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Olympia Needs Rail

By George L. Barner, Jr. and Loren Herrigstad

While Olympia and the Capital Area have made a number of good strides with transit, as well as bicycle and walkability opportunities, the one thing our South Sound communities do not enjoy direct access to, or use of, is passenger rail.

Cities and towns are now rediscovering the advantages and benefits that everything from simple streetcars to revived passenger train services can bring them. The Olympia area already has a number of tracks that could be used. Olympia even had a streetcar network from the 1890s until the 1930s, and mainline trains once connected Olympia and Lacey with both Aberdeen on Grays Harbor and Seattle and other cities as well.

Now, we need both streetcars and trains again. So why not have a local streetcar service that uses existing tracks to connect Capitol Lake with the Olympia Farmers Market, the Tumwater breweries (both old and newer), and perhaps even part of the West Side? Then, why not combine that with a rail feeder service that provides a fast, one-seat ride, again using tracks that are already in place, out to our community-built Olympia-Lacey 'Centennial' Station, where easy connections with Amtrak trains to Seattle, Portland and even California could be made?

Why not also consider bringing Sounder commuter trains from their new Lakewood terminus, scheduled to open in 2012, on south to at least the Olympia-Lacey Station, providing South Sound commuters with much-needed relief to the growing I-5 congestion around Joint Base Lewis-McChord?

Further, why not look at bringing the existing Olympia to East Olympia rail line under public ownership, so that not only local passenger rail and freight services be developed on it, but that the 100-foot wide rail corridor could also be used for a shared walking and biking trail that would add immeasurably to the recreation, exercise and even commuting opportunities for our area, safely alongside trains that would still use that line?

So why not open a dialogue and exploration of these issues and possibilities? With one of us being on the Port Commission, and the other being president of our state's rail passenger association, we would certainly be willing to do that.

Maybe it's time that Olympia and our Capital Area once again enjoyed the economic and social benefits that passenger rail, as well as freight trains, once brought us.

George L. Barner, Jr. is currently a member of the Olympia Port Commission, representing District One, and represents the Port Commission on the Thurston Regional Planning Council's Transportation Policy Board.

Loren Herrigstad is currently president of All Aboard Washington, and has been a long-time advocate for passenger rail and rail transit in Washington State and the Pacific Northwest.

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Updated 2015/01/07 21:14:22