Photo by Stephen de Vight

[UPDATE 2/11 8:00 am: The online schedule now reflects the entire change as reported below, with some errors corrected.  Basically two trips that used to start at Mt. Baker are now starting at Stadium instead.]

As announced on, of all places, Mayor McGinn’s blog by staffer Aaron Pickus,  Sound Transit has tweaked the routine of the first couple of trains in the morning to allow earlier connections to the airport.  This change took is reported to have taken effect this morning and is not reflected in the printed schedule books available now.  However, the online Link Schedule (.pdf) is accurate.

The three changes are:

  • The first Northbound train starts at SODO two minutes earlier (4:57) than before on weekdays.  This brings it in line with the first train on Saturdays.
  • A new southbound train departs Stadium (because the tunnel doesn’t open till 5) at 4:33, arriving at the airport at 5:14, Monday through Saturday.  This arrives just behind the first train leaving Mt. Baker Southbound.  [UPDATE: that first train is limited to 25mph because it’s the “sweep train” that checks the track for problems.  The new train is too close behind to run any faster.]
  • Monday through Friday, a train leaves Stadium at 5:14am and arrives at Seatac at 5:45.  This is not listed on the schedule (so we haven’t confirmed it exists).    This would be second revenue train each day to depart Southbound from above Mt. Baker.

These changes allow earlier trips from downtown-ish to the airport, which used to be served by the 194.  Pickus also helpfully provides this chart (pdf) of what buses can get you from downtown to Stadium at that time of day.  That chart is also the source of the second train that isn’t on the schedule.

I’ve asked Sound Transit why this change is so irregular, and about the schedule discrepancies.

97 Replies to “New Early Morning Link Trains”

  1. “•A new southbound train departs Stadium (because the tunnel doesn’t open till 5) at 4:33, arriving at the airport at 5:14, Monday through Saturday.”

    Is there a reason why this train takes 41 minutes from Stadium station to SeaTac station? Or is that some sort of typo, or some other mistake? Link is supposed to take only 37 minutes from WESTLAKE to SeaTac.

    1. That’s a good question. The first scheduled train is substantially slower (34 min from MB instead of 22), and the new train matches that timetable. I have no idea why.

      1. I know in Portland, at least it was when I used to frequently visit there, the first train in the morning was what was known as a “sweep” train. It ran at lower speeds to make sure the track was clear, the crossing lights worked, etc. Basically it was a check-up on the system before it got going.

      2. M, Sound Transit has confirmed that you are correct. I suppose a train 5 minutes behind is stuck behind at 25 mph.

      3. Sure, if they had money to run trains even earlier.

        We need to push Metro to open the tunnel earlier now – then Sound Transit will really have a reason.

  2. That second chart only has 2 lines in it! It would be easier to just put it in text:

    Mon-Sat: 4:18 AM MT 83 at 4th and Union

    Mon-Fri: 5:06 AM MT 106 at Westlake Station

    1. I saw this on the Metro website over the weekend:

      81 Night Owl & 83 Night Owl
      Saturday, 2/6/10 – Start of Service
      Beginning on Saturday, February 6, Night Owl
      routes 81 & 83 will serve the stop southbound on SODO Busway/FS S Royal Brougham Way for
      customers to SeaTac Airport.

      1. Man…I feel so unloved. Those of us in PhinneyWood can’t catch the earliest Westlake departing train because the 5 arrives at 3rd and Pine four minutes late and now they don’t even include the 82 in these new stops.

        For pure comedy go to TripPlanner, pick your starting point as Woodland Park Zoo and your end point as Stadium Station, arriving at 4:30am (to catch the first train). Then watch the ensuing hilarity at your two options. :)

  3. Frak early trains, when we gonna get later trains? Didn’t McGinn say that he was going to get transit to run later to help cut down on DWIs?

    1. McGinn has to get MONEY to get the trains running later. He can’t just magic it into being, we’ll probably have to vote on it.

  4. After the early trains have been running for a few weeks, I think we should find out:

    How much do these trains cost to operate?

    How many people are riding these early trains?

    If it is only 50-60 people per train, for example, how much should taxpayers spend to give those few people an early trip to the airport?

    1. Everybody benefits by having transit running 24 hours. You may not need it every day, but there are flights that leave at 6am and maybe you’ll be taking one someday. The main reason people don’t take transit is it doesn’t go where they’re going when they need to go.

