North Sounder: Cities Should Step Up

The cost per rider statistics of North Sounder that Bruce cited a month ago are indeed quite damning, and have sparked additional reporting at the Times, PubliCola, and The Sun Break. I support reforming transit service to maximize long-term ridership for the amount spent, and Sounder seems to fail that test. Nevertheless, I hesitate when I hear calls to wind the service down.

Defenders have some valid points.

I’m unable to be as furious about the line as others seem to be. North Sounder is not deserted like the 42. Each train is carrying around 150 people; it’s just that it’s so expensive to provide the service that exists.

If it stands for anything, STB stands for high-quality service on selected corridors. North Sounder has elements of high-quality service (off-board payment, traffic-independence) but also is lacking important ones (frequency, span, freedom from mudslides).

My pet peeve is dismissing transit choices as “political,” and there are values that could argue for North Sounder. Indeed, critics of cost per boarding seem to be falling into Jarrett Walker’s trap of misconstruing the purpose of the service.

Finally, it seems to be a reliable vote-winner in its service area (see map at right), and I’d hate to jeopardize the entire light rail project in an attempt to block Snohomish County voters from paying for the service they want.

In other words, I’m open to the argument of the Edmonds, Mukilteo, and Everett Mayors that North Sounder is uniquely valuable to their cities. However, I’d like to see solutions that reflect that value, rather than asking Sound Transit to dump yet more subsidy into the line.

Everyone can make the line better.

Although things like mudslide mitigation have broader benefits, major new capital investments in parking, stations, or new service are simply unjustifiable with scarce subarea funds and dire needs in the I-5 corridor, unless they’re nearly free riders.

However, there are two hugely important things that cities could do, one that costs money and one that doesn’t. The expensive option is for the cities to step up and provide parking. There’s no reason that this has to be paid for by Sound Transit. Cities that value the service and are constrained by parking can benefit their citizens by making it easier to access.

The free revenue-generating option is to upzone. We shouldn’t kid ourselves that a four-trips-per-day line will spawn “Transit-Oriented Development” in the classic sense, but there’s no fundamental reason that cities couldn’t allow more people within the walkshed of their stations. A few thousand more units could make a big difference to Sounder ridership and have additional side benefits for the neighborhoods.

There are, of course, other accessibility improvements, like the foot bridge Mukilteo is studying. That’s the kind of thinking that can improve ridership without making Sound Transit’s investment even less economic.

Comments

  1. says

    I agree totally – it’s time for Sound Transit management to give an ultimatum to the cities served by Sounder North NOT named Seattle to either put up a funding package for improvements + advertising or instead just have an express bus line. I’m not for cutting the service and since I am a potential customer for Sounder North, I know I’m cutting my own piece of the pie for the good of the whole.

    Sorry for all the Is if I offended anyone.

    • Dave says

      I live in the north end, too, and I agree that Sounder North just doesn’t make sense. The express bus is faster and cheaper. I’d rather take the money being spent on Sounder North and just give it to the Snohomish County light rail extension.

      • Dave says

        Not to mention that it seems like every time it rains, there is a mudslide, and the service gets cancelled.

      • Cheesewheels says

        As a former Sounder North rider, I will say that I ALWAYS chose Sounder over the 510 (coming from Everett) unless I missed it, in which case the bus was my only option. The 510 has the potential to be faster, but the Sounder was very consistent in its trip times. On the return trips back north, Sounder was almost always faster due to the amount of time it takes the buses to get out of downtown.

        Has anyone studied how much ridership might change if they took the earliest morning trip out, and replaced it with a later one? 7:!5 is the last departure from Everett, but a 7:30 or 7:45 would make a lot more sense for a lot of people.

  2. mic says

    The big question for me is the contract with BNSF. I’ve yet to hear if ST can recoup any of the 1/4 billion invested in the ROW.
    If they can sell it back at market value, then the cash can go a long way to improve BAT lanes from both ferry docks to meet both Swift buses on 99 and STEX on I-5, eventually connecting to LINK. That trip may offer better connections, than being dumped off at King St. for the 50% of current riders that have to take a bus back northbound to reach their CBD destinations. The all day service would trump having just 4 trips to choose from, and probably be a wash on time, when the complete trip is factored in.
    My 3 cents worth for today!

