Tukwila IB Station (Oran)

Last week, a reader alerted us to a new rider alert posted on Link trains. From now until the end of October, service is being reduced some Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 7pm-1am, from the 10-15 minute headways that would normally exist at that time to 20 minute headways. We spoke to Sound Transit, and this is necessary to make time to replace the copper grounding wire recently found to be stolen.

With the deep recession, stories of stolen wire are becoming more common – every week or so I see a wire theft article from somewhere in the US, and Sound Transit tells us they’ll be taking additional security steps in the future.

It’s not entirely clear which specific dates work will be done, as crews to do the work aren’t always available late in the evening – so riders are encouraged to be prepared for 20 minute headways. Last Tuesday and Thursday I rode after 7 and experienced 10 minute headways, so it’s not always in effect.

62 Replies to “Link Service Reduced Some Evenings For Copper Replacement”

    1. Seconded on this. There have been a few nights where, along with a near-total lack of info about the delay or why it was happening (plus misinformation from Security Guards – or, worse, a ‘this is normal, who cares?’ attitude), a one car train would show up and be completely crammed by luggage and passengers.

    2. Indeed. Whenever a one-car train shows up outbound on the existing headways, it’s packed. I don’t think you could physically fit everyone into a one-car train if you doubled the headways.

      With all the extra rolling stock they’ve stockpiled in advance of the University Link opening, it’s impossible for me to understand why a one-car train would ever be dispatched. Surely more than half the fleet can’t be BO.

      1. Portland stopped running single cars a few years back, even on its lowest ridership lines. The operational costs are so minimal, that it doesn’t really make sense to run a single car.

  1. I would think the recession (which has been technically over for 2 years) would have little to do with copper theft. I would think that the high price of commodities like copper would be a more likely cause.

    1. Both are factors. The recession means you have a lot more people out of work who don’t have other options.

  2. Maybe they can run some stray currents through the new wire from time to time – like 1500 Vdc – just to keep everyone honest.

    1. How about this? Sound Transit customer service representatives (CSRs) obtain a copy of the white pages. Then, Sound Transit CSRs call a few people and ask if they’ve stolen any copper wire from Link Light Rail.

      It might take a few years to catch some thieves, but the important thing is that we’re catching some thieves.

  3. I’ve noticed the trains going slow by South Base. Is this related to the missing copper, or a slow-order related to the unserved neighborhood wanting zero noise from the train?

  4. Is this story really post-worthy? Two days a week after 7 PM people will have to wait a few minutes longer for Link? Bigger stories than this get relegated to the open thread news roundup.

    For the last three days, power outages in India left trains at a standstill, leaving 600 million people stranded and without power. Now that’s reduced service!

    1. We don’t live in India. We care about copper wire being stolen from our transit system which ends us inconveniencing those who use it at that hour on those days.

    2. Was this really comment-worthy? If you don’t like the topic of an article, don’t read it.

  5. I understand that the first rule of blogging is you must frequently feed the blog or it dies, but I’m just saying that this story story seems more like a news roundup blurb than stand-alone post.

    1. Seems like a legit topic that touches on how we handle service disruptions, disseminate passenger info, run trains in the off-peak, and keep the property secure.

    2. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to read it. If you feel this venue is blocking getting out the information you want to see disseminated, you are free to build your own website.

      1. What make’s a blogs’ comment section is good are not the amen-commenters or the + 1’ers, it’s people like myself.

      2. No, it’s people who add constructive comments or criticism, or their own related ideas. People like yourself are the reason Publicola’s comment section is so awful, and the relative lack of people like yourself is the reason STB’s is generally so great.

    3. It’s a new topic for Seattle, which is not used to rail operations. We don’t usually handle disruptions and work on bus lines by reducing service frequency, but it’s a typical technique for urban rail systems. I think it’s worth a discussion.

      1. Cutting service in half,
        from “no schedule needed” levels to “seriously, where’s my train?” levels,
        at 7:00 pm on weekdays,
        for months at a time,
        is in no way a “typical technique” for urban rail systems.

      2. It absolutely is. Just among cities I’ve lived in, Boston, New York, and DC all do it. Also, LA, London, and Paris all do it. It’s a very common way of dealing with issues that require track work without taking the line entirely out of service.

      3. Sorry, but no.

        Boston has been known to shuttle-bus for major work — much more major than this, and usually 24/7 work to minimize the length of the disruption, and usually only for 2-4 consecutive stops. In such cases, the shuttle-buses are on a near-constant loop to minimize the effect on trip time. 20 minutes happens approximately never.

        New York occasionally single-tracks for minor late-night work, leading to 20-minute headways… after 11:00 pm. They would never do this starting at 7 in the evening. More major repairs are accomplished over the weekends, with trains re-routed when possible over different lines rather than reduced in frequency or blocked completely. Alternative service routes are well-advertised: http://www.mta.info/weekender.html

        I get the sense that London does what New York does.

