Standing room only for Edmonds train traffic meeting Thursday

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Mike Shaw has his turn at the microphone during Thursday's packed town hall meeting. (Photos by Larry Vogel)
Mike Shaw has his turn at the microphone during Thursday’s packed town hall meeting. (Photos by Larry Vogel)
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The crowd listens to speakers.

The Edmonds Library’s Plaza Room was filled with citizens expressing a variety of viewpoints about train traffic along the Edmonds waterfront, as well as the broader question of the forces behind at least some of that increased traffic, such as coal and oil trains, during Mayor Dave Earling’s Town Hall meeting on the topic Thursday night.

Earling set ground rules for good behavior at the beginning of the meeting, which included six speakers representing a variety of interests, from the BNSF Railroad to SSA Marine, which has proposed a coal terminal at Cherry Point near Bellingham, to environmental organization Climate Solutions to the Puget Sound Regional Council. The crowd of attendees mostly followed his request, although there were a few audible groans in the audience when railroad and coal terminal representatives spoke.

BNSF Railroad consultant Terry Finn answers a question from the audience.
BNSF Railroad consultant Terry Finn answers a question from the audience.

Indeed, much of the conversation was focused on the environmental impacts of fossil fuels, with some testy exchanges between environmental and industry interests. But there were some impassioned pleas from those who live near the train tracks, asking for assurances of safety in light of predicted increases in train traffic, which includes a growing number of oil and coal trains.

These resources were recommended for further study:

The Puget Sound Regional Council’s evaluation of the economic effects of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) on King, Kitsap, Snohomish, and Pierce counties.

The Washington State Department of Ecology’s Marine & Rail Oil Transportation Study Preliminary Findings and Recommendations.

A video recording of the entire meeting has been posted on My Edmonds News TV here.

Edmonds resident Jenny Anttila addresses train noise.
Edmonds resident Jenny Anttila addresses train noise.

Earling shared two things that the city is hoping to do to address citizen concerns about the issue:

– Edmonds is seeking $1 million to $1.25 million from state or federal sources to conduct an alternatives analysis of options for improving access at the city’s two at-grade rail crossings — at Dayton and Main Streets.

– The mayor said he has included in the 2015 budget (to be presented to the city council next week) $50,000 for engineering and design work for a trackside warning system, which would reduce the frequency of train whistles.

Fire District 1 Chief Ed Widdis was also in attendance, and spoke about the public safety aspect of having train traffic separate the waterfront from the rest of Edmonds during an emergency situation.

“We really want to be able to have a way to get across the tracks when the trains are stopped,” Widdis said.

 

12 COMMENTS

  1. While I am not one to discount the critical issues of global warming and other environmental problems linked to our continued dependence on fossil fuels, the importance of shifting to green energy technologies, or the many other large issues that were raised in last evening’s town hall, I do wish that more of that passion were focused on the close-to-home issue that Mayor Earling identified as the subject of the meeting: increasing train traffic through Edmonds and the growing safety and access issues at our two at-grade crossings.

    Those who were at the meeting (and will be viewing the video soon to be posted here) heard Terry Finn, spokesperson for the railroad, make a point of the billions being spent by BNSF on safety: new double-wall tank cars, computer monitoring of the track bed, advanced collision avoidance systems, and more.

    Finn also raised the issue of at-grade crossings as a major safety concern for the railroad, but allowed that no railroad money is being spent on this, and that fixing these is up to the individual communities.

    This strikes me as the classic “the hole is in your end of the boat” argument.

    It seems to me that an opportunity exists here for BNSF to take some of the billions they spend on safety improvements and partner with the communities through which their lines run to address the issue of at-grade crossings, which are clearly a safety issue for all parties. This is a shared problem. The railroad has the money. The big pieces are there to tackle this issue. They just need to come together.

    Yes, this would take some creative outside-the-box thinking, It would require no small measure of political willpower. Other parties and agencies who are stakeholders in roads and transportation would need to be involved. But in the end, it’s an issue for all parties that will only get worse if nothing is done.

    So yes, let’s continue to debate the larger issues of fossil fuel dependence, climate change, and shifting to green technologies. But while we’re doing this, let’s make sure that emergency vehicles can access the Senior Center at all hours of the day, that traffic can flow freely to the ferry dock, and that our citizens can have unfettered access to our waterfront parks, restaurants, and marina.