    • Brian Bundridge says

      That answer is no, they cannot. Whatever money is/has been invested in the route, along with planning, etc is sunk costs.

      • mic says

        Brian, your info is usually spot on, so is this an opinion or fact from an ST source, if if the later could you disclose who said it.
        Walking away from 1/4 Billion is nothing to dismiss so easily for me.

      • Nathanael says

        Given the four-a-day-each-way rights Sound Transit already owns, I wonder what the incremental cost of getting *different slots* would be. (Perhaps it would require some more double tracking; perhaps it would simply require money.)

        I think that could have huge benefits for Sound Transit, and might have a reasonable price from BNSF. Maybe Sound Transit shouldn’t fund it, but that might be something the cities would be willing to fund.

    • asdf says

      You can only negotiate something for a reasonable price when there’s competition. With BNSF, there’s no competition. Therefore, the price would have everything to do with how much money ST could spend if they had to and nothing to do with how much BNSF would need to make it worth their while. Any agreement with them, we will inevitably get ripped off.

      • Nathanael says

        This is why all railroads should be in public ownership, like roads. If it’s gonna be a monopoly anyway, it should be under the control of voters.

        Thanks for making the point which privateers have been unwilling to recognize for 100 years. Keynes advised nationalization of the railways in the US (and, to be fair, in the UK too) way back in the 30s.

      • says

        Keep in mind that BNSF pays property tax on their ROW. Here is a property report from just the parcel near the stadiums. All those track improvements that ST is funding appear to be bumping up the value of those parcels affected which results in additional tax revenue in perpetuity.

        The problem passenger rail faces is subsidized competition from “free”ways. If our highway system was 100% user fee funded, passenger rail would be a profitable business as it was before the US Highway system, and later the Interstates, were built with public money.

  3. Cascadian says

    The more I think about it, the more I see North Sounder as a line that is not intended to maximize ridership, but a route that extends coverage (to use Jarrett Walker’s terms). And the people it is extending coverage to are residents of Edmonds and Mukilteo, and ferry riders.

    If it was just about Everett, there are better ways to serve those riders and get them to Seattle. But there is really no better way to connect the people on ferries from Kingston and Clinton to both Everett and Seattle.

    I don’t really see how bus connections from the ferries would accomplish the same thing. Ferry plus bus plus Link or Swift and then a walk or another local bus is a lot of connections for one rider to make.

    So Sound Transit should keep and fund the service as a backbone for connecting Island County and North Kitsap to Seattle and Everett. It should do more work with WSF to coordinate schedules. It should do what it can to avoid disruptions because of mudslides (and Amtrak and any high-speed rail funding should help with this–a future high speed Seattle-Vancouver service will need a robust solution to this problem, given the lack of interior alternatives. Perhaps the rails can be elevated and reinforced so that landslides go under them.)

    The rest really is up to these two small cities. Some density would help a lot. Parking, sure, it might help, though I tend to think anyone who would drive to Sounder might be more likely just to drive to their destination. But if the region is going to continue to spend money to make connections to Edmonds and Mukilteo possible, they need to do what they can to increase ridership to make the per-rider subsidy a bit less extravagant.

    • Bernie says

      Sound Transit should keep and fund the service as a backbone for connecting Island County and North Kitsap to Seattle and Everett.

      How is encouraging people who work in Seattle to live in North Kitsap a good thing and why should Snohomish County residents be asked to pay for it???

      • says

        Some people can’t afford Snohomish County living or want to live on a small farm. I happen to know some of them.

        That said, why should this service continue when it’s clearly a boondoggle draining cash right now from services like buses people really use?

    • John Bailo says

      This is a case of error piled on error on error. Someone a century ago decided to put a train track at the bottom of a mud hill.

