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Wednesday, November 19, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Arlington
Arlington train? Idea still on track

By Peyton Whitely
Times Snohomish County bureau

HARLEY SOLTES / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Esther Steinbach has met with architects and has considered turning the former Arlington depot into a theater. "It's beautiful inside," she says. "It's the high ceilings I love."
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ARLINGTON — The train tracks are still there, running through downtown, although they come to an abrupt end at a car dealership.

The former depot, from before 1910, also exists, although it's been moved about 20 miles away and hasn't seen a train in years.

There are few remnants of the railroad that once served this community, relics from when Arlington was a stop for logging trains.

The possibility of restoring train service in Arlington, though clearly a longshot, is as persistent as those tracks in downtown. The discussion re-emerged during this fall's political campaigns, and since 1996 a local group has been looking into establishing commuter rail in Arlington.

Much of the discussion has focused on what some consider are Arlington's transportation advantages over nearby cities. Among them are an airport, two freeway-access points and the tracks.

"It's a transportation hub," said Cliff Strong, the city planning manager.

Mayor-elect Margaret Larson said the idea of rail service for the city is appealing but requires caution.

"It certainly could be a possibility," she said, "but we can't even fill up our HOV lanes. You would certainly have to do some studies to see if people would use it."

Larson noted that trains are a key part of the city's heritage.

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"That's why it's Arlington and not Haller City," she said, explaining that the train depot was built in the southern settlement of Arlington, not the northern settlement of Haller City, along the Stillaguamish River. It was the location of the depot that largely led to the merging of the two settlements and the incorporation of Arlington in 1903.

For decades, trains made Arlington a center of commercial activity.

The Darrington Logger ran 100-car trains of logs and timber products through the city from logging sites in the Cascades to mills in Everett and elsewhere for about 90 years.

Bob Heirman, a retired engineer, wrote a 1998 book about the area rail operations: "A Railroad Runs Through It: Reflections From Everett to Darrington."

"Nearly every day, a hundred loads of logs, shakes, shingles, plywood, hog fuel and wood chips departed Darrington and rumbled down the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River valley to Arlington," wrote Heirman, a Snohomish-area resident.

The first train ran to Darrington in 1901, said Heirman, now 71. The final runs were made in 1990. The track was abandoned and torn up in 1991, and the route now is part of the planned Whitehorse Trail, which would connect to the Centennial Trail in other parts of the county.

The tracks in Arlington stop at the southern edge of a Chevrolet dealership. The city is in negotiations to buy part of the rail property for a police station.

The former depot was cut into two pieces when it was moved. Esther Steinbach recalled that she and her husband paid nothing for the building because the railroad was going to tear it down, having decided it wasn't economically feasible to maintain it.

The reconstructed depot building stands on the Steinbaches' Jim Creek Road northeast of Arlington.

No benches or other furnishings remain inside, and the paint is peeling, but the windows and trim are intact. Cabinets in a back room still bear inscriptions such as "Expense bills, 1915-1916-1917" and "Waybills 1923." The dispatch office remains on the front.

Steinbach said she doesn't know what will become of the former depot. She said she's met with architects and has considered turning it into a theater.

"It's beautiful inside," she said. "It's the high ceilings I love."

A group known as "the Farmhouse Gang" because it commonly met at the Farmhouse Inn near La Conner, Skagit County, has been gathering since 1996 to discuss possible commuter operations in Arlington.

Formally known as the North Sound Connecting Communities Project, it's run as an effort of the Cascadia Project of Seattle's Discovery Institute and has obtained $50,000 from the Federal Transit Administration to examine the possibility of commuter trains running from Everett to Blaine. Arlington Mayor Bob Kraski, who lost in the September primary election, has been a member.

Everett-to-Seattle service is being planned by Sound Transit, which has commuter-rail operation between Seattle and Tacoma, carrying an average of about 3,000 riders each weekday.

With a far smaller population base — about 14,000 — Arlington would generate far fewer trips.

There also are substantial political and economic challenges, said Geoff Patrick, a Sound Transit spokesman. Arlington is outside Sound Transit's service area, so an election would have to be held to expand the tax-district boundaries. Cost is also a major issue: An agreement between Sound Transit and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway to use Burlington Northern tracks to Everett would cost about $250 million.

"It's something that's more a political question than a technical question," Patrick said.

Still, the concept of being able to ride a train to or from Arlington persists.

"I've been preaching that for years," Heirman said. "With all this congestion and all this growth, they've going to have to go back to rapid transit."

Peyton Whitely: 206-464-2259 or pwhitely@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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