Donald Wilson should be eating breakfast with his friends at the Tulalip Casino. But Wilson is not eating breakfast. He’s sitting in his car, at a railroad crossing.
It's a situation he faces just about every other day when he's just trying to get from one side of town to the other. "Every time we run into the train," he said, "it’s like, ‘God darn it!’”
KUOW's Region of Boom team is hanging out in Marysville for the month of January. In February, we're in Black Diamond. Where else should we go? Tweet @KUOW #RegionOfBoom.
Trains block traffic in Marysville for up to six minutes about 19 times a day. They carry oil and coal to refineries and terminals in Washington and Canada. And even with new coal terminals being rejected by the state left and right, train traffic is expected to double by the year 2035.
Lots of cities have problems with trains. But the effect is greatest in Marysville, because the track interrupts so much of the street grid. It’s a problem that affects Interstate 5 traffic too, when cars waiting for the train backup onto the freeway.
A few times a year, the trains just stop, right in the middle of town. And nobody can get through for over an hour, not even police or fire trucks. It might be an engineer shift change, a mechanical failure or a maintenance delay.
“It’s made it really difficult for the customers to come into the businesses around here,” said Stephanie Rabourn, bar manager at Pho Yummy, a restaurant in downtown Marysville.
Rabourn has lived in Marysville all her life. "The trains have been a lot of problems for a lot of people for a long time," she said.
She’s excited about a $60 million interchange the state plans to build in southern Marysville. It will let Marysville residents get on and off Interstate 5 without crossing the railroad tracks. It should open in 2021.
“It’s gonna boost [Marysville's] economy a lot," she said, "It’s probably going to make it grow even more than it has.”
Marysville is already the fastest growing big city in western Washington. But much of the prosperity has been on the other side of the railroad tracks.
There are 23 at-grade railroad crossings in Marysville, 18 of which cross the busy Burlington Northern Santa Fe line running north and south.
The state has promised funds for two of those crossings, the first in south Marysville and a second in north Marysville, several years after the first is built. As for the rest of the street grid, Marysville is on its own.
Funding comes from Washington state's $16 billion "Connecting Washington" transportation package passed by the legislature in 2015.