      Why? Because of access to the Sound..because it gives a nice view…regardless…THE ONLY reason for running Sounder on this route is because the track is there. Which is a completely ridiculous reason for situating commuter rail!

      • Orv says

        Most likely the track is there because the ground is flat. That’s why so many early rail right-of-ways were coastal; you don’t have to do a lot of expensive regrading to keep the grades reasonable. Bear in mind that, for a train, 2% is a pretty steep grade.

      • Jack says

        Has anyone considered a commuter rail bypass tunnel that would run underneath either 32nd or 24th Avenue NW? Seems like one could service a healthy chunk of Ballard this way. Maybe it is cost prohibitive…..

      • Mike Orr says

        Yes, views didn’t become a big thing until the 1950s or so. It’s incredible that people totally did not care about the waterfront when the BNSF route and the Alaskan Way Viaduct were established, and now people are willing to pay a million dollars for a view home on the water. The same for Kirkland’s gas refineries and southern California’s rail-and-freeway along the beach.

        But I agree that the paramount concern in the 1800s was a flat rail path, without which the line wouldn’t have been built or would have been much more expensive.

      • says

        It only makes sense that views didn’t appear matter so much until the 50s — at least to the extent that people would live somewhere otherwise impractical just for the view. An isolated view home on a steep hillside doesn’t make sense unless everyone in your family can drive everywhere all the time. The 15-ish years from the Model T until the stock market crash didn’t give families a whole lot of time to accumulate multiple cars, and from the crash through the end of the Second World War wasn’t exactly a building boom. After the war came the famous building boom, gas and cars were affordable enough to support two- and three-car households.

        Anyway, it’s not that views didn’t matter at all. Lots of older Seattle neighborhoods and suburbs have great views, built around the transportation infrastructure available at the time.

      • GuyOnBeaconHill says

        There was an interurban system that ran from Bellingham to Everett and connected to the Seattle to Everett line, but those lines failed during the Depression. Link is basically rebuilding what we had during the 1920s.

        The Great Northern RR is the original owner of today’s BNSF tracks along Puget Sound. In the 1940s and 50s the GN ran up to 4 round trip passenger trains each day between Seattle and Everett (with continuing service to Vancouver or MSP/Chicago). The local trains made flag stops in places like Mukilteo, Meadowdale, Edmonds, Richmond Beach, Ballard and Interbay.

      • says

        “Most likely the track is there because the ground is flat. That’s why so many early rail right-of-ways were coastal; you don’t have to do a lot of expensive regrading to keep the grades reasonable.”

        Which is why the track is a good distance above the water…

    • Mike Orr says

      The ultimate reason Sounder exists is that that’s where the BNSF tracks were. A large part of the initial support for Sounder was its “low capital cost” and “leveraging existing tracks”, which seemed like a cheaper and wiser use of taxpayer dollars than building an entirely new Link right-of-way. Plus the fact that Sounder could start running within a couple years rather than 10-20 years later. So people who were reluctant to vote for “expensive” Link ultimately approved it because the “fiscally prudent” Sounder was part of the package.

      Of couse, this shows the folly of caring only about up-front capital costs rather than the total lifetime costs or the long-term mobility of the region.

      • William says

        The bigger problem is that a good part of it is on small residential streets or right next to people’s backyards. I biked it once last summer from Everett to Alderwood Mall, and we’d need to buy a good bit of new land before putting Link through there.

      • Nathanael says

        Grrrrr…. if the BNSF tracks along what is now the Burke-Gilman trail had still been intact when people voted for Sound Transit, we might have an Inland Route Sounder, and no mudslides!

        Historically contingent events.

      • Nathanael says

        Come to think of it, suppose that Forward Thrust had passed in 1968. Would it be entirely out of line to imagine that perhaps the Burke-Gilman Trail line might have survived the 1970 abandonment and that commuter rail might have been considered?

        And let’s go further: Forward Thrust got a majority of the vote! Suppose the rule on referenda in 1968 did not require a 60% supermajority — boy would history be different then!

        (My casual research does not tell me what law caused the 60% supermajority requirement in 1968.)

