Tukwila Station, by Oran, who didn't attend

As many of you no doubt know, this morning Sound Transit offered many members of the press an end-to-end ride on Link Light Rail.  STB was there in force.

The multimedia will have to wait, but here are some random observations:

  • Mayor Nickels was positively giddy to ride the train.  I detected something beyond the standard excitement at a good photo-op in an election year.
  • From my home in Columbia City, it took 45 minutes(!) to get to Westlake on the 42, but only 15 minutes to return on Link.
  • As Andrew has pointed out in the past, it’s a looooong way from Rainier Beach to Tukwila.  A stop at Boeing Access Road would really break that up nicely.

[UPDATE: Brian has posted his photos here.]

And now for a sampling of reactions from other media outlets:

Andrew Villenueve at the NPI liveblogged and has all the details.

Dominic Holden on the Slog takes a measured stance.  God bless him, I agree.

Seattle Times. Ben and I are in the first clip, and Eric is in the second one.

KOMO News: (H/T: Burien Ben)

62 Replies to “Link Media Ride”

    1. I have it from a good source that Sound Transit engineers designed the tracks for the later addition of a station at S. 133rd St., right near Interurban Ave. The area is industrial and office uses now, but could become a real urban village, with the right zoning changes and support from property owners and developers. Or, sigh, it could become another park-and-ride lot.

      The S. 133rd Station didn’t get included in the ST2 plan, however.

    2. You lose the potential Sounder connection, but you’re still in good shape for Express buses, and probably can get better land use.

      I wouldn’t have a huge problem with S. 133rd.

      1. It doesn’t seem that the Sounder connection is all that important. BNSF won’t allow it because its smack in the middle of their busy South Seattle Intermodal Facility.

      2. Until there is the track capacity to run Sounder at hour or half-hour frequencies all day long I don’t think a Link connection to Sounder at Boeing access road is all that important. If an infill station is done between Henderson and Tukwila S. 133rd would seem to be a logical place for it.

      3. Won’t Sounder be a little redundant once Link reaches down to Tacoma anyway? Link will make the trip from Tacoma to Seattle almost as quickly, but with more frequent service and trains that run all the way through downtown instead of stopping at King Street.

      4. No, it won’t be redundant. Sounder serves Tukwila, Kent, Auburn, Sumner, Puyallup, South Tacoma, and Lakewood which Link doesn’t and won’t. Wouldn’t Sounder also benefit from track upgrades made for Amtrak Cascades higher-speed service with potential travel time reduction?

      5. What Oran said. Sounder is an entirely different service than Link and serves very different transit markets. If you are in East Auburn going to the Auburn Sounder station makes sense, but Federal Way not so much.

        Sounder benefits from track and signal upgrades made for Cascades and Amtrak and freight benefit from upgrades made for Sounder.

        I’m not sure who’s been paying for the various grade separation projects along this line but all of the rail traffic benefits from each grade separation that is done.

    3. The 133rd station and a P&R would be perfect. I’ve been soap boxing about that station location since the shovel was in the ground. What a waste.

    1. Is it just me or did they get the last two numbers reversed? “10,000 people work within walking distance to SODO station” and “ST expects more than 1,000 people to get off at Stadium station for each Mariners and Seahawks game”. I bet there’s more than 1,000 that’ll take link to a game, and more than 1,000 that work near SODO station.

      1. No, the 1000 number is official, although I’m guessing that’s extremely conservative. Not only will a ton of people take it back to their homes in the South End, but then will also ride it up into the tunnel to transfer to buses to the North End.

    1. No. Remember, old subway systems that now look rickety appeared ‘overbuilt’ for their times as well. This is built to last twice or three times as long as a highway.

    1. I think Justin may be comparing to other light rail systems which have far less grade separation, mixed traffic running, shorter platforms, and simpler stations.

      Link is nearly a light metro as opposed to some systems which are barely one step above streetcars/trams.

  1. I am not criticizing LINK at all. I am a HUGE Light Rail proponent. But there is concern that Light might be becoming the new “metro”, where cities might attempt to build LRT to near metro standards, where a simpler system would suffice just fine.

    It’s no secret that many LRT systems in the US are built to handle loads that will never materialize.

      1. All 4 stations in the SODO area are just platforms with a bit of a roof. Very basic and quite appropriate.

      2. I only count 2 stations in SODO (Stadium at Royal Brougham, and SODO at Lander). I guess you could stretch it and say that ID/Chinatown is with-in walking distance of SODO, but that still isn’t 4 stations. Unless you were counting each station twice – once for northbound and once for southbound?

