If you’re wondering about the status of that abandoned railroad line stretching between Renton and Snohomish County, it’s as clear as the yellow signs that have been posted alongside the tracks in parts of King County:
“This portion of the Eastside Rail Corridor (ERC) is now under the ownership of King County. The ERC is the site of a future multi-use corridor including rail and regional trail. Corridor planning is underway. For information, visit www.kingcounty.gov/erc. This corridor is open to the public. Use at your own risk.”
Last week, a group called the Eastside Rail Corridor Regional Advisory Council approved plans to create a multi-use transportation corridor focusing on regional trail connections and high-capacity transit. The report, “Creating Connections”, also takes into account the corridor’s use for public utilities as well as a possible return to carrying freight.
The 42-mile-long former Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway right-of-way passes through Renton, Bellevue, Kirkland, and Woodinville, with a spur line into Redmond. Acquired in 2009, the owners of the corridor — King County, Redmond, Kirkland, Sound Transit and Puget Sound Energy — are said to be cooperating with future designs.
One of the owners — the city of Kirkland — has gone ahead and removed the rails as the first step in a 5.75-mile-long Cross Kirkland Corridor for bicyclists and pedestrians. Sound Transit plans to use a portion of the right-of-way for a high-speed rail connection between Seattle and Bellevue.
The report identifies some of the problems in combining bike trails and high-capacity transit in the same corridor. Several “pinch points” have been identified where there’s no room for both uses.
There are other problems, such as a crossing over Interstate 405 in Bellevue that was removed to widen the freeway. Also, officials are leery of using the 102-foot-high timber Wilburton Trestle, constructed between two Bellevue hills in 1905.
In the meantime, sections of tracks are open for exploring by foot. I tested the roadbed on my rigid hybrid the other day in Renton, and quickly decided that walking was the most comfortable mode of transportation. Someone riding a front and rear suspension bike might have a better experience.
The old BNSF route does pass through some forested and lakeside stretches in Renton and south Bellevue, however, and I look forward to checking those out even if I do have to hoof it.
The county has installed gates on the trestles, although the wooden walkways alongside are open.