        And that Paris hardly ever disrupts its subway service for any reason. Heck, they managed to completely automate Line 1, including raising the platforms and installing platform screen doors, without ever closing more than 1 station at a time! http://www.therailengineer.com/2012/02/28/paris-metro-line-1-a-new-beginning/

        I don’t understand the specifics of D.C.’s approach, but since D.C.-area friends complain endlessly about it, I doubt it should be taken as a shining example.

      4. Your focus on 20-minute headway in particular is a red herring. What I’m saying is that all of those cities *increase* headway to accomplish work. And, yes, sometimes Red Line and Orange Line headways in Boston go all the way down to 15+ minutes when the line is split in the middle for work.

        New York wouldn’t go to 20 minutes in the early evening on the big lines, but for secondary lines like the G or L, or shuttle trains in the boroughs, they absolutely would and do. The big lines can also experience reductions in frequency, but when they run every 3-5 minutes normally, the increased headway is not going to be more than 10 minutes.

      5. And, yes, sometimes Red Line and Orange Line headways in Boston go all the way down to 15+ minutes when the line is split in the middle for work.

        No, really. They don’t.

      6. No, really, they do. I have the hours standing on platforms to prove it. I didn’t own a car during most of my time in Boston, and I usually needed to get across the city on the weekends, sometimes at night.

      7. And it’s no “red herring.”

        12-13 minutes is widely accepted as the maximum time that people will be willing to wait on a platform or street corner without a schedule.

        20 minutes is “where the fuck is my train?”

        So Southeast Seattle gets “where the fuck is my train?” two nights a week, for three months straight, even though the work doesn’t directly affect the corridor in the slightest!

      8. No, really, they do.

        No, really, you were probably waiting 12 minutes and found yourself annoyed.

        That’s the rule of thumb.

        20 minutes is an eternity.

      9. Just so we’re clear: I am not being flippant, nor am I disregarding your perceptions of experienced service disruptions.

        But I live in Boston for more than a quarter century.
        I have never once seen the MBTA use “single track” shuttle operations — both directions on the same track, the direct cause of limited headways — as Sound Transit plans to employ over the next three months. The MBTA simply does not do that!

        As I’ve now said repeatedly, the MBTA strategy for both unexpected service interruptions and planned projects is to provide shuttle buses past the closed segment of a line. The shuttle buses will offer instantaneous transfer in both directions. On the portions of the subway still running, frequency is not reduced in the slightest.

        That doesn’t mean that headways and trip times are maintained perfectly, but it does mean that the sections not subject to closure experience almost no change in transit experience (much less suffer a doubling of wait times like the Rainier Valley will).

        By contrast, I have seen New York use “single track” operations, particularly on the L and G trains. In that case, the reduction in frequency is quite noticeable. Fortunately, this is something they never do prior to 11:00 pm on weekdays.

      10. You are right that single-tracking is not normal in Boston.

        That does not mean headways stay the same when the line is divided.

        I don’t mean to belittle your experience. But I have plenty of my own. I had the misfortune of living right by Kendall Station during the long closure of the Red Line track over the Longfellow Bridge.

        I promise you that during that time there were not as many trains as usual on the north half of the Red Line. The normal headway was 7.5 minutes. I know how to read a watch, and I know that on several occasions during those closures I waited over 15 minutes for a train to take me to Porter.

        The problem was not the shuttle buses, which ran every couple of minutes. The problem was that not as many trains were in place on the north half of the line.

        I saw this on the Orange Line as well when there were brief closures along the track in Jamaica Plain, but it wasn’t as regular a feature of my life.

      11. Okay, I’ll admit that the Longfellow Bridge closures started right after I moved to Seattle. When I was home during the bridge work, I was more likely to take the 1 bus or walk across the river. But that is the first I’ve ever heard of the trains between Kendall and Alewife being cut in half, or of any such construction-related interruptions on the T.

      12. Did everyone just miss that I pointed out clearly that this isn’t actually happening two nights a week – they’re just covering themselves in case they *do* have that much work? The limiting factor here is the availability of evening work crews from a contractor.

      13. It will be interesting to see whether the lack of mariner home games increases the frequency of single track operations on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

  6. I truly fail to understand the thought process here.

    1) Wasn’t the infrastructure insured?
    2) Wouldn’t the insurance pay the cost of performing repair/replacement in such a way as to minimally infringe upon operational quality?
    3) Wouldn’t that mean doing the work in the overnight hours, when the system is closed partly for the express purpose of performing repairs?

    1. I don’t know the answer in this case, but government entities and large corporations tend to self-insure (i.e. not insure). Insurance exists to cover catostrophic costs that could not otherwise be paid for, and are overly expensive for anything less. This is the same reason pet health insurance is generally a bad investment.

      1. It’s cheaper than privately insuring, in general. You use the same tables, and don’t have to pay for the profit of the private insurer.

      2. Agreed. I didn’t mean that it was a lame or irrational choice to make, just that it’s lame we all wound up on the hook for the theft.

    2. It may not be possible to do the repair in a reasonable timeframe without some damage to service quality.

      The system is only closed for 4 hours a night. Work on rail systems in 4-hour blocks is spectacularly inefficient, because it takes time at the beginning and end of the shift to move equipment and crews into and out of place. I don’t love the closing at 7; I usually take the train home between 7 and 8:30, so this will directly impact me. But I still understand why it may be necessary.