      • says

        @Nathaniel: An inland Sounder route with little walkshed outside the U District (where it’s not even all that great) and no particularly direct route from there to downtown. If a good route was built at great expense demand from downtown to the U District would comically outstrip that of the rest of the line. The imbalance would be much worse than what North Link will have. The route of the BGT wouldn’t be much for passenger rail. Lots of freight routes aren’t.

      • GuyOnBeaconHill says

        @ Nathanael

        The Forward Thrust package didn’t envision an inland commuter rail system. It would have built light rail to Lake City via the University District. It also didn’t envision light rail to the airport either–the proposed south line went to Renton/Boeing instead of Sea-Tac–so we would have had to spend billions more on extensions.

      • Mike Orr says

        “the proposed south line went to Renton/Boeing instead of Sea-Tac”

        It’s interesting to see how population distribution and assumptions have changed since then.

        Forward Thrust was designed in the late 1960s when I-5 was less than ten years old, 405 was about to be built, Southcenter didn’t exist, the Kent Valley was mostly farmland, and air travel was just beginning to be affordable to the masses. So the line went southeast through Beacon Hill to Renton, an older suburb. (“Older” in the sense that it had been built up from a small town by that time.) It didn’t go south through Southcenter, Sea-Tac, and Federal Way because these weren’t the important places yet. It took a decade after I-5 and 405 were built for them to significantly change trip patterns and population distribution.

        In the north end, Northgate Mall wasn’t enclosed until 1973, so the rail line ignores it and goes to Lake City instead. A west line goes to Ballard and Greenwood. On the Eastside, NE 8th Street is where it’s at, so the line goes to Crossroads and then Redmond.

        So Forward Thrust goes southeast through Rainier Valley to Renton

    • Mike Orr says

      Kitsap and Island Counties should pay for their own Sounder extension if they want it. In fact, the state has already studied a separate commuter rail line from Blaine to Everett. It has just been stagnating due to insufficient interest and the recession.

      The advantage of a separate line is, although it wouldn’t provide a one-seat ride to Seattle, it could be built entirely by Skagit and Whatcom Counties without Sound Transit having to be distracted. Then at a later date, the two lines could be merged into one. It would also coincide with similar moves to extend Sounder South to Olympia. That could coincide with extending Sound Transit itself from Whatcom to Thurston Counties, but not necessarily. A separate line gives the flexibility to adopt any of these alternatives in the future.

      • asdf says

        We already have such a line. It’s called Amtrak. If we want to add service to Blaine, add a station there to the existing line. And also run more than 2 trips per day.

      • Mike Orr says

        I don’t know how many stations the commuterites have in mind, but it may have more than the Cascades. And perhaps, if we’re lucky, it could take over the Stanwood station from the Cascades. :)

      • Nathanael says

        But, asdf, Amtrak has the same mudslide problems as Sounder on the same mudslide-prone route.

        And Amtrak has *no* viable alternative. (The Burke-Gilman trail route *would* have been a viable alternative for Amtrak.)

  4. mic says

    In Martins last sentence, he asks for ideas to ” ..improve ridership without making Sound Transit’s investment even less economic.”
    Hear, hear!
    Assuming the ROW has a marketable value to someone (BNSF, Gateway Terminal, etc), AND can be sold back without calling it a fire sale, then here’s an idea.
    All Day SWIFT-B service from both ferry docks to Link. Using Mukilto as an example:
    Sounder is a 48 min. trip to KSS, and requires a trip north for half it’s riders (say 300), taking 10 minutes, so let’s just say the trip is an hour +/-.
    It’s 8 miles from Mukilteo to I-5, via the Speedway, and could connect directly to an Alderwood Station, using the BNSF money to fund the extension, which Lynnwood really wants. Time wise, its about 15 minutes to I-5, another say 5 to transfer and 32 on Link, for a total of 55 minutes to Seattle CBD (so say an even hour just to quell the naysayers of aggressive TSP on BAT lanes)
    So the time is a wash, but ‘my-oh-my’ look at all the destination pairs this just opened up, not to mention it meets every ferry and serves the good citizens of Mukilteo with 1st class service (are you listening Mr. Mayor).
    HOW MANY RIDERS DOES THIS GET YOU?
    So, the clock is ticking on a 5 year parking lease to come up with a better Plan B+.

