Appeals court ruling on railroad tracks in the Burke-Gilman Trail “missing link”

This morning the state Court of Appeals ruled that the City of Seattle does not have the right to require the Ballard Terminal Railroad Company (BTRC) to relocate railroad tracks that cross where the city intends to build out the “missing link” of the Burke-Gilman Trail.

The court ruled that the federal Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995 pre-empts the city’s authority to regulate or legislate related to the construction or relocation of railroad track lines. This is despite the fact that the city and the BTRC voluntarily signed an agreement that gave the city such authority.

The city owns the railroad line, and in 1997 signed a 30-year operating agreement with BTRC to operate the line. It also passed a “franchise ordinance” granting the operating franchise for 30 years. The court effectively ruled that because of the federal pre-emption, some of the requirements in the franchise ordin`ance and operating agreement are null and void. Presumably, once the 30-year term expires in 2027 the city will have more freedom to take back control of the property and move (or remove) the railroad line.

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