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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Port buys rail line, city prepares for train service

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After a decade, a train may be returning to Snohomish, Wash., by next summer, the Snohomish County Tribune reports. The Port of Seattle purchased the Eastside rail corridor Dec. 21 from BNSF in a deal totaling $81 million. The purchase covers 42 miles of rail line from Renton to Snohomish.

The move means GNP Railway now has a six-month deadline to start a tourist train service from Woodinville's wine country to Snohomish's historic district. GNP was selected earlier by the port to operate the rail line.
 Where the train would end its route for Snohomish is not yet official. It is anticipated the excursion train would terminate its run on State Street between Pearl and Rainier streets. Other options assumed by the city are south of the Snohomish River near Harvey Field.

The city "is working with GNP to determine where passenger facilities and other improvements would best serve the tourist train, which is anticipated initially to operate on weekends with either one or two trains per day," according to a city press release.

The Centennial Trail would run parallel to the tracks, per city plans.

Neighbors near one suggested site at State Street between Pearl and Rainier streets raised concerns the train would stop right outside their backyards.
 City leaders also raised concerns that freight and passenger service could run through town. The city hired an attorney in the fall and met multiple times in executive session to learn the city's rights with regards to railway laws.

GNP's Tom Payne has long said freight use is his first priority, but he has no interest in running freight trains through Snohomish. There are no freight customers to serve north of the city, he said.
 GNP, working with the Ballard Terminal Railroad Co., will take over BNSF's freight contract Jan. 8, port spokeswoman Charla Skaggs said.

"I believe the city has determined that we have the legal ability to control how passenger rail services would occur inside the city," City Manager Larry Bauman said. "However, it is clear that no local jurisdictions have significant controls over freight services."

The port's acquisition came after multiple deadlines were missed because of a weak municipal bond market. In November, the port said it now has six partners involved in the purchase. Those partners will pitch in money later, Skaggs said last week.

The last time a train came through town was in 1998 when BNSF ended service to the Central Feed Mill, now the location of the Snohomish Library on Maple Avenue, according to the city's Snohomish Riverfront Master Plan. In Snohomish's railroading heyday, there were three major railroad companies serving the city, local railroad historian Bob Heirman said.

Previous numbers pegged the deal at $107 million.

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