    • mic says

      Did I mention the 9+ million a year N.Sounder is costing to operate would buy a ton of Swift service (roughly 14 buses running 16 hr/day every day).

      • mic says

        You misunderstood. Swift ‘Branded’ buses would travel from Mulilteo to Alderwood on a new route B, paid for by savings from Sounder N. operations. The Lynnwood Link extension to Alderwood would be paid for by selling the BNSF time slots back.
        Edmonds would get the same deal, traveling to a new Link station on SR104.
        Connecting both cities to Swift on 99 and Link on I-5 all day generates magnitudes more riders for the same money, than 4 lightly used trains per day.
        Are these the type ideas you were looking for, or just ways to beef up the existing train service?

      • Martin H. Duke says

        I meant “improve Sounder ridership”. Exchanging Sounder riders for riders somewhere else (as your scheme would be massively uncompetitive for trips to Seattle), even assuming you can get all your money back from BNSF, may or may not be worth it depending on your values, but is probably DOA.

      • mic says

        I thought moderators were supposed to show some impartiality and flexibility to foster new ideas. I’ll insert my point within the body of your statement with brackets[].
        “I meant “improve Sounder ridership”. Exchanging Sounder riders for riders somewhere else (as your scheme [scheme sounds devious - how about idea]would be massively [you didn't look at my time analysis, yet brand it massively false with zip for evidence]uncompetitive for trips to Seattle)[completely ignored the massive new destination pairs and all day service angle], even assuming you can get all your money back from BNSF, may or may not be worth it depending on your values, but is probably DOA [where did you purchase your crystal ball] [If ST is in the people moving business, then this is a way to do it in spades, rather than limit ourselves to a crappy marginal service because...it's there].

      • asdf says

        One Link goes to Lynnwood, the marginal value of operating Sounder comes almost negligible. Anyone who drives to the Sounder today would drive to a Link stop just as quickly. Add in a few nonstop peak-period shuttles to provide ferry connections and you get just as good service as Sounder, but for a fraction of the price.

        And even if selling the trackage rights back to BNSF might be impractical, perhaps some of them could go to Amtrak for extra Cascades trips to Vancouver.

      • Mike Orr says

        Yes, we’re running around in circles, fretting and waiting, and riding slow infrequent buses and Sounder, in the U-District, Lake City, and Lynnwood/Everett/Mukilteo/Edmonds because North Link and the Lynnwood Extension won’t be running for a decade. If only they were running now or in the near future, a ton of problems would evaporate, and Snoho residents would be much more amenable to replacing Sounder North down.

    • Anandakos says

      Mic,

      What “ROW” are you talking about? Sounder North has no right of way. BNSF hosts the trains on its right of way.

      And they’re not selling.

      • Anandakos says

        Mic,

        Oh, I see from a later post you’re referring to the time slots.

        Do you really think that BNSF will pay anything for the time slots when they know that ST is anxious no longer to use them?

        “Hey, Warren! We’d like to sell you back these time slots. We are aware that your freight volumes are rising and we’d like to do the neighborly thing and sell them back to you so you can use them. We’ll miss them very much, but we’re willing to make the sacrifice for the good of the Port and your railroad, which we very much esteem!”

        Warren: “Unh-hunh. I see. Well, I’ll tell you; my philosophy has always been ‘buy low and sell high’. But since I already sold high I’d be just a good with buying low. Here’s a quarter. Thanks for the memories!”

