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Kirkland gets green light to remove tracks along Cross Kirkland Corridor | Update
Kirkland city officials say the goal is children just out of school will be able to use the Cross Kirkland Corridor next summer now that the city is free from legal dispute and can go forward with rail removal and trail plans.
Just barely making the city’s deadline on Aug. 1, the federal Surface Transportation Board denied the Ballard Terminal Railroad Company’s injunction, which sought to block rail removal along the 5.75-mile city-owned Cross Kirkland Corridor until their petitions seeking rail reactivation for freight service were considered and granted.
“We are incredibly happy,” said city manager Kurt Triplett. “At noon on Thursday I was like ‘Dang, they’re not going to do anything.’ I didn’t hear about it until 2:30 p.m.”
The board delivered a “late release” decision at around 5:30 p.m. Eastern time as the board is located in Washington DC.
The Aug. 1 deadline was especially important because of contract agreements and the potential for the city to lose a lot of money.
Triplett said the city contacted their rail removal contractor A&K Railroad Materials Thursday afternoon to let them know the good news. They estimate rail removal will begin between two and four weeks.
“For sure we’ll begin in August,” Triplett said. “Once they start, it depends on weather and a few other things, but hopefully they’ll plow through it.”
Just as the original plan outlined, the rail bed will remain in place.
The Surface Transportation Board, consisting of Chairman Danil R. Elliott II, Vice Chairman Ann D. Begeman, and Commissioner Francis P. Mulvey, issued a seven-page decision explaining the Ballard Terminal Railroad Company cannot afford to reinstitute rail service, nor is there a demand for the service.
Furthermore, the board found that one of two prospective shippers who wrote letters on behalf of the Ballard Terminal Railroad Company’s injunction also had previously submitted a bid proposal to the city of Kirkland for the rail removal project, “requesting to be chosen to remove the very track it purportedly supports using to transport freight.”
The board refuted nearly every claim for injunction with a counterargument similar to the city’s and deemed that a railroad that hasn’t carried traffic since 2006 is not in the current state for future freight without extreme additional revenue and funding.
“In fact, the record shows that the city, as well as King County, Sound Transit and other interested parties would be harmed by an injunction,” the board wrote in their decision. “In this case, parties have invested years and millions of dollars of public funding toward their interim trail use and other public projects in the area the line traverses.”
Triplett said the city figured they would prevail on the merits of the case, which they did, but there was some concern on whether the board would rule in time.
“The reason we’re happy is for the citizens of Kirkland,” Triplett said. “Now, they’ll get to use the corridor they bought.”
The Ballard Terminal Railroad Company filed petitions in April with the Surface Transportation Board to reactivate the rail line. Shortly after, company officials filed an injunction in federal court, causing the city to halt rail removal. After the federal judge denied the injunction because it wasn’t within the court’s jurisdiction, the company filed another injunction with the Surface Transportation Board in June.
“Since this ruling, there’s a lot of people getting excited,” Triplett said. “It will be a true game changer when people can use [the interim trail] next summer and then they’re going to want to see the paved trail.”
Triplett said Berger Partnership, the consultant for the corridor’s master plan, will make a presentation at the Sept. 17 Kirkland City Council meeting.