Tacoma moves closer to selling railroad tracks to Sound Transit

Tacoma moved closer this week to selling a stretch of City-owned railroad to Sound Transit for its operation of Sounder commuter rail service.

For Sound Transit, owning the 1.2-mile rail line, which runs between East D Street and Puyallup Avenue in Tacoma, will allow the transportation agency to make future infrastructure investments, such as the planned replacement of a trestle between Freighthouse Square and K Street, which is currently scheduled for completion in 2017.

For the City of Tacoma, Sound Transit will pay $4 million for the property, transfer approximately 1.2 acres of property near the intersection of Pacific Avenue and South 26th Street to the City of Tacoma, and spend as much as $200,000 on landscape design and improvements to the transferred property. Sound Transit will also allow Tacoma Rail to continue its freight operations on the rail line.

According to documents prepared by City of Tacoma staff, the rail line was purchased from the Weyerhaeuser Company in 1995 and, beginning in 2003, was used by Sound Transit to operate Sounder rail service between Tacoma’s Freighthouse Square and Seattle’s King Street Station as part of a temporary operating agreement. Last year, City of Tacoma and Sound Transit representatives were negotiating a new agreement when they began to discuss the property sale.

During a public hearing Tuesday at Tacoma City Hall, Tacoma Public Works Senior Real Estate Officer Gloria Fletcher noted the agreement would excuse Tacoma Rail from any maintenance costs over the next 10 years, and the City of Tacoma has 90 days to complete due diligence on the property near Pacific Avenue and South 26th Street. Fletcher also noted Tacoma Rail officials reviewed the plan and determined the rail line sale would not affect their railroad operations.

“I want to commend the negotiators for Tacoma,” said community activist Ken Paulson somewhat facetiously during the public hearing. “The last time I understand Sound Transit bought property on South Tacoma Way, they offered a private owner $250,000, and they had to go to court to get them to up it. Finally, after a court case, they paid 450-ish-thousand-dollars. That was for an empty lot on South Tacoma Way near the train tracks. So you folks are doing really [well], unless they have better deals for other governments than the private people.”

Tacoma City Council is expected to vote on the proposed sale at a later date.

Todd Matthews is editor of the Tacoma Daily Index and recipient of an award for Outstanding Achievement in Media from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation for his work covering historic preservation in Tacoma and Pierce County. He has earned four awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, including third-place honors for his feature article about the University of Washington’s Innocence Project; first-place honors for his feature article about Seattle’s bike messengers; third-place honors for his feature interview with Prison Legal News founder Paul Wright; and second-place honors for his feature article about whistle-blowers in Washington State. His work has also appeared in All About Jazz, City Arts Tacoma, Earshot Jazz, Homeland Security Today, Jazz Steps, Journal of the San Juans, Lynnwood-Mountlake Terrace Enterprise, Prison Legal News, Rain Taxi, Real Change, Seattle Business Monthly, Seattle magazine, Tablet, Washington CEO, Washington Law & Politics, and Washington Free Press. He is a graduate of the University of Washington and holds a bachelor’s degree in communications. His journalism is collected online at wahmee.com.