      • mic says

        You answered your own question, but those time slots are worth quite a bit when the Gateway Pacific Terminal comes online in about 5-10 years. They will need about 18 slots/day on 100+ car trains.
        “So Warren, you can try building more passing sidings to accommodate your coal carriers, or you can buy back our slots… because we will never quit running trains in our time periods… even empty DMU’s if need be”

      • Bernie says

        Is there any provision in the ST ROW agreement that specifies BNSF pay a penalty if Sounder trains are delayed by freight traffic? There doesn’t seem to be for mudslides or other track work. @Mic, So you think it would be a good idea to push for a coal port at Cherry Pt. just so ST might have a bargaining chip in selling back ROW? I think there are a lot of people along the line that would argue dumping money into passenger service would be worth it if the only thing it did was push the coal trains into someone else’s backyard. I think you’d have an easier time selling back a half eaten pizza than getting BNSF to cough up any dough for the passenger train slots. I know I’d give you more for the pizza.

      • mic says

        Dunno. Brian says it’s a non-starter, but wouldn’t come back to say if that’s hearsay or gospel according to _____. So I remain skeptical. Apparently the COP, Board, and local media are equally deaf on the big question – Is the 1/4 Billion truly GONE?
        If that’s the case, and you divide all the trips taken on N. Sounder into all the $$ spent, it works out to $320 per ride, so far.
        That would be quite a ride the BNSF took ST on if the service is shut down.

      • Anandakos says

        And on the question of coal to Cherry Point, it makes absolutely no sense to run coal trains there via either Stampede or Napavine hill and the Gorge. If coal is to go to Cherry Point it must go via Stevens (or Canada), presumably replacing stack trains which will no longer be carrying containers diverted via the new locks in Panama.

        If coal trains are to be diverted south to Yakima it makes far more sense to have the shipping terminal to which they’re destined on the Columbia. That way there’s are only two hills between Mullan Pass and the ocean, between Marshall and Cheney and up from Lind. There is room for a third track between Vancouver and Kelso, and land just west of the current Port of Longview on Barlow Point could be used.

      • Bernie says

        Empty coal trains will return via Stevens Pass but loaded trains would go through the gorge. Not very much if any of the container traffic routed over Stevens will go through the Canal. It has to get put on a train where ever it’s unloaded so why sail twice as far. Indeed there is a push to put a large coal terminal on the Columbia. Of course people near it object but there’s not nearly as many people to put up a stink and an even bigger push for jobs in the area so if it can get through the EIS process one of the coal terminals will be there but there’s enough demand from China and enough coal in Wyoming and Montana to require at least two or three more shipping points. Besides, none of the money involved wants to put all their eggs coal in one basket.

      • Anandakos says

        Bernie,

        If the stacks don’t go away, the coal can’t use Stevens. Unless it’s electrified again. The tunnel takes about 30 minutes to vent and transit time for a one-mile train moving 20 mph through a six mile tunnel is 21 minutes (18 minutes for the head end to go six miles and three minutes for the rest of the train to clear). Allowing a little time for turnout alignment at either end and you’re very close to one train per hour max capacity. I’ve seen that figure quoted in Trains.

        Right now BNSF is at that one train per hour traffic over Stevens, so the empties won’t be going that way.

        And, anyway, why in the world would shippers want to make the big belly through Tri-Cities and Vancouver just to turn north for a congested transit of Pugetopolis when they could hang a left at Kelso Jct and dump the coal five miles west?

        Yes, the Columbia River bar is a significant hassle, but so are the reefs and shoals among the Gulf and San Juan Islands. Either facility will require tugs to and from the open ocean.

        I know that some people are all hot and bothered about the “opportunity” to convert a good part of the Intalco facility to a terminal, but what a fustercluck it’s going to be dragging those trains across Broad Street and the Edmonds Ferry Terminal then around the base of Chuckanut.

      • Bernie says

        @Anandakos The empty trains won’t be limited to 20mph as they are only a small fraction of the weight of full and lighter than a full double stack. If they need to they can break the train prior to the tunnel. BNSF has a yard with extra engines they turn around after adding them at Startup to pull the grade. But yes, if container traffic picks up to pre-resession levels Stevens will be over capacity and they would reopen Stampede. FWIW, empty coal cars are a low priority and will be left sittng on sidings to fill in off peak hours.

