"Grinding Rail at Mount Baker", by Oran

Sound Transit recently announced yet another Link Light Rail service curtailment for maintenance work. Here’s the notice ST has given riders:

Central Link light rail will operate every 20 to 25 minutes from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Sunday and Monday due to track maintenance. Signs at the Beacon Hill, Mount Baker and Columbia City stations will direct both northbound and southbound riders to use the southbound platforms for boarding during the maintenance.

I have lost track, but this must be at least the sixth or seventh time that there has either been a period of reduced frequency and/or closure of a portion of Link Light Rail for various construction or maintenance purposes – and the line has been in operation less than one year.

If Link is to be a high capacity spine of our regional transportation system, then I feel that ST must make a far greater commitment to operating the full scheduled service 7 days per week.  ST should adopt the following principles, below the jump:

  1. Whenever possible, maintenance and construction should be performed during the overnight closure period – which is four hours Monday through Friday nights and five hours on Saturday and Sunday nights.
  2. If a maintenance and construction project cannot be done in that fashion, the approval needed to close the line or operate reduced service should require substantial justification up through the ST GM, and should be planned six months in advance, and all other maintenance and construction work that is foreseeable should be synchronized so that all this work occurs at the same time. In the last six months I remember partial Link closures that occurred for WashDOT construction near Royal Brougham and for tunnel work by Metro, and reduced service occurred for switch heater installation, for rail grinding, and for installing track lubricators. None of this work was coordinated, each was a separate closure or curtailment, and it seems like each agency or department can cause a service curtailment for its own needs with little justification and no coordination. Sound Transit should have more stringent criteria to permit service curtailment and work should be coordinated and synchronized.
  3. If a reduced schedule will be operated with a frequency of less than 15 minute headways, a schedule should be published so that riders know when to expect their trains. Telling riders that trains will operate every 20-25 minutes between 10pm and 1am is inadequate. Riders should not be expected to wait for 20-25 minutes after 10pm without knowing when a train might arrive.

19 Replies to “Guest Post: Link Light Rail Availability”

  1. Performing maintenance and construction at night in RESIDENTIAL areas is not a wise choice.


    1. [response to off-topic]

      Staying on topic, Carl kind of refutes his own point by pointing out Link hasn’t been in operation long – don’t you think that tweaks and corrections (and the obvious resulting service interruptions) are to be expected right now?

      A year from now I would expect service reductions to be less, and a year from then less than that. The real problem in my mind is delays due to tunnel buses, but that’s been covered already.

      1. Carl kind of refutes his own point

        Not really. Carl is offering constructive suggestions to minimize the impact on riders. His suggestions are part of the process of “tweaks and corrections.”

  2. The main reason ST does this at night because it is the lowest, least impacted time for rail maintenance. As much as people complain about this issue, Portland, Phoenix, LA, all do maintenance roughly starting and ending near the same time, especially if it involves rail grinding, installing track equipment, etc.

    This is not an uncommon practice and something we all need to learn and adopt to for rail service. While this is MORE common than most carriers, it is nothing new except for people in Seattle who are using Link.

  3. I do agree with Ms. Stork on one point: Publish the train schedule for these maintenance times, and post them at the stations.

    If they run a little late, so be it, but at least give riders a heads up on when they need to be at the station.

    Then, more people will ride, and there will be safety in numbers.

    1. Other than that, I think ST is doing an outstanding job on notifying the public regarding planned service delays, and planning the maintenance so as to minimize cost and service disruption.

    2. Hear, hear. I actually found this aspect of their maintenance schedule really confusing the first time I encountered it – I called Sound Transit or Metro or whoever answers the phone number posted at the Link station and I asked if it had any schedule. They told me it didn’t. Waiting for 24 minutes at night is terrible!

  4. One of these posts said that the noise/shimmying problem in Tukwila could have been solved if the opening had been delayed a week to fix it properly. If so, we should just shut it down for a week and get it done. It could be combined with opening new stations, to give people a reward for their patience. On the other hand, 2016 is a long time to wait.

    1. Can we get a reference on this comment? Who actually made this claim, and are they in a position to know what they are talking about?

      Mark Dublin

    2. I’ve never had any luck searching for comments here. It shows results from a year or two ago, and not the one I know was within the past month.

  5. and the line has been in operation less than one year.

    Joni Earl’s weekly CEO Report from last Friday noted that today marks the one-year anniversary of Link service starting.

    Happy 1st birthday, Link!

    (Maybe now that Link is a year old it will soon learn to start “talking” to waiting riders…)

  6. The impact of reliability issues caused by frequent maintenance would be mitigated by published schedules as outlined by Carl, but also through improved communication. For example, the way the variable message signs and the public address system are being used is counter-productive.

    – The static display of the station name and current time is largely redundant with information that is already already displayed by other signage or individual phones or watches.

    – Cycling rider alerts through frequent other general information messages (“Stand behind the yellow textured strip” and “Don’t forget to tap your ORCA card”) causes the important information (service is reduced or scheduled to be reduced) to be lost in the mix. These alerts should be static or flash through multiple screens to convey the message as opposed to scrolling through along with everything else. (See also from Oran.)

    – Without real-time arrival information riders have no way to make an informed choice between waiting for Link or trying to determine an alternate bus route.

    – Lacking static real-time arrival information, the two minute warning should remain on the display until the “train now arriving” message message. This would allow riders to know if they should rush to get to the platform or give up and wait for the next train.

    – This information should be shown on the exterior VMS units for stations that are equipped with them. Even a two-minute warning would be more useful than nothing at all from the displays before you enter the DSTT stations, Beacon Hill, the airport, etc.

    – Also, the “train now arriving” messages would be significantly more useful if they indicated the direction of travel. The way they are now, riders don’t know if they’re about to miss a train or not because the message could apply for trains in either direction.

      1. There is a fine line between constructive criticism and ticking off the people we want to listen to us.

    1. “This information should be shown on the exterior VMS units for stations that are equipped with them. Even a two-minute warning would be more useful than nothing at all from the displays before you enter the DSTT stations, Beacon Hill, the airport, etc.”


  7. 1. How do you know they’re not already doing that in addition to the late-night maintenance? You can’t get much work done in four hours.
    2. So right now a couple of engineers just decide a couple of days in advance they’re going to close the line? You seriously don’t think any higher up approval is needed?
    3. The trains might break the schedule, and then the schedule is useless. ST won’t always know how easy it will be for a train to pass around the workers, and with these delays plus single tracking it probably messes up the signaling on MLK causing un-avoidable delays.

    1. I feel like I read in one of those transportation columns in one of the papers that your point about number one is true – they’re actually doing like 7 hours of work.

  8. While I think that more maintenance than “normal” is likely to happen only a year into the service beginning, its a shame that they mangled all the bus service routes already. With no reasonable bus alternative, train delays become very frustrating.

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