  7. Does anyone know the status of finding the copper thieves? Also, I hope the fact that they’re replacing the copper means that they have a plan in place to prevent the same thing from happening in the future…

  8. they should at least keep the 10 minute frequency between Downtown and Rainier Beach Station and turn every other train there (there is a storage track south of Rainier Beach Station), instead of making the whole line hostage to reduced frequencies. I certainly hope that there is a tool to prevent future copper wire thefts so rail service does not get disrupted again.

    1. That, or run an express shuttle bus between RBS, TIBS, and SAS.

      Shutting down that portion of track on low-ridership nights seems like it would be safer than a slow order.

    2. I actually suggested this when digging into the story. ST operations reported back that the timing wouldn’t work well with operator required breaks, so it would be very expensive as a low use time.

      1. I’m glad you thought to ask.

        I don’t particularly respect their response, which basically equates to “we’d rather inconvenience our riders than our HR guy.”

      2. I hear that response as “it would be very expensive to provide the shuttles and we think the money would better be spent elsewhere.”

        I don’t see what inconveniencing the HR guy has to do with it.

      3. So why don’t we cut service in half every during this “low use time”? Oh, right, because long waits for the schedule-free subway train are incredibly inconvenient and unappealing.

        There is no way that running a half-length service could be so difficult for the break-scheduler in the HR department that it would prove as or more expensive than the full-length service you would normally be running at that time.

        I’m with Warren: holding the whole line hostage to work on its lower tail is offensive and stupid.

      4. d.p., you’re doing it again – none of your comments on this entire post have been constructive, they’re baity and vitriolic.

        It would be very expensive, according to ST, to run the 10 minute headways during times when they’re doing work south of Rainier Beach, because operators need 15 minute breaks at Rainier Beach. Scheduling those 15 minute breaks into an operating schedule that then has two different trip lengths is tough, and could require extra trains.

      5. At the very worst, you keep the train operator at Rainier Beach on break for the precise amount of time it would normally take him or her to run to SeaTac, break, and run back.

        The result would be an identical number of vehicles, an identical number of paid operator hours, and an identical cost — with the operator getting a swanky 40-minute break rather than the normal 15.

        My hunch is you could figure out a way to do it with fewer hours and lower cost. But there is precisely 0% chance that it would cost more or “require extra trains.”

        That’s just math.

        The key lesson learned is that ST doesn’t think regularity of service is a worthy goal. They think “low use time”, and suddenly an excuse to offer less service than they are normally obliged to (by fed funding requirements) is impossible for them to resist.

        The official line on this doesn’t make any sense. Not my fault if you’re getting to cozy with the players to see that.

      6. You’re right, BTW, that my response was excessive yesterday. Sorry about that.

        It’s just that, in a city whose primary transit problem is inadequate frequency to constitute a functional network — and where the failure to understand the need for adequate service levels and what constitutes frequency for which “you won’t need a timetable” apparently cuts across all agencies — any arbitrarily and unnecessarily reduced service frequency really rubs me the wrong way.

        Sorry for overreacting, but ST absolutely should not be cutting to 20 minutes end-to-end unless absolutely necessary. The math says this case is not necessary, just cheap and lazy.

  9. Sound Transit is in the middle of major capital expenses. They’re economizing by not running shuttles except in complete outages. Likewise, Metro is avoiding improving the 71/72/73 and the Capitol Hill and Northgate situations because big changes are coming in 5-10 years. You can say that’s bad, but it is money-saving. New York has a mature network already. It’s not spending most of its budget on extensions because they’re already built.

    1. Okay, but the point was that running normal service along non-affected portions of the line is not inherently any more costly than running the service they would normally be running at that hour anyway.

      1. Actually, it is. Even if the trains could just go immediately when operator breaks were over, it results in a much higher proportion of break time to revenue service time.

        But they can’t – they have to be interlined with trains that take a certain amount of time to go down to the end of the line and come back. It’s not actually an easy problem to solve.

      2. At the very worst, you keep the train operator at Rainier Beach on break for the precise amount of time it would normally take him or her to run to SeaTac, break, and run back.

        The result would be an identical number of vehicles, an identical number of paid operator hours, and an identical cost — with the operator getting a swanky 40-minute break rather than the normal 15.

        My hunch is you could figure out a way to do it with fewer hours and lower cost. But there is precisely 0% chance that it would cost more “require extra trains.”

        That’s just math.

        The key lesson learned is that ST doesn’t think regularity of service is a worthy goal. They think “low use time” and suddenly the excuse to offer less service than they are normally required to offer (by fed funding obligations) is impossible for them to resist.

        The official line on this doesn’t make any sense. Not my fault if you’re getting to cozy with the players to see that.

  10. I just want to know why there was no notification to riders about the nighttime service reduction. I didn’t see an alert to customers about it. Nothing at the stations either. The only thing I’ve seen is on the trains.

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