Railroad advocates have filed a federal lawsuit and Kirkland has abruptly stopped plans to rip out train tracks, delaying construction of an almost six-mile recreational trail.
The rail segment that runs north-south through Kirkland is part of the largely abandoned 42-mile Renton-to-Snohomish line once used by the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train. While other cities and regional leaders are still talking about what to do with the old rail line, City Manager Kurt Triplett said Kirkland is ready to build its trail.
"We're light years ahead of where the rest of the region wants to be, which is we're actually spending the money to get the dual-use that everybody says they want."
Triplett said Kirkland has budgeted $3.6 million and had a contractor ready to remove the tracks this month, until the legal challenge was filed. Ballard Terminal Railroad Company seeks a restraining order to stop removal of the tracks. A representative tells me that railroad use should take priority and that the federal government has jurisdiction over such decisions.
Possible rail uses include freight, light rail, commuter trains, even short tourist runs.
"What they would like us to do is take a corridor that we paid for, our citizens paid for and essentially give it over to a company that wants to run an excursion train," said Triplett. A plan, he said, that is without funding. "And if they don't get it, how long should another entity have to wait? Should we wait until next year, two years, five years? We had a fully-funded, real plan that we are ready to execute today."
Triplett insisted that building a trail does not rule out trains side by side with the trail someday.
"And that's one of my frustrations with this is that we've been very transparent about what Kirkland is trying to achieve and our interim trail proposal would actually leave the rail bed in."
But rail backers fear that once the tracks are removed, they'll never return. The cities of Snohomish and Woodinville also want to leave the tracks in place until a planning effort underway involving the Eastside Rail Corridor Regional Advisory Council is complete this August.
Triplett tells KIRO Radio he's halted rail removal until the challenge is resolved and a hearing in federal court is set for May.