    1. Seattle’s one of the largest cities without rail mass transit. I don’t see why we shouldn’t build to 30 year passenger projections.

      1. Systemwide projections in 2030 for Link are roughly 160,000 riders per day. This is just the estimate for U Link + Central Link + East Link, completing North link to Northgate and then Lynnwood, or extending from Airport Link to S. 320th in Federal Way will increase those numbers by quite a bit.

        For Central Link alone the 2020 estimate is 45,000 riders per day which I believe will passed well before U-link opens in 2016. I also think the 2030 estimate of 114,000 riders per day for U-Link + Central link will be beat well before then.

      2. Please don’t confuse “boardings” with “riders”… 45,000 boardings is 22,500 riders assuming people go home.

      3. 160,000 per day sounds like a big number. I think they’ll hit it and before 2030 but in the big scheme of things it’s not so many people. About the same number of people today that cross I-90 (133,00 vehicles X 1.2 people/vehicle). Metro has something like 365,000 weekday boardings. I know boardings doesn’t equal riders because many people board multiple times (transfers) to complete a trip but even if you figure an average 2 bus commute/trip then our metro buses are transporting about 90,000 people a day (each person makes two trips per day) and Link would be serving only 80,000 or about 2% of todays population. Starting today with zero boardings all they have to do is add 12,000 per year to make 160,000 by 2030. That’s exactly the rate of increased Metro boardings from 2004-2008 which they achieved with very little additional capital investment. On the other hand we’ll have spent upwards $15B ($200,000 per person) so that about 5% of the workforce has a nice ride. So, even amortized over 30 years at 6% it works out to about $20 per ride to pay off the construction costs.

      4. Well the number will quite likely be higher as the 160,000 daily boardings doesn’t include North link, the Lynnwood extention, or the Federal Way extention which are all part of the 2023 build out along with central link, airport link, u link, and East link.
        Link will have roughly 1/2 the daily boardings of Metro which isn’t too shabby considering Link covers much less territory.
        Put another way link will very likely be the #2 or #3 light rail system in the US in terms of daily boardings in the year after East link opens. Heck given the way the MBTA has been under investing in rail link may even pass the Green Line. Though given their expansion plans I suspect LA will be able to stay ahead of us.
        Sure you could say buses would be cheaper but there really isn’t capacity downtown, in the U district, or on I-5 North of downtown to add more buses during peak hour. Not to mention the scedule reliablity of many route is severely compromised by congestion and crowding on the coaches.

      5. We don’t need “mass transit” we need “Rapid Transit” there is a big difference. Who cares how many people we move, if they all move at a snails pace..

        LINK gets it’s own right-of-way on a lot of the route, that gives us the “rapid” part. That’s the critical part of a transit system.

      6. They’re both critical. If the system only moves 10 people, who cares how fast they’re moving?

        (Besides those 10 people, I mean.)

    2. Many light rail systems that built things on the cheap now wish they had put in longer platforms and done more grade separation.

      Geography and existing facilities have driven some of choices made for Link alignment. It makes sense to re-use the DSTT rather than try doing at-grade or digging another tunnel downtown. The only way to get from one side of Beacon Hill to the other is via tunneling. Similarly terrain and the built up nature of the neighborhoods it passes through require a tunnel under Capitol Hill, Montlake, U-District, and Roosevelt.

      1. See: Portland’s MAX.

        I’m glad Link is mostly grade seperated, especially through downtown. MAX is really just a glorified streetcar and it will never be able to operate to capacities nearly as high as Link.

      2. We are going to have to dig another downtown tunnel anyway. The question is only when. The addition of the Eastside service along with the MLK service puts the headways at 3 minutes in the tunnel which is only 6 minutes 4 car trains. Then that’s it. If we run trains out to Issaquah and North Bend, that’s a 12 minute headway, with the 12 minute headway from the Bellevue/Redmond run. That’s not enough service capacity.

        Then add a West Seattle line and MLK goes from 6 minutes down to 12 minutes as well.

        This is all predicated on the region growing in tax revenue hugely because none of these systems pay for themselves. So you can’t finance the growth based on existing revenue, you have to keep growing the tax base.

      3. Once it comes time to build a West Seattle and/or Ballard line I suspect there will be quite a bit of support for raising taxes to pay for the system expansion. Who knows, maybe the federal government will be willing to fund interstate like shares of the project by then.

