A Times article describes the Bellevue Council’s unhappiness with potential sites for Link operations and maintenance base in their city:

“It doesn’t make sense” to put a rail yard in what will be an upscale area, Bellevue Mayor Conrad Lee said last week. City Council members have asked the staff to draft a letter to Sound Transit expressing the city’s concerns.

As background, ST2 is predicted to require 180 rail cars in total, and the Sodo facility can only accommodate 104. For various operational reasons, expansion of the current facility is not an option. By the end of 2020, ST will have taken delivery of enough vehicles to need the second facility open for storage.

Because a South King location is just too far from the North and East endpoints, ST is looking at four sites on the Eastside and one near Lynnwood. In the longer run, trains will span from Everett to Tacoma and Redmond with 3-minute headways in the core, and a third facility will be necessary.* The five sites under consideration are west of the Lynnwood Transit Center, between 120th Ave NE and the BNSF tracks, between 130th and 136th Avenues below SR 520, west of 148th Ave NE and north of NE 20th St, and between Northup Way and the Link line.

I have mixed feelings about this dispute.

At the most fundamental level the Council is correct. It’s poor form to place a land-intensive yard close to a station in any case, due to the potential for development that will attract riders. This is particularly the case when the Council has stated plans to upzone for development. If it must be near a station, it would be best near a parking-oriented station where the region is basically punting on development.

On the other hand, Mayor Lee’s accusation that Sound Transit “[threw] this big curve at us” after years of cooperation is entirely bogus. Although the original ST2 plan mentioned Overlake TC, not anywhere in Bellevue, as a likely site, these Bellevue sites have been mentioned in public documents going all the way back to March 2009.

Furthermore, placing the O&M facility far from a station just encourages Sound Transit to continue with one of their more annoying operational habits: operator changes in mid-segment.

It would be nice to see where along the line Bellevue thinks a maintenance facility would be workable. “Put it in Lynnwood” — which has its own plans for station area development — is just a little too easy for a Bellevue group to say. Personally, of the five it seems like the last two listed above are farthest from a station, and therefore would have the lowest effect on ridership.

* Although I suppose this third site could be well to the North or South.

48 Replies to “Bellevue’s Maintenance Base”

  1. I’m sure noting their recent anti-arena comments, some in SoDo aren’t too happy at all the industrial land taken over for a light rail yard. Oh well… nothing in life is truly free except love.

    Food for thought.

    1. I rode the trains in Boston for many years and used to imagine a Red Line train which spanned from station to station. The cars would slow down so people could get on at the station, like a moving sidewalk. Once the car left the station an articulated segment would expand so people could walk forward from car to car as the car accelerated, but it would still be attached to the cars at both ends. A fast walker like me could then jump on the train and walk forward a dozen cars to get to my destination faster.

      The devil in the details is how long the articulations would need to be. If the articulations ballooned from a foot in the station to ten car lengths between stations it would be rather unfeasible.

  2. Unless Bellevue speaks a different dialect of English than the rest of the US where “upscale” means “dense” instead of “rich”, it sounds like the Bellevue councilfolk are mostly concerned about protecting rich people’s desire to reap the benefits of urban infrastructure without being affected by the costs. I don’t hear anything about density or walksheds in what they’re saying, just NIMBYism. At least they’re going to bat for the future residents, workers, and shoppers of Bellevue (and the developers that will pocket their rent checks), while the Seattle NIMBYs just want to keep everyone out.

    Also if they cared about walksheds or whatever they’d start connecting pedestrian networks, improving walking conditions on arterials and downtown, and encouraging pedestrian-friendly building plans instead of Parking Lot-Oriented Development. There’s already transit service in Bellevue. It’s just forced to chase riders along inefficient routes because you can’t walk to it. So because they aren’t doing those things, even if they start talking about walksheds and density I won’t be inclined to believe them until they start working on a legible and consistent pedestrian network.

    1. So although some people in Bellevue have a NIMBY tendency, and even if they are coming from the wrong pov about what is “upscale” , the fact of the matter is they are completely right. The concern about switching operators is just a detail compared to the land use policy for the next 100 years (given we are likely to have fully autonomous vehicles within 20-40 years).

      What is at stake here is Bellevue is actually open to real TOD along a future corridor that we have already approved. The maintaince base simply should not be within walking distance of a light rail station because we should have skyscrapers in walking distance of all of our light rail stations.

