Last Monday night I happened to witness a service disruption on Link. It was not Sound Transit’s finest hour. I got the story from Link Operations Director Paul Denison via spokesman Geoff Patrick:
The service disruption began after a 7:57 p.m. departure from Westlake experienced a brake fault and had to be removed from service. Several minutes later we began turning trains back at Stadium. The malfunctioning train was cleared at 8:46 p.m. and we were back in full revenue service within about 15 minutes… the first voice announcement in the tunnel was at 8:36 p.m., which was a half hour after train service in the tunnel was suspended and is not up to our standards. Paul wanted me to relay to you that while there will be delays from time to time, we recognize that how we communicate with our customers determines how well [we] did in responding… Paul is going to look into this further since the control center didn’t do as good of a job as they are capable of in this instance.
There were well over 100 people on the platform at Westlake. It’s a shame that some of them probably don’t have enough experience with the system to know that this is rare, and are now telling their friends that Link is fundamentally unreliable. But I’m not here to slay Sound Transit; disruptions happen. The communications breakdown isn’t acceptable, but people drop the ball sometimes and they’re going to look into it.
Instead, this episode emphasizes how useful real-time arrival information is. It’s a nice-to-have during rush hour, but when headways are long — particularly during construction or service disruptions – they’re critical. It’s another level of redundancy that prevents fiascos like Monday from occurring.