  5. Stephen F says

    I wouldn’t be in favour of cutting the service back in any circumstance. But, I’d like to see cheap improvements made. It suffers particularly from its potential catchment. Add more stations and it extend it north. That’s what the subarea wants. It’s not entirely duplicative of future Link or the current 510/11/12/13.

    • lazarus says

      I agree 100%. I’d investigate in-fill stations, improvements to existing stations, and expansion in both geographic extent and frequency before considering any scaling back of service.

      And this segment is showing darn good ridership increases of late.

      • Jason Mitchell says

        I think this was touched on recently, but can’t remember what post: what’s the possibility of a second downtown stop, maybe somewhere near the Harbor Steps or the Sculpture Park?

      • mic says

        Ridership has been flat since at least 2009 and even lost 11% from 2010 to 2011.
        A couple of data points do not make a trend.

      • Stephen F says

        Brian, third rail pads in the tunnel possible!? Expensive, yes, but just entertain the idea. Is it possible?

      • Nathanael says

        Personally, I think span of service is the biggest issue for North Sounder. It’s worth investigating what BNSF’s price or requirements would be for a scenario like this:

        – early morning southbound
        – late morning southbound
        – noon southbound
        – evening southbound

        – morning northbound
        – noon northbound
        – early evening (but after 5!) northbound
        – *late* evening northbound

        Also consider the price for a similar schedule but with the noon trains replaced with peak trains.

        Not only would this provide more travel options, it would reduce equipment requirements. Yes, the morning trains would probably carry 300 passengers each, as the 150 each from the current trains pack onto half as many trains — that would be great! The other trains would attract new passengers.

        The post-5 PM northbound is probably the most important aspect, though. If neither of these scenarios is viable, ask what it would cost to shift all four of the evening runs later.

        Admittedly, Amtrak Cascades is providing some of the necessary span of service: one reverse-peak trip and one late-evening northbound. But not for Mulkiteo.

      • Nathanael says

        Stephen F, the Great Northern tunnel has huge clearance. You could put overhead wire in it if you wanted to.

      • Stephen F says

        Nathaneal, I suggested third rail exactly because catenary wire on a diesel train might be a bit much. Although, maybe it isn’t I don’t know. Not on expert and I realise this is likelu expensive and unrealistic as an alternative short of full electrification of the BNSF corridor.

  6. Will Douglas says

    For me, arguing to cut any transit route – any at all – is a bright red line that I will never, ever cross. Our goal must be to bring rail and buses to as many people as possible. Always expanding, never contracting.

    If there are ways to get more people to ride Sounder North, I’m all for them. But I wish transit advocates would not fall into the trap that anti-rail folks set for us by arguing that transit should play by different rules than other transportation has played by for decades. We support lines like Sounder North because we believe more communities need rail. It should not have to justify its own existence.

    • Mike Orr says

      There’s rail and then there’s rail. The point of transit is to get the most people quickly to their destinations, and in the most cost-effective manner, to give the majority of people a viable alternative to cars for most of their trips. That means going through the center of Snohomish County’s population area. It means going to destinations including UW, SeaTac, and Capitol Hill. It means running every 10 minutes 7 days a week. It doesn’t mean a rail line wherever the BNSF track happens to be, on the edge of the county, going only to downtown and only peak hours. Sounder North may be a good supplemental service; it may be something we can do with extra money if we have any; it may be something we have to do if a large percentage of Snoho residents want it. But we still have to ask whether it meets the overall transit goal as effectively as other transit investments we might make instead.

    • mic says

      How much bleeding of system cash are you willing to pay for your ‘Rail Bias’ Will?
      We’re north of $50/boarding now (counting depreciation).
      $100 per boarding? $1000?
      At some point in poker you look at your cards and decide to fold ‘em.
      The time is near for North Sounder.

      • says

        Well put.

        Don’t get me wrong, I love rail but at some point if you can’t make the service any cheaper STOP SPENDING MONEY.

        Anybody need reminding the #1 reason for this fiscal cliff in DC is because of deficit spending and too many tax cuts?

