I keep hearing that the 5,600 riders a day number is too low. Let me put this argument to why I think that ridership estimate is realistic. Sounder, which goes through the downtowns of many cities up and down the the central coridor – including Seattle and Tacoma, has big park-and-rides near many of the stations and has modal transfers at ferry terminals and bus depots at others, gets about 10,000 or so riders a day.

The BNSF route does not have clean transfers, since it does not go near bus park-and-rides, and it does not go through the downtown of any city on its route. Why would the BNSF route get that many more riders?

At best the number would be 10,000; it couldn’t possibly be more than sounder. And if that’s all it is, than it’s not worth the investment with the number of higher-ridership possibilities available.

Promise this is the last post I’ll write on this for the time being.

30 Replies to “Ridership Again”

  1. Hi, I have been trying to get someone to listen to my idea since before Mr. Nichols became Mayor (one of his staff just laugh, she said that Mrs. Nichols liked the view from the Viaduct so the Mayor would never agree)!
    How about moving 300,000 people in and out of Seattle every day, south from Marysville and north from Tacoma. All for less than $40 million and installed in less than 6 months!

    Thank You


  2. I don’t think the route is viable today. I don’t think most of the route will be viable in 10 years. After East Link is running, a north-south line that ties into East Link might be viable. This would be contigent on continued growth and increasing congestion on the i405 corridor.

  3. It does go to major bus P&Rs at South Kirkland, Totem Lake, also there is a P&R near the Renton terminus. I’m looking at the tracks on Live Maps, and they do go to downtown Renton, so I’m wondering why they aren’t putting a stop there as well… maybe because they would have to arrange scheduling with BNSF? That said, the line is certainly short on destinations.

    It seems to me it makes little sense to do this unless they design it to share tracks and stations with East Link. Then it would actually go to downtown Bellevue, so people would ride it. This also saves the expensive bridge over 405 which is where I believe the tracks were cut. So then from South Bellevue P&R, you would either need to build a bridge over 90 or turn east and then sharply southward back onto the old tracks. That might be worth doing, otherwise I’d say just remove the tracks and make a bike trail. There are better ways to spend a billion.

    1. It’s in the middle of the street in DT renton, and it doesn’t really go to the South Kirkland P&R or Totem Lake.

      More importantly, there’s no place you can put a station at either one of those thats near the P&R, unless you want to have a big train station built on a slope…

      1. The EC passes closer to the S Kirkland PnR than the revised 554 stop will be at the Eastgate PnR.

        I can cite a jillion LR systems that have partially shared ROWs, including Calgary, whose system is the most heavily used in NA. In fact, EVERY LR train on that system shares a heavily-trafficked downtown street.

      2. And building a train station on a slope is insane, but building a train station 150 feet underground is totally sane?

    2. The Park and Rides in Renton are full on weekdays already. So there is nowhere for the new train riders to park. Some riders could come to the stations on local buses, but limited parking could suppress ridership. We have an example of this right now – parking is limiting Sounder ridership growth on the south line because there is no more capacity at Tukwila, Auburn, Puyallup, and Sumner. I think Kent is very close to full as well. Specifically, the ridership on the last 2 or 3 Sounder trips is probably being negatively impacted by lack of parking.

      That said, we should build transit systems that tie into the existing regional and local networks better, rather than requiring monumental, expensive parking facilities. Or we should look at expanding already successful transit in the 405 corridor in addition to a new investment. The 564/565 are jammed full between Bellevue, Renton, and Kent. Could ST or whoever is going to fund the $1B or $750M rail line use a portion of the BNSF corridor money to provide improved service on these routes? Just a thought.

  4. The fact that it doesn’t go to a park-and-ride is a major selling point in my opinion.


    Because the existing PnRs are all full. It doesn’t make any sense to add transit to areas with already limited access.

    However…the Eastside Corridor is a virtual goldmine of untapped possibilities in regard to mixed-use development, higher density homes, new PnRs and it’s all available in a transit corridor that thousands use every day already. The EC is full of boarded up mfg and warehouses for as far as the eye can see.

    If you spent even 30 mins in any part of this corridor, you’d walk away thinking “Wow, this place could use some sprucing up”. And that’s exactly what would happen.

    The same arguments used in selecting the meandering routing for Link would hold true on the EC.

    And equally as important: The EC should be preserved as an alternate freight rail line in case of long-term emergencies on the main line.

    Simply put, the County hates the EC because it wasn’t their idea, the developers hate it because they don’t own the land, and the transit wonks hate it because they are too worried about getting their own needs addressed.

    I can’t believe we are even debating whether or not to preserve an intact rail corridor. A couple billion is a small investment in the future. (We’ve heard that before, right?)

    1. Should we preserve the corridor? Yes. Should we preserve the rails? Not as they exist today — given the speed restrictions and single tracking a commuter train on the existing tracks would not be competitive with buses, let alone driving. The question is should we spend the money to build a good rail system along that corridor?

