow! This area has gone from sleepy suburb to strip mall/big box hell in just a few years and there's a lot more construction coming. Two things I noticed on my trip: first, all of the rail I saw was joined rail, but it looked like the rail and trackbed was in good condition; second, it might be a good idea to run the DMU from East Auburn to the downtown Kent transit center. Most of the automobile traffic is headed to Kent on a very congested and constrained road, so running the DMU to Auburn and expecting the passengers to transfer to a bus or train to Kent might depress ridership. If the DMU runs to Kent, ridership would likely be higher. The $400,000 study should be done by June.
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Re: SE King County (WA) Commuter Rail Proposal

Postby CarterB » Thu Jan 14, 2010 11:00 am

Looking at the WADOT map, IMHO, it is disingenuous for them to talk about 'commuter line to "Maple Valley" and "Black Diamond". The closest that line comes to either is "Maple Valley-Black Diamond Road" sorta halfway between the two downtowns.
More realistic is saying it would serve "Berrydale, Covington, Maple Valley-Black Diamond AREA, Ravensdale, Kanaskat and Palmer. Or just call it the "Palmer - Auburn Line". And if they are going that far, why not on down to Enumclaw? Or better yet, the old MILW line down to Maple Valley and then on to Palmer or Enumclaw?

While we're at it, why not extend the Sounder on the Olympia? or establish a "loop" around Lake Washington to include the densely populated and heavy road traffic areas of Bellevue, Kirkland, Bothell, and Renton?
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Re: SE King County (WA) Commuter Rail Proposal

Postby Vincent » Thu Jan 14, 2010 3:39 pm

It's kind of hard to put a good name on the geographic area that the train might run through, although "Covington" is usually what people say when they want to refer to the area beyond Kent-East Hill, towards Black Diamond. The old MILW line through Maple Valley (proper) is now a very popular bike and recreation trail, don't even think about re-laying the tracks! Sounder to Olympia? Good idea, but let's see if they can get to Lakewood first. Building the connection from Freighthouse Square to the Prairie Line has been a huge headache and getting into downtown Olympia or the Capitol campus won't be an easy task either.

The "loop" around Lake Washington has been severed south of Bellevue by an expansion of I-405. On the Eastside, BNSF still operates from Renton to the Boeing plant, mostly 737 fuselages and some garbage trains. On the north end, King County has just taken ownership of the line and the people that own Ballard Terminal RR have taken over operations on the line to Snohomish and Woodinville. There is on-going talk about an eastside commuter train from Snohomish or Woodinville to Bellevue, but that trackage isn't in good shape (mostly 10 mph) and it would be very costly to upgrade that line for commuter trains. However, the anti-rail folks in Bellevue are hoping to get Sound Transit light rail diverted from downtown Bellevue to the old BNSF line, with a "personal rapid transit" system to connect to downtown Bellevue.
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Re: SE King County (WA) Commuter Rail Proposal

Postby CarterB » Thu Jan 14, 2010 4:19 pm

I guess anything is possible, if the folks who live there have a will, there's a way. Seattle-ites and other Puget Sounders complain like hell about the highway congestion on I-5, 405 and 90, yet NIMBY much of the rail or light rail projects.

An I-5/405 corridor complete "loop" could do wonders, and could be done. A partial loop isn't efficient to operate, nor to commute "around the lake" from town to town in closest direction of travel.

Same for extending the Sounder to the Capital door steps, was there once, could be again, if there was the will. I-5, 405 and 80 will get nothing but worse and worse. Perhaps, someday, the tree huggers in the Puget Sound area will 'get enlightened' about the benefits of rail.
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