Just as Kirkland was getting ready to turn an old rail corridor into a walking trail, railroad advocates filed a lawsuit to stop the project.
Ballard Terminal Railroad Company seeks a restraining order to stop removal of the tracks. A representative says railroad use should take priority and that the federal government has jurisdiction over such decisions.
Supporters of the rail line fear once the tracks are removed, they’ll never return.
But local historian Feliks Banel says it seems like “a no-brainer” that an area cut off to cars, but that is accessible to pedestrians and bicyclists should be turned into a trail.
“The age of moving railway as a means of freight through what are now suburban communities, that age is pretty much over,” says Banel.
This wouldn’t be the first rail line turned urban trail. Banel says the Burke-Gilman Trail started off as the Seattle Lakeshore and Eastern Railroad developed by Thomas Burke and Daniel Gilman. They wanted to get as far as Canada, but it didn’t work out and Burlington Northern eventually abandoned the project.
“Back in the 1970s, a group of people saw that as a great way to create a bicycle and pedestrian trail through the heart of a dense part of the city,” says Banel.
He thinks it’s inevitable that the old line that a popular dinner train once rattled along will turn into a walking path.
The Burke-Gilman had it’s fair share of controversy, too. Banel says when the idea was first proposed, a number of people who lived along the trail corridor between Gas Works Park and Kenmore thought their property values would go down.
“Being along the trail would bring crime and all sorts of bad things from the city into the suburbs.”
But those people were eventually wrong and now living along the trail is a perk.
“Ultimately these trail projects become a really smart investment,” says Banel.
Kirkland City Manager Kurt Triplett tells KIRO Radio he’s halted rail removal until the challenge is resolved and a hearing in federal court is set for May.
KIRO Radio’s Tony Miner and Tim Haeck contributed to this report.