    Thanks for listening…

  2. I also attended last night’s meeting. I agree with Larry. Seems to me the mayor has an unshared agenda. Don’t call for a town hall meeting and bring in speakers to present us with projected tonnages and need for or against coal and oil trains to address other nations use or non use of fossil fuels. Come on mayor and council address the issue…
    What is the best way to address the traffic access to the waterfront.
    The citizens deserve it, our first responders need to have unfettered access TO AND FROM THE WATERFRONT

    • Mr. McKeon:
      You are “preaching to the choir”. I was also at last night’s meeting; you evidently did not hear the mayor say, as he has also said at several city council meetings and in some of his written communications, that he is seeking funds to retain experts to do an assessment of alternatives for getting traffic to and from the west side of the railroad tracks. The mayor fully understands the urgency of this issue and is actively addressing it.

    • Mr. McKeon,

      as I heard from the Mayor, we all have our agendas.

      i believe i heard him tell me – his purpose was to quell some rumors and make known the complexity of the situation(s).

      i wish to commend him on the evening!

      several times i heard from the Mayor, he is expecting, i believe within a couple of weeks a report explicitly addressing, a simplified, i.e., less costly, engineering report on possible methods to address access to the waterfront.

      i believe, the real question is – are we able to let go of our agendas, just enough to hear other views?

      my personal agenda is “the buttefly effect” – how EVERYTHING is in someway connected, related.

      while i personally detest the use of fossil fuels or nuclear, from my vantage point, i see how that is intimately connected to the global economy, AND affordable food in this country, AND the constant warring in the middle east and other parts of the world.

      i do understand that “clean, green technology” where we live is not so clean elsewhere…

      in a nutshell, my PERSONAL agenda is –

      to find ways for people to become aware that globally, we have become dependent on the noun based “golden rule” – s/he with the gold rules!

      and have somehow misplaced, forgotten the relational “golden rule”, said to be the “God of Israel” – don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you.

      interestingly … at the core of quantum science is EVERYTHING IS RELATIONAL!

  3. Nice job Larry, and great photos as always.

    Am I the only one that is a bit surprised and maybe a little disappointed, that except for council member Peterson, our city council was a no-show?

  4. If this issue is so very important to Edmonds, why were 6 City Council members missing? Only City Council member Strom Peterson was present to hear the concerned citizens of Edmonds address this issue.There may be some misplaced priorities.

  5. As if another example of the mind-numbing complexity of the coal/oil export issue were needed, check out today’s guest editorial in the Seattle Times. Shoichi Itoh, a senior analyst at Tokyo’s Institute of Energy Economics, points out the critical role of US coal as a stabilizing influence in geopolitics. Pointing out the vital role of coal in driving the Asian economic engine, Itoh posits that an interruption in this supply would force Asia to turn to the increasingly unstable Middle East for energy, which likely would shift the geopolitical balance in ways most unfavorable to US interests. Read it here: http://seattletimes.com/html/opinion/2024715493_shoichiitohopedcoalasia06xml.html

    Would that this were a simple issue that could be solved with photovoltaic roof panels, wind turbines, and eating vegan. The reality is that it is a complex set of issues comprised of many interconnected “moving parts” that touch everything from train traffic through Edmonds to global political stability.

    But while it is tempting to wade into this swamp, please Edmonds, let’s not lose our focus. The issue here is the steady loss of access to and from our waterfront as train traffic increases. Whether or not you agree with what the trains are carrying is a separate issue. Imagine a crisis at the dive park: a diver’s oxygen system has failed, and the victim is receiving CPR on the beach. 911 has been called, but in those critical minutes a 1.5 mile long train comes through and delays the EMT’s reaching the victim in time for them to make the difference between life and death. It doesn’t matter if the train carries coal, oil, airplane parts or granola bars…the victim still dies.

    Let’s pull together and address this issue now.

  6. Larry – really great message on the urgency and scope of this issue. It must begin now as it might take us a decade or more to complete. We may also need a stronger and more cohesive city council to get us thru this, but that’s for another time.

  7. We moved to Edmonds 2 years ago from Spokane. If any of you are familiar with the Spokane area, they had the same type of problem with the Argonne/Trent area where trains cut off access for long periods of time. The solution which apparently has worked well was to grade Argonne down under the railroad. This would seem to be an option for either Main or Dayton (not needed on both). The Argonne fix opened only one main road but gave easy access for all vehicles.

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