    • Mike Orr says

      Note that I-5 and 99 are much to blame for the irrelevance of the legacy railroad tracks. American cities and towns were originally built along rail lines, the same as in Britain and Europe. (And the pre-rail ones were built along waterways.) When Europe built freeways, many of them went alongside rail lines so they served the same cities. Passenger rail remained robust, and the freeways complement the corridors rather than undermining them. In a few US cities, passenger rail remained robust and continues to serve the same cities it always did. Most notably, Chicago’s Metra, New York-New Jersey-Connecticut service, and Amtrak’s Northeasst Corridor.

      Sounder keeps this tradition too. Kent, Auburn, Puyallup, Edmonds, and Mukilteo were all railroad towns. So were Lynnwood, Renton, Covington, and Bonney Lake (or at least Wilkeson). So Sounder has restored rail service to the former corridors, while in the latter cases the tracks were ripped out, became freight-only, or were abandoned.

      The difference between Seattle and European cities is that freeways were built away from rail lines, and the population centers shifted to the freeways. I-5 “made” Federal Way, and Sounder is too far away to serve it. In Lynnwood, as far as I can tell, the Interurban went from Linden (Aurora) Avenue to downtown Lynnwood. Highway 99 bypassed downtown Lynnwood, shifting development west. I-5 went back to downtown Lynnwood, but on a new Northgate corridor. So the bulk of King and Snohomish’s population is now centered around I-5, where there’s no legacy rail line.

      This is the dilemma with Sounder. Sounder South has a two-sided walkshed that can vaguely serve both east and west if people drive to P&Rs. Sounder North has a one-sided walkshed on the far west edge of the county.

      • Paul says

        Sounder has a two-sided walkshed, or at least the potential for one, with the ferry terminals at Edmonds and Mukilteo.

        It’s interesting that WSF is expecting a 70% increase in passengers on the Mukilteo-Clinton route by 2040, but they are only planning a fairly small increase in the vehicle capacity of the ferries(from 126 to 144 vehicles, I recall).

        Evidently they expect most of there growth in passengers to be people walking off the ferry in Mukilteo and catching a bus or train and vice versa. If they’re right, then maybe the best thing you could do to increase Sounder ridership out of Mukilteo would be to fund the new ferry terminal there.

  7. says

    STB does want cities to provide parking for North Sounder, but doesn’t want Seattle to build parking for Central Link?

    • Mike Orr says

      Urban vs suburban. Seattlites have a greater ability to walk or bus to stations, and it has the density and growth to support even more future bus service to every arterial. Suburbanites are stuck in a hole of low density due to misguided policies of the past fifty years, so frequent buses to their arterial are less realistic. Therefore, the suburbs need P&Rs to compensate.

  8. JVM says

    > North Sounder is not deserted like the 42. Each train is carrying around 150 people

    Whoa… I live in NYC now and 150 sounds really deserted to me! Just from an environmental perspective isn’t $4800 to bring 150 people to work sort of a waste of diesel (or electricity if that’s what it uses)?

    I will say my parents live near this line but the departure times and the destination station (King street) are both very inconvenient for me so combined with the fact that it’s really slow, I’ve only ridden it a couple times. It is a nice ride but if that’s really what it costs it seems not really worth the environmental damage of using all that energy.

    • Cheesewheels says

      Seems to me that there are way more people on the later Sounder trips. The last one in the morning and the last one in the evening are packed. I have a hard time believing only 150.

    • Anandakos says

      Oil via tank cars is ridiculous. Build a pipeline to the existing refineries in the southern Midwest.

      • mic says

        I agree, but ecconomics dictate otherwise. Near term, the BNSF can move the oil with little investment, whereas the pipeline is years in the making and very expensive to build, but yes, eventually someone will build one.
        Gateway Pacific is full speed ahead on their permit process and most business’ are all gaga in Whatcom Co to see them do it – citizens, not so much. The RR has a death grip on their right to move freight (cities along the way can take a flying leap), so I think it’s nearly a done deal, minus scoping, EIS, and shit load of hearings to get permits.



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