      1. How does “everybody benefit” from having one train go from Stadium station to the airport at 4:33 am? For example, how does this benefit me?

      2. He answered how light rail trains at 4:33 am benefit everybody? How is that? They only benefit the few people who are actually on those trains.

      3. It benefits you because fifty more people who keep their car around for that “maybe I have to go get an early flight” reasoning decide to ditch them, and take transit during rush hour too.

        A lot of folks just drive to work out of convenience – but as we cover more and more of their sometimes-trips, they’re willing to drop the car entirely.

      4. Actually, driving before 6am isn’t a problem. We’ve got this stinking big freeway system that tries to serve rush hour demand. There are free market solutions for getting to the airport early/late and the money you save on flights pays for that transportation. Air cargo workers, that’s a different story. While they’re not poorly paid to work those hours if running an extra train (we’ve already bought the overhead) can meet the financial goals then why not?

      5. There are also the employees who work at the airport in the concessions, in cleaning, at the hotels, and let us not forget The Smurfs!

        Do you want to fly today?

      6. They seem to have been able to get to their jobs ok without a 4:33 am Link train. Or have people not been able to fly before the 4:33 am Link train started running?

      7. “We’ve got this stinking big freeway system that tries to serve rush hour demand.”

        And not very well.

      8. Again, those early trains or buses benefit only those people who are on them. How many people rode a 4:30 am bus and how many people are riding the 4:33 am Link trains?

        If a 2-car Link train is replacing one Metro bus, that means it is now costing around $700 per hour to transport those people on a Link train vs about $135 per hour on a bus.

      9. Norman,

        so there is no benefit to everyone else when they decide not to get into the car, not burn foreign oil (national security), not create greenhouse gas emissions and smog, not generate demand for more parking and auto-oriented development, etc?

        One less car benefits everyone.

      10. Why do we staff the drawbridges 24/7? The bridges could be left open at night since by law, maritime traffic has the right of way, and there’s not much car use.

        Just open the bridges at Midnight (that includes the 520) and leave them open until 5:30-6 am.

        Those needing to cross the ship canal can take Aurora or I-5. Those needing to to cross Lake Washington can take I-90 (although WashDOT can close off the Lacey V. Murrow as its capacity is unneeded; put EB traffic on the reversible lanes).

        It has worked for Saint Petersburg, Russia since the city was built:

      11. Well, that’s an interesting idea. Having come home late at night on a racing sail boat the idea of open draw bridges is intriguing. Yes, maritime traffic has ROW. Freemont, if I remember right is the lowest bridge. The railway bridge west of the Locks stays open by default unless a train needs to cross. You’ve also go the University Bridge to deal with.

      12. The St Petersburg article says the bridges are raised at night during the White Nights period, but in fact they’re raised all year around because the Neva is a major shipping route to the Russian interior. The city has to plan for this; e.g., north Petersburg is cut off from hospitals and jails in the center during that time.

    2. 50-60 people is a full bus, Norman/Copernicus, but I’ve never seen you ask for a cost-benefit analysis of full buses. For that matter, I’ve never seen you ask for a cost-benefit analysis of late-night or early-morning bus service, even though most of those buses run mostly empty. At least shoot for some semblance of consistency and integrity if you want anyone to take you seriously.

      1. A bus costs far less to operate than a Link light rail train. A “full” bus (which would be 90 people, not 50-60) pays for itself with fares. Running one bus at 4:33 am makes a lot more sense, and is a lot more cost-effective, than running one 2-car Link train.


        Not to mention that a bus at 4:33 am would take about 20 minutes from stadium to SeaTac, compared to 40 minutes on Link.

        If the Link train is mostly-empty at 4:30 am, then why run it? Just a waste of tax dollars.

        Has anyone riddent the 4:33am Link train yet? If so, how many people are using it?

        And, by the way, I am oppposed to running nearly-empty buses. If early am buses are mostly empty, then stop running them, and save that money.

      2. The train takes longer because it is the “sweep train,” as described before. Even if there were zero revenue passengers, it would still be serving an important function: a regular check of the track, signals, etc. An early morning “sweep train” has no counterpart in terms of buses because paved roads with self-propelled rubber-tired vehicles don’t require the same kind of attention and maintenance as a light rail line. Are you seriously asking for ridership numbers after just 1-2 days of operation?

