In preparation for the grand opening of Airport Link tomorrow, Sound Transit invited members of the press aboard Link for a quick preview ride to the airport and back.  With the Certificate of Occupancy signed, crews are now working on polishing up the station for Saturday’s big event.  You can read Martin’s detailed coverage last month of SeaTac Station and the opening day announcement, where Senator Murray was there to break the news, along with several other dignitaries.  Oran and Brian were on hand yesterday to take video and photos, along with Cian Hayes, who Ben mentioned was officially the first passenger to board a plane from Link.  You can visit our Flickr Pool with some new photos of the station, as well as the video of the preview ride above, shot by Oran.

Among the other firsts, Oran found the ORCA readers to be up and running and tapped in along with Brian, which we believe made them both the first revenue passengers to use Airport Link.  More of the preview ride below the jump.

Airport Link and SeaTac Station open at 10am on Dec. 19th
Airport Link and SeaTac Station open at 10am on Dec. 19th

The extension from Tukwila Int’l Blvd. Station to SeaTac/Airport Station is 1.7 miles long and is all grade separated, either running elevated or along in the freeway median leading from SR-518.  According to Brian’s GPS, the train briefly approached its max speed of 55mph along the guideway.  Mike Lindblom, Seattle Times transportation reporter, later told me that the average speed on the stretch was 45mph, give or take.  The ride itself was, for the most part, fairly smooth with the exception of some mild hunting as we came down from the elevated segment.

The dedicated pedestrian walkway, by Oran
The dedicated pedestrian walkway, by Oran

The preview allowed us to tour the new pedestrian bridge and walkway, which was still being worked on back during the announcement event.  According to George England of the Port of Seattle, the total distance from the closest skybridge to the station mezzanine is just under 1000 feet (less than one-fifth of a mile), which is on par with the distance from the end of any of the airport concourses to the main terminal.

Brian timed the walk back to the station from the Alaska Airlines ticket counter at around 3 minutes, estimating anywhere from a 3-6 minute trek for any given person, depending on walking speed and amount of luggage carried. Considering the distance between a number of other international airports and their respective transit stations, we think this is pretty good.

The walkway follows along the very northern periphery of the garage and is separated from vehicles by a mesh fence with intermediate openings for emergency escapes and anyone compelled to use the airport garage as a park and ride. There are signs pointing the way to the ‘Link Light Rail’ station along the entire length of the walkway.  Aside from maps and terminal information, the open-air construction is rather simple, having been toned down after budget cuts.  At the end of the walk, we spotted one check-in kiosk outside the doors to the closest skybridge, and two more existing ones on the terminal side.

Terminal Signage, by Oran
Terminal Signage, by Oran

On the other side of the skybridge, we had a chance to examine wayfinding and signage for Link on the northern end of the terminal, where the walkway will lead passengers to. Many of the existing Port signs directing to ground transportation have been branded with temporary Link livery that sport the ST wave and the Dec. 19th opening date for Airport Link.  We assume that the signs will be updated with the permanent Link icon sometime in the near future. The signs do an adequate job of making the station known, but more wouldn’t hurt.  We did not get the opportunity to examine the south side of the terminal where the bus bays are, to see how signs might direct people to Link once the 194 disappears.

Bruce Gray addressing reporters
Bruce Gray addressing reporters

We also had a chance to ask Bruce Gray, ST spokesman, about the long-anticipated real-time arrival information, which so far has been a commitment that’s been reneged on.  As expected, there is still no firm date but Bruce did tell us system integration between Airport Link and the initial segment is still being worked out, and that they were “hoping by the end of the month.” [UPDATE 10:10AM:] Bruce Gray just gave us an update and said that the system is looking at a mid to late-January target date.  The system is 97% complete, but testing, tweaks, and adjustments need to be made after Airport Link opens.

Airport Link officially opens tomorrow at around 10am when the trains will continue from Tukwila for open revenue service. There will be a closed dedication ceremony at SeaTac Station prior to that time where we will be on hand to cover the festivities.

60 Replies to “Airport Link Opening Tomorrow: T Minus 17 hours”

  1. Will ST extend the hours of service so the first trains arrive Seatac around 5am and the last trains leave at 1am? Right now, even though it says Link runs 5am to 1am, the first trains from downtown Seattle don’t get to Seatac until about 6am, and the last trains to Seattle leave Seatac around midnight. For both airport employees and passengers 6am is too late for the start of morning service, and midnight is tight for the last flights of the night.

