Letter to the Editor: Trains, Edmonds and studies to nowhere


I learned Saturday that City Council is not going to fund a serious study of a Train Trench for Edmonds by either Jacobs Engineering or Berger ABAM (experienced with under-water train trenches). Instead, the City has decided to do a $10,000 superficial peer review of a $10,000 superficial study by Tetra-Tech that actually recommends an in-depth study. So, what’s my concern when this supposedly means the City is actually doing something about our train problems? Because this demonstrates the City does not find the Edmonds Waterfront a funding priority during this crucial decision time to deal with increasing train traffic. There are a lot of projects in this budget, but nothing that rises to the level of importance that this issue does for the future of Edmonds.

The potential benefits of a train trench for our town are enormous.  The potential disaster to our town with surface multi-tracking would be horrendous and is already in the process of happening with a downturn in waterfront area real estate values. Because of pressure from increasing commerce by rail requiring surface double or triple-tracking in our near future, time is of the essence.   We need to commission a new and more comprehensive and qualified study as soon as possible that will help Edmonds select the best alternative for its future, not the one we get by inaction or lack of commitment.

Some local politicians and engineers will tell you that we need to spend more money on studying all the “alternatives”:

  • Overpasses and Tunnels: Studied by DEA Consulting 2012. The Mayor’s vision for Edmonds. See visuals here.
  • Edmonds Crossing: Studied for 20+ years to eliminate in-town car ferry queuing. Rejected by WS Ferries as impractical for a dock. Does not solve increasing train and emergency access issues. WSF will not allow an emergency access spur for security reasons.
  • Emergency Ramp from Bell Street to Brackett’s Landing Dive Park: An overpass that does not solve regular access to waterfront or ferry.
  • Edmonds Train Trench: “Preliminary” study by Tetra Tech, now under peer review. Solves all of the train traffic conflicts with much public support and has funding partners like BNSF and WS Ferries.

ALL of the “alternative” solutions, except the train trench, support surface double-tracking creating more dangerous intersections at RR-crossings, exposure to flammable cargoes endangering near-track structures and lives, environmental damage, more train horn noise, and large bridges and overpasses in the Edmonds bowl to get near waterfront and ferry. Do these “alternatives” have your public support?

By delaying and continuing to study the “alternatives” representing them as real and satisfactory solutions for our town, the City is making a decision not to do the Train Trench. Everyone needs to understand that our opportunity only exists to work with BNSF for a trench BEFORE they begin surface multi-tracking through town, which they will start soon. So, anything less than a REAL study now at our end IS a decision. I am dismayed that a City that puts so much effort into smaller projects to make Edmonds a better community, why it has such difficulty pursuing in a timely way, a serious study done by one of the qualified engineering firms mentioned above. This is critical to the future of Edmonds. By doing too little and too late, they will destroy the heart of our town.

Katherine Gold, Edmonds

P.S. Write your City Council at: council@edmondswa.gov

Editor’s note: You can see visuals of ideas references above on this page of the author’s website.

  1. Is this really the best use of my tax dollars in Edmonds? Will the City ever repave the roads in my neighborhood?

  2. Our City is like the Federal Government, always kicking the can down the road.
    when will they look to their responsibilities?
    The train through our waterfront is a real problem in so many ways, and we can’t delay decisions.

  3. A train trench, on the waterfront,in a time of sea level rise, is a terrible use of anyone’s money.

    The added harm to the Marsh, which brings so many people to Edmonds, a train trench is simply, not worthy of much further discussion.

    Hence, the peer review study.

  4. Mayor Earling has been involved with Washington State/U.S. transportation for a very long time. It is hard to imagine that he does not know just about everything regarding how our government here in Washington works regarding long term, significant transportation needs and funding and ALL safety issues. Here is a link (not dated) that I found online which appears to be a statement by our Mayor.

    One would certainly question the “peer review study”…….who would these people be?…..who would they be connected to? Who would get the $$$$ for the “study”, when it is already clear that the safety issues at our tracks have been known for a very long time…..The safety of our railroad system in the whole country has been in question for a very long time. And regarding Bakken Oil transporting, also for quite some time.

    In 2008 (6 years ago!!!) under President GW Bush signed, Congress passed a “Public Law 100-432-Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, RSIA, PTC< RAIL SAFETY, FEDERAL RAILWAY ADMINISTRATION, October 16, 2008


    We need action now, not more "peer review study".

    I agree, the trench does not seem feasible in a seismic hazard area, and particularily at sea level, with this rising. So let's move on, and do the next best (safe for the environment) plan that will illeviate the huge safety issue here at our tracks right now.

    **** I also noticed (without reading the whole act) that a "wireless" emergency stop response had been called for for ALL tracks across the country. (derailments, mudslides, emergencies) …….Just spending the money here and implementing this for the safety of people on Railroad Avenue that may be on that side of the tracks when an emergency comes up. THIS to me seems like a no brainer!