      3. Are you seriously asking “how many people are riding” a train the same day that train service is announced and then pretending you hold buses and trains to the same standard? Where are all your posts critiquing low ridership bus routes? Be serious, man.

      4. “And, by the way, I am oppposed to running nearly-empty buses. If early am buses are mostly empty, then stop running them, and save that money.”

        And I’m opposed to nearly empty freeways during the non-commute hours. But I still have to pay for them.

      5. About 1/3 that of a rail system.

        And why restrict it to operating costs?

        When a cost/benefit analysis is performed, operating and capital costs are both included.

      6. Depending on how many people are on a Link train, those trains are less energy-efficient than a car with one person in it. There is plenty of unused parking at SeaTac airport. A few more cars parked there won’t create “demand for more parking.” How does someone driving to the airport create more demand for auto-oriented development?

        And, who says those people would drive? Many people taking early am trips to the airport take taxis, which don’t need to park.

        But, the main point is, that using one bus for that trip costs far less than a 2-car Link train.

      7. How do you figure the “operating cost” of a freeway is 1/3 that of a rail system?

        Exactly what “operating costs” are there for an empty freeway? An empty freeway is not getting any wear and tear from traffic, because, by definition, an “empty” freeway has no traffic.

        So, what are the operating costs of an empty freeway?

        And empty train uses electricity, an operator, lighting at all the stations, security personnel, maintenance personnel, etc. What does an empty freeway use?

      8. Maintenance on that freeway, patrolling, cleaning, repairs. Actually a lot of maintenance happens on the freeway in the off hours.

        One could argue that those costs would be a lot less if the freeways were limited to 2 lanes per direction, and only at grade.

        Norman, how narrowly focussed can you make your arguments to defend roads, and have them make any sense? At least follow the convention that WSDOT used when we did the I-405 Corridor Program analysis. These discussions are getting a bit strained.

        By the way, I’ve looked online, and in the CD of the I-405 FEIS, and I can’t find the C/B analysis yet that I can point people to it.

        All I have is the collection of handouts from the Citizens Committee meetings, and they are buried in boxes, someday to be catalogued.

        Most if this is from memory. And some of the more interesting tidbits are the ones that stand out. Such as when we were going over costs, and I noticed the the column for ‘operating costs’ and it was 1/3 of the ST estimate for the LR alternative.

        Maybe I’ll write a book.

        Egad, how boring!

      9. I was challenging your claim that only the riders benefit from early transit service, which is false.

        When someone in my household needed to go the airport in the early hours we had someone drop them off, not take a taxi. While more energy efficient (depends on type of car), my car (or a taxi or bus) to the airport doesn’t run off hydro electricity and still generates greenhouse gas emissions from foreign oil from countries in a hostile region. Most of the CO2 emissions in this region come from fossil-fuel based transportation. So taking electric rail transit is a benefit to everyone else, not just the rider.

        People picking people up at the airport usually wait at the “cell phone parking lot”, or waste fuel driving around or idling, and taxis have to wait somewhere to pick up the next passenger, so “don’t need to park” isn’t really true.

        You may say my examples aren’t valid but the Point is, you are ignoring intangible benefits, ones that really can’t be quantified or be given a precise value for.

      10. Of course I have compared buses to light rail in respect to cost-benefit, and buses win by a large margin.

  5. Why does the second train start at Stadium instead of Westlake, especially since the DSTT is open at 5am (at least, that’s what this post says)? Just wondering.

    1. Maybe it would take more than 14 minutes to get into the tunnel and turned around? I don’t know. Aren’t there a few buses that start going through the tunnel at like 4:56 a.m.?

      1. Taxpayers voted for this service, and they are “paying” the cost of operating the train whether you choose to ride it or not.

      2. I don’t believe anyone voted for a Link train at 4:33 am. If I am wrong, perhpads someone can point out to me where that was in the voter information.

      3. Not if you run an extra Link train. Then you are absolutely wrong about that.

        Running that 4:33 am Link train almost certainly costs more money than it brings in in fares.

        For existing trains, you are correct — the more people who ride each train, the less taxpayer subsidy there is for that train. But the 4:33 train is an additional train, with an additional cost, which probably far exceeds the fare revenue it brings it.