    By contrast ST 574 from Tacoma/Lakewood start arriving at 342am, MT 194 starts arriving at 5:05am, MT 174 arrives 458am, MT 180 from Auburn starts at 3:42am.

    1. Creating a culture of allowing those who provide transit to be able to use it is politically important. I work in transit, but I have to walk to work because my shift starts long before the first bus comes.

      We had the President of ATU Local 587 making the bizarre statement during the mayoral campaign that if the tunnel weren’t built, then buses would get stuck in traffic, too. The idea that we could just get the city council to muster the courage to kick private vehicles off of Third Avenue just didn’t occur to him. But then, he’s a union businessperson, not an operator.

      If more operators were used to being able to take the bus (for many, a nightcrawler) both to and from work, the president of the ATU would have been crawled on the carpet by his own union for such a moronic public statement.

      If we want airport employees to ride LINK, it has to be running both when they go to work and when they leave. The problem is that in transit work there is no such thing as a 9-5 shift, and very few Monday through Friday shifts.

      If airport workers want to ride LINK to and from work, and ask for help getting that service, we should be there to back them up.

      1. “I work in transit, but I have to walk to work because my shift starts long before the first bus comes.”

        Unless it runs 24 hours, won’t some transit workers have to start their shift before the first bus comes? How can the first bus come unless some transit workers have already gotten to work to operate the first bus?

      2. Brent,

        If you want to call Bachtel on the carpet for his comment, you might want to muster some guts and come to the next union meeting and do so in person (you might even be able to engage in a dialog with the man to encourage him to make public statements that you find more helpful). Union meetings take place at 8pm the first Thursday of ever month at the Labor Temple downtown. See you there? I don’t recall seeing similar comments from you showing up in the monthly newsletter either.

        By the way – didn’t you know that Paul Bachtel – like all non-maintenance union officers – used to be a full-time Operator? Before you go slamming the guy – democratically elected by the workforce – as a “union businessperson – not an operator”, you should probably get your facts straight.

        very few Monday through Friday shifts.

        On the contrary, we part-timers – over 1/3 of the Operator workforce – are FORCED to work Monday through Friday only so that you full-timers can protect your overtime, which for some reason has become a perceived entitlement rather than a protection against being forced to work too many hours. I’d happily give up my Monday-Friday work if I could pick up a sick shift or vacation relief on weekends, evenings, or holidays instead of the crappy 3.5 hours of work I’m able to scrape each day.

        Those of us who live in-city are able to take an Owl bus if we really want to. If YOU really want to take transit to work – pick a later shift that will let you do that. Each base also has a carpool list and other resources. If you live close enough to be able to WALK to base – I’m not sure what you’re complaining about

    2. After seeing ST reduce train frequency to perform track maintenance (noise reduction) during operating hours, I think they could operate night owl service. How much will it cost is another question.

    3. Of course, the 574 stops operating at like 11pm. Weird hours for a bus, but I guess it works out with the Airport’s schedule. They should run some kind of Link shadow bus every 20-30 min when Link isn’t running.

    4. The short answer to your question is no.

      Here are the details:

      First SB train out of Westlake will departs at 5:19 a.m. Monday – Saturday, 6:18 on Sundays

      First NB train from the airport departs at 5:16 M-F, 5:18 on Saturday, 6:17 on Sundays.

      Last NB train from airport running all the way to Westlake departs 12:07 a.m. M-F, 12:04 a.m. Saturday, 11:05 p.m. Sundays.

      Last NB train from airport ending at Mount Baker departs at 12:46 a.m. M-F, 12:48 a.m. Saturdays, 11:47 p.m. Sundays.

      Last SB train from Westlake to Airport departs WLS at 12:34 a.m. M-F, 12:36 a.m. Sat., and 11:35 p.m. on Sundays.

      I have no idea why the slight difference between M-F and Saturdays.

      All this and much more here:
      http://www.soundtransit.org/Documents/pdf/riding/CentralLinkTimepointsDec0919.pdf

      1. So how do we lobby ST to either extend the span of service, especially for earlier morning arrivals at Seatac, even with just 30 min frequency, or else to run a shadow bus?

  2. UGH, those BELLS EVERY TIME the trains enter the station. WHY?!?!?!?!?!

    Otherwise, the station looks nice, glad it’s finally opening. Thanks for posting this video. The train does seem to travel at a fairly slow speed, unfortunately. Any chance this was slower than normal due to testing, or due to the media present?