      I would add a few caveats to your link comparison. The biggest difference is that Link connects a residential neighborhood ripe for development to downtown Seattle, whereas the EC connects a bunch of underdeveloped areas to other underdeveloped areas. This is less of an issue than it otherwise would be because eventually it will be possible to transfer to East Link, but still, the EC would be a much more promising corridor if it actually went a few places people want to go to. The second caveat is that Link, by going through the Rainier Valley, isn’t missing any high density residential or commercial areas that it really ought to serve, whereas the EC misses downtown Bellevue, downtown Kirkland, and Factoria. Okay, no big deal if it misses Factoria, but really, Overlake Hospital and the Landing in Renton do not a desirable corridor make. The third caveat is that the Rainier Valley has long been a much higher density neighborhood than the areas the EC hits.

      But yes, as a transit wonk, I mainly just have about a dozen other ways I can think of to spend a billion.

      1. There’s no such thing as being ‘competitive with buses’ on the EC, because there are no serious transit options currently available on that corridor.

        ‘Competitive’ and ‘profitable’ were the very same business terms (mis)used by the automobile interests who advocated for tearing up passenger rail lines decades ago. It’s that illogic which got us into this mess in the first place.

      2. If you think Monroe and Snohomish are ‘underdeveloped’ areas, you haven’t been there in a decade. SR9 isn’t the ‘most dangerous road in the state’ because no one is using it. Ditto SR522.

      3. Monroe and Snohomish? I was talking about the parts of Bellevue and Kirkland it runs through, and the stretch south of Bellevue… SR 9 may carry a lot of cars, but how far do they have to drive just to get to SR 9, and how far is wherever they end up from the rail line? Are they really going to Overlake Hospital?

        Bus routes that would provide better service for most potential passengers unless the rails are improved considerable include the 560 and the 230. If you’re thinking most of ridership is coming from Snohomish, I have a few issues with this: 1. We really ought to try buses first to prove the transit market exists. 2. Do you think that part of Snohomish county is interested in pitching in for the cost? Because King County shouldn’t pay to build rail from Woodinville to Snohomish, and Sound Transit shouldn’t pay unless they join the tax district. 3. Rail to focus development is great, but I have trouble supporting a line that will depend almost exclusively on development outside the urban growth boundaries for success.

    2. I totally agree with brad.

      You build transit lines for the future, not the past.
      Why? With a transit route already available –
      The redevelopment areas wouldn’t need as many roads or as much parking.
      Much higher density could be used.

      If you tear up the tracks now, it’ll be decades before you see them again. Just look at the whining about “building… bridges over major interstates is very expensive” that has been posted on this website (and no, dropping a single track truss bridge over I-405 is not very expensive). Can you imagine what they will say if you have to rebuild around an existing trail?

      1. It may be more decades before we see them again, but it will be *more* decades before it will make sense to build density in most of the places where that rail goes. We have serious lack of density problems in the city, and we’re already building light rail to channel most of our development for the next two decades.

        The key is, *right now*, this money will get us more bang for the buck with light rail, and *in the future*, if we were to spend this on light rail now, those areas would develop too – but faster, and more cost effectively.

      2. Ben S,

        I’m speaking of the warehouse district in Bellevue, and the ex-Boeing area in Renton, which will be redeveloped within the next decade. They can either be developed in medium density designed for cars or high density with transit as part of the plan. Both are right on the Eastside Corridor as they used trains heavily in their previous lifes.

      3. 30-minute headways is not going to create high density neighborhoods. Light rail is a much better mode for this sort of development.

  5. RE: Destinations for the EC. In my opinion, I’m surprised no one is suggesting Sea-Tac Airport as a destination. Even with the EC terminating in downtown Renton, there are a lot of Eastsiders who would use this a way to get to the airport.

    I’d be the first in line to bid on the airport/EC connector shuttle bus route.

      1. It wouldn’t be light-rail service, so it would basically only be for commuters. Unless riders would be interested in 6-hour shopping trips.

      2. Why would they not run trains, especially DMUs through out the day? We own the tracks, which means if there is demand – run.

  6. If I read the study right, they used a Transit Competitiveness Index to gauge the ridership, however, numerous times they state this nugget of information as a caveat”The TCI is not able to model the additional people who might drive to the potential Park and Rides at the commuter rail station sites in Woodinville (or insert station here), and the surrounding area is agricultural and low density residential, so the TCI’s are correspondingly low at below 100 for most calculations.”

    There’s no data anywhere about how many people use park and rides that they could have factored in? I find that a bit hard to believe. Also, with 30 min headways all day, I believe that it would attract far more people than they are stating in the study since at that frequency, there’s no need for a schedule. Andrew brought up a point about Sounder Commuter Rail, but that only runs at Peak times, not all day long. No one’s going to take Sounder say if they wanted to run into Seattle in the morning and get back by 1pm to Everett in the same manner. It wouldn’t happen unless your willing to get on the bus.