        Still waiting for anyone here to say they have actually ridden the 4:33 am Link train, and how many others were on it.

      4. Norman,

        Read the update at top. It’s a diversion of the first train that leaves Mt. Baker to start at Stadium instead. It’s a few more minutes of service time but not a whole new train and operator.

      5. Norman,

        This new train has been announced in three places: Mayor McGinn’s blog, here, and on the schedule page the ST website as of today. It was not included in the schedule book.

        We haven’t even conclusively confirmed that the trains are even running yet.

        Don’t you think it’s a little early for ridership numbers?

      6. Fair enough. But, the article says that the 4:33 am Link train is a “new train.” Is it new, or not? Did they just start the first train of the morning at Stadium, instead of Mt Baker, or is that first train from Stadium a new, different, train?

      7. New in a sense to the user as in new service that wasn’t offered before from that station.

        The average user really doesn’t care whether that train was diverted from somewhere else or not.

      8. First Grayline doesn’t arrive Seatac until 5:55am and it only runs every 45 minutes. Link is a much better choice.

  6. By the way…..will there be fare checkers on the 4:33 am Link train, or will it be on the honor system?

    Will there be security guards at Link stations for that 4:33 am Link train, or should we just assume there will be no “bad guys” at any Link stations on on those trains that early in the morning?

    1. There needs fare checkers since now the drunks and homeless have a nice new warm train they can transfer to after they are done riding the night owl buses 81 and 83.

    2. Norman, instead of the accusatory comments, why not email sound transit, ask, and report your findings?

      1. You have a problem with the payment system? Why would I question it? Is it working, or not? I have not read anything about how it’s working out. In fact, there has been almost nothing written about SWIFT since its first week. Perhaps someone on this site could remedy that.

      2. Funny you mention that, Norman. I just rode Swift today SB from Everett Station at 5:10 pm. A total of 8 boardings the entire trip, no ambassadors, heavy car traffic on 99 in both directions, NB buses looked empty to me. Total end-to-end travel time 54 minutes vs listed 48-50 min.

  7. Slightly off-topic, but speaking of Link airport service, the gf took Link from downtown to catch her flight to NC tonight. She said she was fare-checked twice, but that they only verified she had an Orca without actually scanning it. Anyone else seen this lately or have any thoughts?

    1. Well, I have another thought. I was the only person NOT fare-checked on my train this morning because I was reading and had the iPod so loud. I noticed the guy after he went by – he didn’t tap my shoulder or anything. So pretend not to notice the enforcement folks if you want to ride for free.

    2. Yes, it’s possible to get fare-checked twice in one trip — two groups of fare-checkers occasionally end up on the same train — it IS a random process. Sometimes farechecking is done by regular security guards, who don’t have the handheld cardreader, so they just do a visual verification.

      1. Yeah, I wasn’t saying it’s impossible to get checked twice, although I was surprised. I was mostly asking if anyone knows why they’re not using the portable readers to confirm payment.

    3. I have been fare checked 3 or 4 times, and each time when showing my ORCA card, they scan it with a portable device – I assume it reads the card and knows I have scanned it on entry.

      I have never seen two fare checks on the same ride.

    4. I was fare checked twice on my way to the airport this morning—once after Sodo, and again after Rainier Beach. They checked my UPass really carefully each time, even looking at both sides (something I’ve never seen bus drivers do). Also, all Orca cards were scanned.

    5. Today on the 372 a woman got on and just showed the driver her ORCA and he didn’t say anything… why don’t drivers at least let people know how to use it?

    6. I was on a Link car which was fare-checked twice on the same trip (within 2 stations, no less), but they did check my Orca card to verify that I had paid.

  8. I was really excited about this at first but then I realized that if you have a few early morning trains from downtown (or stadium), it’s really not all that useful since very few buses run that early. You still have to get someone to wake their ass up and take you somewhere so they might as well take you the full distance right?

  9. Hi Folks – I’m about as pro-transit as it gets, yet…. How is it even possible that you have not seen fit to address the ONLY important story of the day. A fifteen year old girl had her HEAD KICKED IN while security watched, less than 2 feet away at a link station. I am more than happy to get myself banned for saying SHAME on you for not mentioning this – a totally inexcusable oversight on your part. If you want to seriously call yourselves advocates for transit, you may want to consider talking about the bad along with the good. So far as I’m concerned, I’m totally done with this brainless cheerleader blog. Shame!

