Eastside rail preservation takes another step forward

BELLEVUE, Wash. -- The dream of preserving the 42-mile-long rail corridor through East King County is about to become a reality. But now the bickering is starting over what to do with it first: a bike trail, a walking path or a commuter train?

The county is about to close on a deal to acquire the final 20 mile portion of the 42-mile-long Eastside rail corridor that stretches from Renton to Snohomish County. It is a dream come true for those who want commuter trains, but also bicycle trails, and walking paths and perhaps even resurrecting the dinner train.

All sides made their case Monday afternoon before the King County Council.

"Get on the with business of building a great regional trail," said Matt Cohen who wants a walking path.

"Holding up any trail development in the rest of the corridor for studying an excursion train is not in the interest of the public," added Chuck Ayers with the Cascade Bicycle Club.

But Doug Engle countered: "We believe that the vast majority of the people in the region want the rail to remain, and a trail to be built, and an excursion train to run again."

The big winner will be Bellevue. The state's fifth largest city has the second largest employment center, and Bellevue is already moving forward with its own light rail.

"From my standpoint, I think that we can get to building a trail first," said Bellevue City Councilman John Chelminiak. "And then as that goes along, design it in such a way that we can add that commuter system at a later date. We simply don't have that money right now."

Monday's hearing sets the stage for a crucial vote for the King County Council - one of many - that will finally get the Eastside Rail Corridor on the tracks.