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Sound Transit Secures Easements for Future East Link Rail Access

Sound Transit and the Port of Seattle announced an agreement last week to purchase 1.1 miles of former BNSF track in Bellevue and easements for future access to the rail corridor in Redmond.

Sound Transit will purchase 1.1 miles of former BNSF track that will be used for the construction of East Link light rail from the Port of Seattle, according to a joint press statement released this week by both agencies.

The portion of East Link that will be built on former BNSF railway is near Overlake Hospital and Group Health medical centers (which are at Northeast 10th Street and 116th Avenue Northeast), at what will be known as Hospital Station, according to Sound Transit.

The $13.8-million agreement also includes easements for future access to 37 miles of the Eastside rail corridor between Woodinville and Renton, which would allow for the transit agency build new passneger rail if voters approve it in the future, according to the news release.

In addition to the 37-mile easement, Sound Transit also received rights to access the portion of the rail corridor located within Redmond's city limits. The access rights would allow for future construction of a light rail extension between the Overlake Transit Center, the current planned endpoint of construction, and downtown Redmond, according to the news release.

While the route to downtown Redmond has been planned, the funding is not yet available. As city officials discussed at a study session last month, the agreement gives Sound Transit property rights along the former BNSF railway line in downtown through 2032. 

At that point, if funding still has not been secured for the downtown portion of the line, the city can ask to be released from the agreement, Redmond Parks Director Craig Larsen said at the study session.

“This transaction gets the residents of Redmond, Bellevue and the entire Eastside closer to enjoying congestion-free transportation on fast and efficient light rail trains,” said Sound Transit Board Member and Redmond Mayor John Marchione, in a prepared statement. “Longer term, we’re also thrilled that this purchase supports the priority of extending Link all the way to downtown Redmond.”

Sound Transit's board approved the purchase from the port last year, and the details were made final this week.

The East Link route was , and the project is now being designed. Construction is slated to start in 2015 and service is slated to start in 2023, according to most recent update from Sound Transit.

The route would connect the Eastside to Seattle's existing Sound Transit Link Light Rail line between downtown Seattle and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

The abandoned BNSF Eastside rail corridor runs between Woodinville and Renton and , according to the agencies' news release.

Sound Transit’s transaction and plans for constructing East Link comply with requirements of the national rail banking program to maintain the ability and sufficient space for the potential resumption freight rail operations on the corridor, the agencies said.

Sound Transit would need to build new tracks to support the safety features and operating speeds needed for passenger rail service, according to the agency.

—Caitlin Moran contributed to this report.

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