    1. They could’ve gone faster. Sound Transit’s schedules say the travel time is 2 minutes.

      The bells in grade separated stations give away the fact that we are a light rail system (a.k.a tram) not a light metro.

      1. Uh huh. I guess that’s why buses should be honking their horns continuously as they drive down the street – because they are buses, not BRT, right?

    2. Our presence didn’t affect the operation. There wasn’t a special train or anything; we just climbed aboard one of the test trains continuing on to SeaTac.

    3. It’s really amateur hour when it comes to those bells.

      DING!!!! DING!!!! DING!!!!

      Double-funny when you see how far back on the platform most Seattleites stand from the train, as if it’s going to jump the tracks and hit them. This is obviously going to take some getting used to for everyone…

  3. Great video! I’m looking forward to riding Saturday and seeing if the “quarter mile walk” to the terminal is as bad as everyone has made it out to be. I personally can’t understand all the nostalgia I’ve seen expressed for the 194. I can’t count the number of times I’ve arrived at SeaTac and stepped outside to see the bus pulling away. I’ll take an 1100 foot walk over a half hour wait any day.

    1. not to mention that the current bus stop is located pretty far from everything, not sure the exact distance but it’s a ways down there.

  4. I love the intro to the station opening story on KOMO radio this morning:

    “Taking Link light rail to the airport? Better get your walking shoes!”

    …seriously? How rediculous.

    1. We have become such a culture of softies and wimps. On the other hand, the same people who moan about a 4 minute walk from train to terminal are spending hundreds of dollars a year on gym dues. Bah!

      1. still though, the station should have been at the arrivals and drop off area. like amsterdam’s schiphol airport station is how it should have been done.

      2. Blame the Port and the TSA. They didn’t want the station between the terminal and the garage. Some advantages of the current arrangement is it serves the City of Seatac as well as the airport, allows for a kiss&ride both for station and airport access, and allows for easier extension Southward.

      3. Copenhagen’s airport station is pretty awesome too. It serves a lot more lines and heavy rail though, but still cool as far as airport stations go. :)

      4. But how would a station inside the airport serve the city of SeaTac? Also, if the station was between the garage and the airport terminal, wouldn’t people complain that they have to walk a 1000 feet to transfer to a bus?

    2. Yea how far a walk is it say from the end of the C or D concourse to the current 194 stop? For that matter how long of a walk is it from the ends of any of the concourses to the far opposite corner of the parking garage?

  5. None of the Port’s wayfinding signage says anything about where Link light rail goes. Obviously not an issue for locals coming home on arrival flights, but what about newcomers?

    Does anybody here think that’s a deficiency? Should the signs also include a subhead saying “train to downtown Seattle”?

      1. We are already over”crowded” with announcements, but I suppose “via MLK Way” or something similar could be added. Lets give visitors SOME credit, though, for being able to read a map and a sign. AT SFO, the announcement for BART says “downtown San Francisco” and the final East Bay destination of the train.

      2. No, but it’s likely where the biggest chunk of arrivees want to go. And it tells them that it doesn’t go to downtown Tacoma.

      3. I gather the M/V Spokane ferry does not actually go to Spokane, nor do the Wenatchee and Walla Walla. Look there will always be stupid people. I leave it to ST to put up maps as advertising in the airport itself.

    1. They should do some serious branding and signage like I saw at JFK airport a couple years ago touting their AirTrain service. There were some large but tasteful banners that were impossible to miss and directed me practically all the way from the gate to the station. Not saying we need huge banners everywhere, but some dedicated signs/branding would be nice. SeaTac is already hard enough to navigate for a newbie as it is.

    2. That’s just silly talk. :)

      If they put that on the sign, they would have to change it again in 2016 when the line is extended to Montlake, or when the line is extended to the south.

    3. The signs pointing to Public Transit don’t say where those buses go nor do the other ground transportation options.

      I would assume that most travelers could guess that the train has to serve the city center, right?

  6. I agree Mad Park, it really is sad. They are also the same ones spending their weekends making MULTIPLE 5-10 minute walks in and out of malls from their cars. It’s really disappointing that local news outlets are taking this angle. I guess it will just take time for people to experience it and realize it’s not a big deal.

    1. The best mall FAIL I’ve seen is people who will take a 5-10 minute walk to their car then drive to the other side of the mall and take another 5-10 minute walk back to the mall all because they don’t want to walk from one end to the other.

      1. In the case of the relatives I witnessed doing this it was more a perception that the total distance was less than anything good or bad about the mall.