      1. It’s awesome that they’d rather have tall buildings near the stations than maintenance bases. It’s something to work with, and it’s better than the damn Roosevelt High School View Society, even if it’s really because developer money funds their campaigns.

        But we shouldn’t expect to agree with them at all beyond that. They’ll fight a maintenance base in their city even outside the station’s walkshed. They’ll fight walkability improvements and a logical transit network and they’ll fight TSP. They’ll say, “Put the base in Lynnwood!” and they might be right to do so (their TOD story is probably more plausible than Lynnwood’s because their corridor is less of a pedestrian nightmare than the I-5 noiseshed around LTC). But they’re right for the wrong reasons and we shouldn’t forget that.

    2. Bellevue in my experience touts walkability and then does nothing to actually enhance it. Development increasingly uses skybridges and connected buildings so people never need to experience street level. There is no political will to span I-405 with pedestrian friendly crossings. The pedestrian walkway from the mall to the transit center is one bright spot, but even that seems to be a concession to putting the transit center so far from the mall.

      1. Sure, and that’s in and downtown Bellevue where the grid is at least consistent even if it’s sort of loose and the light cycles are too long and the roads are too wide and there are too many super-long left-turn phases.

        Bel-Red needs lots of work. It’s not totally cul-de-sacced at the macro scale, but zoom in and realize it’s hard to walk places directly. That needs to be improved to avoid the BART problem where all your train stations have limited walkshed because the street grid is so broken-up.

  3. I think they should put the station in east Redmond (MF5 in the EIS). They’ll need to build an access track; might as well make it double-tracked and add a bare-bones station near the maintenance facility.

      1. Oops, meant to hit cancel reply…
        The kernel of the idea was to extend the tail tracks for substantial LRV storage and light maintenance and cleaning, then use another location for heavier maintenance, possibly the Seattle O&M site.

        An advantage is that the tail tracks can later be repurposed to the Redmond extension.

      2. Going east past OTC you fall off a cliff as you go down to Marymoor. The MF5 would have been the best location but it’s doubtful ST will have the funds to extend that far before they have to build the yard. Maybe they can extort $160 million out of City of Redmond :=

    1. This also helps keep the cars out of the weather, which makes them last longer.

  4. What if Development was built on top of the maintenance base. Residential above the storage tracks and light Industrial near the maintenance part. Isn’t that area currently warehouses? Just some armchair planning..

  5. What about connecting the East Link to the existing but now severed East side rail line from Renton to Woodinville and putting the O&M base somewhere off that line?

  6. Upscale? Right, because trains are for poor people. ST “threw a curve”? We all knew about the maintenance yard when the council was yipping about the vision line. Just another tool in Bellevue city government.

    P.S. I feel better now. Please post more stories about East Link and the dysfunctional Bellevue City Council. Keeps me from kicking the dog.

    1. Even if I have a million dollars, I will still ride link if it gets me where I want to go.
      It’s not necessarily for poor people. It will be for people who don’t want to deal with I-90/520.

  7. MF3, the site north of NE20th (aka Northup) is the only site that makes sense. It’s nestled up against SR-520 and creates a buffer to the residential zoning to the north. Put a lid over the freeway to extend viewpoint Park and it’s a real winner! The Fred Meyer site is laughably stupid. ST finally got it through their thick skulls that running at grade through the NE 20th & 148th NE intersection would have been a total cluster and now out of the blue they want to put a rail yard there? If they pushed MF1 farther north (Lowes/Granger) I could see that working. I have to believe that cost wise building the MF in 2020 in Lynnwood is going to be way cheaper than Bell-Red.

    1. How about south of Hospital station on the BNSF alignment? There are lots of defunct car lots there. There would probably be a nice view of the rail yard from city hall offices too.

      1. And cross NE 8th at grade?!?! I think not. Plus WSDOT is planning a new half diamond interchange to the south at NE 2nd and Bellevue is in the process of pushing through NE 4th to NE 120th and connecting the grid where 120th and Bel-Red intersect NE 8th. Those big ole car lots are going to become big ole office towers in the next 15-20 years; maybe sooner.

      2. I fear my snark quotient was too low in that reply.

        In any case, they could build a wye at NE 6th; no crossing of NE 8th is needed. ST could buy the car lots today, then sell air rights after they built the MF. Maybe they’d even make money on the deal.