      4. The only way to get from one side of Beacon Hill to the other is via tunneling.

        Or follow I-90 like East Link will. The tunnel from downtown to UW probably makes sense but Beacon Hill I just don’t see as so much more valuable than the Rainier Valley stations that it can justify the cost. Yes, it gets you SODO as well but that’s just a pin prick in the South Seattle Duwamish industrial area that all has to be served by buses anyway. I don’t see it as the important transfer point that say Husky Stadium will be. It still seems Beacon Hill could have been better served and for less money with buses or a streetcar loop akin to First Hill.

    3. Well for the most part what they are building here is a subway, just with light rail technology, and that’s a good thing. It has enough capacity and can run quickly enough to last for a long time. If anything, it’s underbuilt; I wish there was a tunnel, or at least elevated, through Rainier Valley.

      1. Link reminds me of the U-Bahn in Frankfurt, where I grew up. A subway in the city, but when it leaves town ( like the U-3 to Oberusel ) its at grade…

      2. US light rail systems are modeled after German pre-metro systems which I believe Frankfurt is one of.

      3. Which is opposite what they did in Buffalo. It’s surface in downtown and subway once it leaves downtown.

    4. If I was in Seattle, I’d worry about the Link being *more* popular than projected. I currently live in Minneapolis, where the Hiawatha light rail line started in 2004. Ridership is 2-3 times projections. Thay are now doing major reconstruction to lenghten platforms to accommodate 3-car trains because 2-car trains are often not enough!!!!

      1. 20% is significantly different than 2-3 times. Evidently FTA has been burn by over zelous expectations in the past. Flounder North comes to mind. Supposedly the ridership guidelines were revised in 2008. Hard to find out exactly what they are.

        They built the Hiawatha line for $715.3 million, all 12 miles and 17 stations. It seems a bit out of whack that East Link is going to cost that much per segment and that figure doesn’t even include the trains.

        Interesting also that they run 24/7 between the airport stations. I wonder if that 30,000 ridership is including the free airport shuttle service?

      2. That is 20% in excess of the 2020 ridership projections. It is 50% ahead of the 2005 number (though I can’t tell if the number on that page is actual or projected 2005 ridership).

        Not sure how much of the ridership is the airport shuttle service either. Not too much I expect as one terminal has mostly discount airlines.

      3. Yeah, hard to say. Ridership projections seem to be protected like some sort of state secret. Airport ridership could skew the numbers by 50%. Hard to know.

        What does seem to be a trend is that consistently light rail (or just rail) exceeds projections. My guess is that in most cases there’s no precedent to compare to so estimates are difficult and guessing low is better than guessing high.

      4. I believe the FTA has a ridership projection methodology they require. Some digging around should turn it up.

        As for the Hiawatha line I don’t even know if the inter-terminal ridership is counted in the totals for the line. I don’t see why it wouldn’t be though.

        I doubt the inter-terminal ridership is all that high. It is unlikely someone would change planes from Southwest to say Northwest at MSP. Probably no more than 5000 trips per day or so max.

        The trend of wildly beating ridership projections is relatively recent. In the 70’s and 80’s new systems (or extensions) tended to have much lower ridership than projected. For that matter look at North Sounder which has had very poor ridership.

        I believe at some point the formulas were changed in order to produce more conservative ridership estimates.

      5. I did a fair bit of looking. Nothing at the FTA site that was definitive. Some of the bigger agencies back east like Baltimore actually showed the formulas they use. From what I could tell it was up to the agency seeking a grant to produce their own model and numbers but there has to be some sort of FTA guidelines that they have to follow.

        The underestimating seems to be mostly with rail and with new systems so I guess they don’t have much to reference when trying to model the numbers.

  2. Agreed. The new Green Line/Portland Mall is a very good example, even though there are 2 stations on the I-205 segment that is less than 1/2 mile apart… (seriously, you can see the 2 stations from either platform…)

    I will admit, I do find comfort that I can see the next train a few blocks away. It will be something to see a MAX or Streetcar every 2 minutes in Downtown during rush hour. When the eastside streetcar loop is open, that will go down to every 1. Busy intersections indeed!

    With that said, I tend to slip and call Link a “light metro” since it has many characteristics of a light-rail system and the similarities of a metro (SkyTrain). This leaves a lot of growth potential for the system. Charlotte and Phoenix are already encountering the need to expand to have 4 car trains. ST did this smartly.

    Limited stops (light rail) but the ability to have high passenger loads (Metro)

    Elevated and Tunneled segments (Metro) with surface running in select areas (light rail)

    Ease of growth for other systems (both). The MLK segment could be put underground if funding were to be found which would make a good chunk of the line elevated or tunneled. That leaves open a possibility for 3rd rail for example.