      2. I have a suspicion that they would be safer riding a bike in traffic than doing all of that walking in a parking lot filled with people driving while talking on their cell phones and looking for THE parking spot.

        And yet, cycling is DANGEROUS!?

        No statistics to back me up though – just intuition.

    2. Even though I am at the help desk, I am sure that I total more than a mile just walking around the building. It is generally amazing how lazy we are and continue to be in America. It is almost like it is socially unacceptable to walk a mere 1000 feet. It really isn’t that far!

      I may be small and not in the greatest shape but I can easily walk 10+ miles without any issues. *shrugs* of course I am just one person but wow.

      1. How nice for you that you have no mobility impairments. The same cannot be said for my 85 year old mother. And there are plenty of people in this country for whom walking the quarter of a mile from the station to the terminal is a major challenge. If SeaTac needed a station for their residents, SeaTac should have gotten a separate station. The siting of this station was a political compromise dictated by budget constraints. Neither SeaTac nor the airport are very well-served by the station where it is located.
        And just to be clear, personally I couldn’t be more excited about the option now to take the train to the airport! I love it!

      2. marks,

        If a quarter mile is a dealbreaker for someone they have much larger problems than the walk from the station, whether they’re arriving by bus, taxi, or car.

        There much easier ways to accommodate riders with special needs than spending hundreds of millions of dollars on changing the alignment.

  7. I think that the walk IS a problem if you are traveling with kids, extra luggage, an elder, etc. That is amplified by most of it exposed to the open air – so on cold winter days it could be more unfriendly.

    If we are really trying to encourage trips on transit rather than by car, these are hard realities to overcome, and name calling (wimp, lazy, etc) or comparing the distance to the walk to the local bus stop, isn’t gonna do it.

    So in order to make the mega-million $ investment pay off, these access issues should be addressed.

    I think a big help would be free use of luggage carts. That 3 minute jaunt with a video camera and notepad would have been more unbearable with a mess of bags instead. (Please don’t charge for them though – nothing more annoying than nickel and diming travelers to death. we are so uncivilized compared to other ports that let free use of carts).

    Its pathetic that the train couldn’t get closer to the terminals – in fact a stop at each would be proper – and vastly diminishes our transit investment. I guess we just have to find ways to admire that parking garage that seems to have been under construction for the first many years of my life in Seattle.

    1. Well the current 194 stop can be a tad unpleasant during a storm, moreso than the station or walkway is likely to be. Really this is much better than many airports that make you walk further or ride a shuttle bus to access transit.

      Again Sound Transit built the station where the Port and the TSA said it could.

      There is only one terminal at Seatac so I’m not sure what you mean when you say you want a stop at each terminal. Though to be fair it is quite long, especially with the A concourse expansion. There is some talk of an additional APM system to serve the rental car facility that might also have a stop at the link station.

      One advantage of this arrangement is it serves the city of Seatac which a station at the terminal would not have.

      1. If they extend the subway that connects the north and south satellite stations to cover Link and the rental car facility that would be great. Makes a lot more sense than having regional rail make multiple stops. Minneapolis made their system do double duty and now they have to run the airport shuttle section 24/7. Much better to have the intra airport transportation handled as part of the automated system they have.

      2. While I think Seatac airport should only have one stop (because of the one terminal and the regional aspect to Link), the Minneapolis system works fairly well. The Mpls line was planned that way; the stops are over 1.2 miles apart (a bit far for an intra-airport tram), and the trains operate at 55 mph between terminals (a bit fast for an intra-airport tram). Also, the Hiawatha Line in Minneapolis is more like MAX, with much more frequent stops, so it fits the character of the line to stop twice at MSP. And people don’t seem to have an issue with that… with ridership beating 2020 forecasts the year it opened.

  8. So what do you do if your flight arrives at 11:45pm and you’re going to Capitol Hill? My friend is coming in Tuesday night. If we miss the last train, the old 174 stopped inside the airport. How do you get to the new 174 stop from the airport? Everything coming out is a freeway.

    1. Link needs to run later – with departures from Seatac at 1230am and 1am – 30 minute frequency after midnight is fine

      I think the best bet if you miss the last Link will be to follow the walkway to the Link station and then follow the bridge over to Int’l Blvd where there is a 174 stop. I hope they don’t close the walkways at midnight.

      1. I thought the 195 was just going to make one morning trip around 4:30 or 5am. It’s probably coming in February.

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