    To my understanding, the reasoning behind this line was never supposed to be about getting riders to walk or take transit to the train station. The whole attractiveness of this line is to give people an alternative to driving on Hwy 9 and I-405 and to potentially link Sounder in the south end to a major job hub in Bellevue without having to transfer. To not factor in or try to factor in riders who would either drive to a park and ride, get dropped off at the station ,etc would seem to ignore how most of the transit users in the suburbs and more rural areas get to that mode of transit in the first place.

  7. Much as I love rail transit, the Eastside rail corridor is not ideal for transit. It avoids almost all of the places Eastside cities are planning for density. It has 104 at-grade rail crossings. Estimates on costs for stations and track improvements are laughably understated by the right-wing Cascadia Institute.

    This corridor is a great bike trail corridor, however. Cascade Bicycle Club and others rightly make the case that this trail could carry a sizable number of bike commuters, similar to the Burke-Gilman. To force diesel rail transit onto the same corridor means you have a half-ass rail corridor and a half-ass bike trail.

    To truly make this corridor good for rail would require hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even then it would carry relatively few riders. To say that just because there are rails there, we should preserve the corridor, flys in the face of logic. To truly build a rail system you need attractive and interconnected station areas. This corridor has few and the stations would cost a pretty penny. And before you think about running the cheaper diesel trains that Cascadia and others advocate, realize that this line literally runs through neighborhoods. Before you cry NIMBY, think about whether you want an all-day, frequent diesel train running through your backyard. Even if you say okay, the prospective litigation costs for any line are considerable.

    You can’t just sit in your comfy home and say, “make it so”.

    You have to take into account public process, environmental rules, state and federal funding restrictions, city zoning, etc. The point is, things always look good at the no-design, feel-good stage of a project. Look hard at this line and I think you will conclude it should carry bike commuters and we should spend any prospective Eastside money on extending East Link to Issaquah or Kirkland or on express bus service. Not on a goofy rail corridor that: 1) Stops at Gene Coulon Park–five miles from downtown Renton (BNSF kept the rest of the track for Boeing), 2) Has 104 at-grade crossings, 3) Has no station areas nor the land acquired to make them meaningful, and 4) Was designed to avoid density, not embrace it.

    We need more transit, but we need to build smart transit.

      1. I’d also say “Well put” but I would add a “but are these really insurmountable issues to developing an Eastside Corridor for rail?”

        As someone who was born and raised near London, I have often considered the growth and development of the London Underground or ‘Tube’ in my thoughts on developing mass transit in the Seattle/Puget Sound area. First off, to the best of my knowledge, no one ever voted on whether to begin, develop or extend the Tube. These were all decisions made by people we entrusted with the authority to make those decisions. This doesn’t seem to be the case in the United States – maybe back East but seemingly not on the west coast where everything has to be voted on at least once.

        Secondly, the London Underground developed both in response to and as a creator of sprawl – seemingly ahead of and in line with the growth of London as a metropolis. Applying this scenario here, has given us the development of Sounder North as a transit option based partly on the existence of urban centers along its route and partly on the hope that in time more people will use it as they see the benefits. I think at this point, we can say that both predicators of sticking with this line are largely true. Ridership is up and with the prospect of more projects along the route – such as stops at Broad and in Ballard as well as other major track improvements such as Brian outlined in an earlier pirce- the north line will definitely reach a more productive capacity and sooner rather than later (or Sounder rather than later:))

        Aplying all this to the Eastside Corridor line, if we develop it, the expense will be all up front but the pleasures and rewards could be down the line with positive and concentrated development along the corridor. It will link up with Link East at Bel-Red and spark off a much needed major redevelopment of that area. It will take traffic off the 405 which is overly crowded between Kirkland and Renton. Lastly, like the Underground in London, does every station have to have parking?

        I am sure I have digressed but I remain unconvinced that there would be little demand for an EC rail line over the long term. Sure it would probably stutter and splutter at first but in time, things would take off. Wasn’t the Spirit of Washington train popular?

        Furthermore, if you could extend the line from Snohomish to Monroe, build a station there and have trains meet the Empire Builder, who knows but you have yet another reason to think more positively about the EC line. Someone in Monroe could then by connecting once in Renton/Tukwila to Sounder, get all the way to Tacoma without too much effort.


      2. I can’t reply to everything in your post, but you mentioned the people voting on transit. I’m not sure voting is ideal, but if our leaders did have the exclusive choice they would pass on the Eastside rail corridor because studies like this show it’s just not the best investment of a billion dollars.

  8. Some of this is just silly. Those “underdeveloped” areas are underdeveloped because the owners are holding the property off the market.

    If there would be one big bigger-than-anything-else lesson to be learned from the Eastside, it would be that no piece of property out there has gone undeveloped because of a lack of transportation.

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