    There are a lot of others I can add as well but I am sure most understand it.

    1. Limited stops is a characteristic of a metro, not light rail. Heavy-rail metros tend to have stops about every mile or more, while light rail systems frequently have two to four stops/mile.

    2. Metros don’t necessarily have limited stops, see NYC Subway, Paris Metro, London Underground, Tokyo Metro etc. where station density is high in the central city (~0.8-1 km spacing is typical). Metro rail cars tend to be wider than light rail cars, thus increased passenger capacity. The completely grade-separated nature of metros also makes it really safe to run trains at high frequency, speed & reliability.

      I would put SkyTrain as a light metro because they have light rail size trains but with grade-separation and automated train operation. Their platform lengths are also shorter than Link’s but that is made up through very frequent service.

      For reference, I made a to-scale linear map of Central Link. You can use it to see roughly the station spacing and types of track placement.

      1. I don’t think Link’s station density is high enough to be considered a metro system. It gets close though. There should be a station (even a couple) between Capitol Hill and UW… Volunteer Park or something, since it passes right underneath.

        But it’s a regional express Link, not a Seattle metro system.

      2. If you want to call Link a metro, those are the standards it has to be held up to. Those systems are typical of what is commonly called a metro.

        Vancouver SkyTrain is not a metro, at most it is comparable to Docklands Light Railway with the smaller trains and driverless operation or Kuala Lumpur’s Putra which uses the same technology.

        Forgive me for my limited knowledge of other systems beyond the big ones.

  3. I don’t think it is right to call Link light-metro yet. The “metro” like span is only basically four stations, and even there it has to negotiate with buses, and right now can only run 2 car trains at 7.5 minute headways at peak.

    Now when U-Link and the first part of North Link open, then I think the light-metro term would be more acceptable, if the buses then vacate the tunnel. We’ll have 4 car trains, hopefully running at metro-like headways, going through a good portion of the city.

    1. What is the ultimate headway for LINK through the DSTT once the busses are gone and it’s only trains? Some metro systems (like Moscow) are able to do 90 second headways. Is LINK’s system controls capable of running this tight? I realize that on MLK the trains will probably have to be spaced further apart simply to let car traffic get an occasional green light on the cross streets, but with East LINK interleaving just south of downtown, and maybe someday in the future a West Seattle route as well, what’s the ultimate capacity for the tunnel?

      1. 3 minutes is the current given headway. We can’t automate this because the trains run at grade on parts of their route…. Maybe some future trains will have a dual control system, that once the driver gets into the tunnel, the computer controlled system takes over… but that’s a long time in coming.

      2. Maybe American saftey protocal demands are different, but the Moscow system that I mentioned earlier running at 90 second headway during the peak period has manual controlled trains. If we could approach that in the DSTT, then 3 alternating lines (Central, East, & West Seattle) would put the headways at 4.5 minutes on each of those lines once they’re out of the DSTT. The West Seattle could leave the tunnel at Convention Place to head Northwest. The rest of the system north (where the remaining 2 lines would be running) would be all underground, so shouldn’t have the constraints of at-grade crossings.

    2. Ok maybe pre-metro then. Though the segment from S. Lander through Beacon Hill and on through Mt. Baker station is very metro like as is the segment from I-5 and MLK through the International Boulevard station and on to the Airport.

    3. The metro-like parts include all of it except for Rainier Valley. All the rest is grade-separated except for the SODO portion, which is completely traffic separated and has signal priority that actually works all the time. So basically only a little over four miles of the 15.7 mile line aren’t traffic separated. Also, if demand increases enough more buses could be kicked out of the tunnel and Link frequencies could be increased, so it’s not like it’s impossible. Link is definitely a light-metro.

  4. Capacity.

    I don’t think South headways are going to increase. The original plan was to have shorter headways on the North segment where there’s higher density. (5-10 minutes vs 7-15.)

    On another note, I’m beginning to wonder about the north Seattle capacity. Will 4-car Link trains really be able to handle the combined riderships of the 71/72/73, plus the 41, plus the 400-series (Snohomish County buses) that are supposed to terminate at Northgate, plus the 76/79, plus new train riders?

    1. Ultimate capacity for Link North of downtown will depend on what the minimum headways for link are. I doubt 5 minutes is the minimum headway. Also remember a 4 car link train has the same crush load capacity as 9 DE60LF coaches. For reference here is the capacity per hour per direction with 4 car trains for various headways:
      5 minutes: 9600 riders per hour
      4 minutes: 12000 riders per hour
      3 minutes: 16000 riders per hour
      2 minutes: 24000 riders per hour

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