    1. You’re not the only person to be mortified and angered by this. I was sick when when I saw the video. We (STBers) have been talking amongst ourselves about it but I don’t know if anyone has had time to write about it. This has been an VERY busy week and we are all backlogged, both with advocacy work, writing posts, and our normal jobs or school.

      Hopefully someone will have the time to write about it but sometimes stories slip through the cracks or we aren’t able to publish something in a timely manner. I would added that in a circumstance like this where just about every major news sources has extensively covered a story we wouldn’t have much to add. We report on the daily and mundane things that mainstream medias sources don’t report on so just because we don’t cover a sensational story doesn’t mean we aren’t doing our best. If it bleeds it leads is local TV news motto. We can’t compete with them in this arena even if we wanted to.

      So that was a long way of saying just because we don’t report on something certainly doesn’t mean we don’t think it is important. We are doing the best we can but please keep in mind that we all volunteer our time to do this and it is disheartening to have someone accuse us of being inhuman when we simply can’t keep up with everything.

      1. Perhaps a thread specifically devoted to giving people a place to talk about the event would be good, even if there’s not a full-fledged post to go with it. I think there’s some pent-up demand to discuss it here and it would be nice to give it a place to go.

      2. We have a post scheduled on this topic for this afternoon, don’t worry.

        We don’t try to ignore the sore spots on transit. We have a limited amount of time and it’s been a pretty busy news week (First Hill Streetcar and East Link). Most of us are technical nerds who are, to be fair, more interested in First Hill Streetcar ridership estimates than talking about a brutal assault. I found the attack disturbing and grim, and we probably should have asked a member of the site staff to write about it sooner.

        However, no one is using us as their sole source of news. Other news sources have done better reporting on the assault than we’re capable of. We’ve done a better job reporting on the East Link alignment debates than other news sources though, so readers have to understand what we’re good at and what we’re not.

    2. I’m totally done with this brainless cheerleader blog

      There have been a lot of stories this week, but we’ve got a piece on the beatings this afternoon.

      We try to focus on things the media aren’t covering adequately, and this is not one of them.

      As for talking about the bad, we had a long piece about bus violence last Friday, two days after we slammed ST’s reliability metric. Maybe you should actually read a few posts before you generalize about what’s here.

    3. As far as I know, “ron,” this is a blog updated by people with other responsibilities (work, school, children). If history is any indication, they will get to this story in due time and ultimately cover it with more intelligence than the major outlets. If you would like them to get to it sooner, I suggest you pay them accordingly. Or, given the time of your post, put down your beer and watch some Buffy.

    4. “I’m about as pro-transit as it gets, yet…”

      Yeah, you and Norman and Sam, etc….

      “So far as I’m concerned, I’m totally done with this brainless cheerleader blog. Shame!”

      Whatever. I guess you missed the several posts last week about Bus violence and the recent driver attack. If you wanna bust chops, you don’t need to qualify yourself as pro-transit, it rings inauthentic, especially as you launch into a full-blown pot-shot at STB.

      FWIW-This incident was truly disturbing on many levels, but the reports now are that the girl was unhurt by the attack.

      1. “the reports now are that the girl was unhurt by the attack.”

        Even if she’s physically recovered, I am certain that the emotional fallout from such an attack can be pretty powerful and it doesn’t go away quickly.

      2. David, I find your attempt to minimize the attack in your last sentence very distasteful. I’d ask you to reconsider what you wrote.

      3. John, that’s hardly a statement of minimization. It’s one of relief. I take these latest reports on the victim’s health as at most a remotely silver lining from this event, given the senseless brutality of the attack. Nevertheless, I certainly apologize for offending you.

        As the first clause in that sentence indicates, I found the attack and the security circumstances around it to be despicable. My chagrin, if any, is aimed at Ron for using that horrible event as a platform to take a pot-shot at this blog which I enjoy reading and commenting on.

        But you guys are well-equipped to defend yourselves. I guess I’ll put myself on “timeout” for a week or so.

    5. Ron, I looked over your comment history and you’ve been a good, constructive commenter. I think your anger directly toward us, and saying “shame on you,” is a really out of line. Please try to keep your anger in check in the future, or leave as you’ve said you will.

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