    It is a stretch to believe that our Mayor is not aware of this simple step…….Which money-wise could be cheaply implemented almost immediately.

    I would also like to add that while we keep getting grants (which apparently many people think are free) from the Department of Transporation, the Federal Highway Administration, etc. for items we have that do not meet the criteria of the Federal Need Grant, we are using money and taking it away from the more important issues , such as real safety issues. I read not that long ago a letter from the Federal Department of Transportation to the Puget Sound Regional Council that the $$$$$$$$$$$ was running out, and I also understood from someone that the Puget Sound Regional Council does not even check to see if there are inconsistances on the grant forms, or even mis-truths.So, I say, what kind of governing is this? The citizens should be asking NOW for accountability.

    It is a stretch to believe our Mayor is not aware of all of this. We need action now, and enough politicking/ cronyism, etc that has gone on. This is another important SAFETY issue.

  5. If we had Samantha Stephens (Bewitched) here in Edmonds to wriggle her nose for us, the train trench would be a fabulous solution, with sea-water pumps, lighting, emergency egress, ADA, a walkover and park on a lid over the trench, all the bells & whistles.

    However, as ideas and solutions go in Darren’s world, it seems like the trench is out on the 50 yard line or so. With stunning financial cost and imposition to so many stakeholders, getting this kind of collaboration and funding is daunting, but probably possible. We really need to continue our discussions and see if there are some ideas and solutions closer to the goal line, which frustratingly takes more time and money. This is not kicking the can down the road, it’s due diligence. So far, we don’t seem to have an obvious best solution. Perhaps the trench idea will develop somehow, and move closer to the goal line.

    We must also be candid about what the land west of the tracks is worth, not so much in real-estate values but in immediate access value. I’m down there regularly at Harbor Square and I see some traffic for sure, but I’m not sure it’s a volume that can’t handle waiting at the tracks. I also think that as conflicts increase with ferry loading lanes, the ferry system and the railroad will adapt and attempt scheduling zen. Worst case scenario, maybe people can’t get on the boat and they buy lunch or dinner while they wait.

    Concerning emergency access, for a few million dollars we can build a small emergency rescue facility west of the tracks and staff it appropriately for the rare event requiring life saving rescue. Perhaps that’s a good idea now anyway.

    Ms. Gold, I very much appreciate your intellect, dedication and civility. I find it’s easy to ignore comments that insult or disrespect. We will certainly continue to have differences of opinion about this and that, and at some point we all end up siding with a minority opinion where others prevail. More importantly, we are all neighbors here and we all love Edmonds.

  6. It is important that the facts are straight, and the Tetra Tech study has been found to have major errors, not surprising for a $10K quicky study by a firm without train trench building experience.

    Tetra Tech made central major errors by extending the original design of the trench south, destroying the Willow Creek facility and rebuilding, as well as running the trench around the corner under the cliff of Point Edwards, all of which they said greatly increased the cost. The problem with both their cost figure and that change is that it is an error from a faulty measurement of railroad grade required. The distance from the Willow Creek daylighting structure to the south edge of Dayton is 2500 feet +/- 20 feet. That is perfect for a 1% ideal grade (1 foot rise per hundred), and we have the opportunity to ramp up Dayton in the ponding area there, too, if we need a couple more feet. Therefore, the trench starts north of the Willow Creek structure and is the only way the Marsh will ever be cleaned up and protected from spills and leaks from heavy freight traffic now leaking down into it, this by creating a “tray” effect to contain toxic runoff.

    Any building along the waterfront, including the large investment in the upcoming Senior Center/Community Center, and all building in NYC, Florida, and throughout the world where the majority of the population lives has not stopped because of a predicted 100 year sea level rise. A lot can happen in 100 years, especially technologically

    As far as seismic hazard areas, all bridges, tunnels, etc. have the same issue of the soil there, which has been studied.

    More importantly, not only would the correctly designed train trench likely be the cheapest solution, especially if a private-public partnership can be put together, but we will be spending at least as much money for anything proposed, including multiple bridges, tunnels, Edmonds Crossing (which solves no problems and the ferry can’t do it). Thinking the increasing train traffic will not require mitigation to keep viable our Port, Arnies, Anthony’s, Senior Center, beach, dive park, ferry loading with increasing ridership, etc. is not facing the future, as the Mayor has done through his speeches on the issue.

    The question is the economic and quality of life damage difference for the considerable money we will have to spend to accommodate double/triple tracking, and what our town will look like. BNSF is seriously looking at the trench right now even with this flawed study (which they can correct and make more cost-effective) because it can work, even according to Tetra Tech. For all of the errors and these comments that have resulted from misinformation about the cost and the fact that this is the only plan to help the Marsh, etc., even Tetra Tech recommended it can be built — and they provided actual structural construction details.

    Edmonds is a ferry town, with the ferry queue being one of its distinctive charms that does not take away from the considerable real estate values near it. Any other plan proposed will make it an industrial town.

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