      3. they could build a wye at NE 6th

        That would be elevated over I-405 and be some expensive ROW acquisition; pretty much doubling the cost of very expensive section. And Bellevue is well underway with the NE 4th extension which is the second most trafficked east/west arterial into Bellevue. Wilburton is more valuable from a development standpoint than Bell-Red.

  8. +1 for the stupidity of the Fred Meyer site. I’d prefer if they could somehow build retail on top of the railyard somehow if it was at the Fred Meyer site but I doubt that will happen because that requires public/private partnership and coordination that doesn’t really happen here because people always raise the straw man of lining developers’ pockets (see new Alaskan Way Viaduct waterfront and its lack of dense development). That Fred Meyer is routinely packed out and losing that leaves local residents with that awful Safeway in the shopping center kitty corner from Fred Meyer. I’ve only shopped in that Safeway three times in the past year and twice I had to return food bought at that store due to mold!

  9. Long time reader, first time poster, big time fan of the blog.

    +1 for not building at the Fred Meyer site, I grew up a few blocks away and it’d be tricky bringing the tracks over from the 520 alignment I think they settled on. It’d have to cross NE 24th, which is a pretty busy street.

    I think aw is on to something about the Redmond site, since the trains could maybe turn around there. I don’t think Redmond has too much TOD planned down there along E Lake Sammamish Pkwy, not like in downtown at least. Anything other than there or the Lowe’s area would be a waste of developable land

  10. If the maintenance base is simply to store trains at night when they’re not being used, why do we need a base at all – just store the trains on the track somewhere that doesn’t block traffic. The entire DSTT tunnel, plus the entire downtown->U-district tunnel, for that matter, could be used as train storage for the period late at night when the trains aren’t running.

    As to actual maintenance, while all trains will have to be worked on occasionally, they won’t all have to be worked on at the same time. As long as 77 or the 180 trains aren’t all out of commision for repairs at the same time, it would seem the existing maintenance facility in SODO, combined with tunnels late at night should be good enough.

    Does someone with more knowledge of this than I want to point out what I am missing here?

    1. The storage area needs to be secure/monitored. Remember the tagged train in Tukwila? So anywhere but in tunnels are ruled out.

      How will the operator get to/from the train before/after hours? Have them walk through tunnels to the nearest station?

      What if the train somehow gets disabled while parked on the mainline track?

      How will track be inspected and maintenance work with dozens of trains in the way? Who and to where will they be moved around, while the power is shutoff?

      1. Still, for anyone with a computer data structures mindset, taking all the cars off the tracks every night, and then putting them back on the tracks 3 hours later ( LINK runs 5am to 2pm right?) seems ridiculous.

        Might as well run the system 24 hours a day!

      2. They don’t put all the trains on the mainline at once at the beginning of the day. Frequency gradually builds through the morning (and similarly reduces throughout the evening). You can’t be parking trains on the tracks unless they’re all going to be parking (and starting again) at the same time.

  11. Thank you for pointing out the bogus claims of Conrad Lee. The need for an east O&M facility has always been part of the plan. This guy is either the most aloof/clueless mayor in the country, or he’s just plain lying. I’m not sure which is worse…

  12. Metro has two bus bases in Bellevue right across the street from each other on 124 th Ave 100 yards from where East Link tracks will eventually cross the street. A number of bus routes will be cancelled when East Link opens. Sound Transit should buy one of those bases and use that as their maintenance yard. Metro should consolidate both bases into one.

    1. Judging from the size of the blobs in the Exec Summary the rail yard is as big as both of the bus base sites combined. There’s no walk shed for any of the East Link stations and not counting P&R lots it only serves six locations on the entire eastside. There will more buses needing to operate out of East Base in ten years than there are now. That said, if Bel-Red development takes off the way Wright Rundstad and COB are banking on anything east of 120th is going to be too valuable to leave in it’s current use. It might make sense for ST and Metro to sell the land and buy up the proposed Marymoor MF site and relocate East Base. However, freeway access to that area really sucks.

  13. If Bellevue ever wants to be considered a real city, they’ve got to shed this suburban mentality that everything has to be “upscale”

  14. any reason why they can’t excavate the ground … build the yard … then cover it an build TOD? or a park of some sort? Link is electrical so no chance of explosion … can’t see why it has to be in the open air.

  15. There is an old toys r us and target parking lot near downtown Federal Way (north of S 316th and 23rd) that is unoccupied for the time being.
    Just sayin’

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