Photo by Sound Transit

Most of Sounder’s North Line problems are well-known and structural: its would-be walkshed is comprised of half ocean and half cliffs, transit connections are poor, parking availability is poorer still, frequency is severely limited and codified by contract agreement with BNSF, and mudslides knock out service a couple dozen days per year.  Given these rather severe odds, the service garners just over 1,000 daily riders.  While the North Line’s high costs and poor performance have been all over the news lately (Seattle Times, STB, etc) , all indications are that the line will continue to operate indefinitely.  Sound Transit recently leased 5 years of additional Edmonds parking and is proceeding with long-term station enhancements, and on Thursday the mayors of Everett, Mukilteo, and Edmonds offered their unequivocal support (emphases mine):

Our service along the shore of Puget Sound offers the nation’s most beautiful commute…We strongly disagree with [the Citizen Oversight Panel’s] suggestion of reducing Sounder service to pay for more buses on I-5. Our communities have made a tremendous long-term investment in Sounder. We will not stand for reducing service. A number of vocal Sounder opponents, many of whom live nowhere near Snohomish County, have tried to skew the COP’s report to suggest the service might be subject to outright elimination. That will never happen.

So if the service is to continue, can it be improved without ‘throwing money at it’?   What sort of operational enhancements (if any) could increase ridership at no or little cost?  One possibility after the jump.

The North Line currently operates four peak-direction trips on 4-car trainsets, while the South Line operates nine trips on five 7-car trainsets. On the South Line three trainsets are peak-direction only from Lakewood to Seattle, while two trainsets make three one-way trips per peak period, LKW-SEA-TAC-SEA in the morning, and SEA-TAC-SEA-LKW in the afternoon. See the current schedule below.

Current Sounder Service

While looking at the data in the 2013 Draft Service Implementation Plan  I noticed something striking,  an approximate ridership equivalence between North Line trains and South Line reverse-peak trains. South Line reverse-peak ridership (111 per train) nearly matches the North Line (151 per train). 


The reverse-peak trains (which I happened to commute on for 18 months) are simply monetized deadheads, and they exist primarily as a way for ST to make 7 peak-direction trips with only 5 trainsets.  As such, the smaller trainsets used on the North Line are more than adequate to handle reverse-peak demand: Additionally, I have been told (but lack the data) that South Line peak-direction ridership follows a bell curve, exhibiting classic shoulder and peak-of-the-peak behavior, so there is theoretically more operational flexibility with the earliest and latest trains.  So we could run limited end-to-end service by:

  • Running all five 7-car trainsets peak-direction only, Lakewood to Seattle.
  • Running the first two North Line trains from Everett to Tacoma, turning them back to Seattle to make last two peak-direction trips 
  • Running the last two North Line trips unchanged, from Everett to Seattle.

Here’s a mock schedule showing how it could work:

Hypothetical Sounder Schedule with Through-Routing


  • Provides limited through-routing for the first time, providing Snohomish County with rail access to the tens of thousands of jobs in the Green River Valley.
  • Reduces operating costs (slightly) on the South Line by using smaller trainsets on two of the seven trips.
  • Provides better options for Lakewood commuters by replacing the 4:42am train with a 7:07am train (currently the last train leaves at 6:37am).
  • Provides better reverse-peak scheduling by replacing the 6:10am train with a 7:20am train.
  • Offers a later arrival in Seattle at 9:30am.
  • Provides later peak-hour coverage for the North Line by replacing the 4:05 train with a 6:00 train. (Amtrak’s 6:50 train would still be available to full-fare pass holders.)
  • Remains operationally compatible with the Empire Builder, the Coast Starlight, and all but one Cascades train. (exception noted below).


  • The smaller trainsets may not offer enough capacity to accommodate the two latest A.M. and earliest P.M. Tacoma-Seattle trips. (If Everett Station can store more than 4-car trains, then cars could be added if necessary.)
  • Through-routing may complicate labor arrangements between BNSF and ST.
  • The easement agreement may forbid operating in the hours proposed.
  • The proposed schedule is incompatible with Amtrak 501.  (The 7:30am departure toward Portland would have to shift to either  7:10am or 7:40am)

I don’t pretend this would solve any of the structural issues listed above, but if we’re stuck with the North Line indefinitely, we need to think creatively about how to improve it cheaply. Limited through-routing could be one way to achieve that.

94 Replies to “Through-Route Sounder North?”

  1. Is there anyway to take advantage of the current situation where the Cascades train goes one way after Puyallup before Tacoma and the Sounder trains go another?

  2. I would think there would be a market for commutes to Lakewood for jobs at JBLM for persons living in/near Kent Valley.

    1. Having one of the reverse-peak runs extend to Lakewood would delay it being available for a peak-direction run by at least 26 minutes. Even ignoring the single-track issue and any details of the BNSF agreement, the effect would be to require either spreading out the span of service and increasing headway between some peak-direction trips, having fewer peak-direction trips, or purchasing an extra train set (at the very least, a couple extra engine cars).

      I hope the reverse-peak runs to and from Lakewood can happen someday, but limited equipment is the primary bottleneck blocking it from happening.

  3. One easy solution would be to dump the whole quaint and uniquely (North) American notion that the regional train is somehow a premium service and requires a higher fare than a bus operated under the same fare system.

    This is not practiced anywhere in Europe, where, I have noticed and perhaps you have too, a higher usage level of public transit as a whole. Higher transit use makes the decision makers pay more attention to public transit, just like they do to the car-addicts presently. Car-addicts don’t pay a higher gas tax to use the interstates over local roads.

    Lower the train fare to the same as the bus fare and you will see a shift from the REX buses to the Sounder trains since the travel time to Seattle is about the same.

    This frees up needed capacity down route for the buses.

    The loss in revenue may very well be made up by increased ridership as the extra capacity is made available on the Everett-Seattle (and v.v.) buses.

    The same logic ought to be applied to the South Line too as the equivalent bus and train operate on separate routings. Why should someone traveling from Tacoma to Auburn or Tukwila have to pay more for their trip than someone going by bus to all the way to Seattle just because of a planning decision made 20 years ago and/or because some service planner decided that since there is a train, no bus will be run parallel?

    1. Erik, I believe that the Sounder is a more premium service than Link and SLUT. The Sounder operates on a separate alignment. In the morning, it isn’t that expeditious from Tacoma, but from the Green River Valley, it saves a great amount of time.

      Also, have you seen the parking at the Tukwila Sounder Station? Have you seen how full parking becomes in Auburn well before the last trains head north to Seattle? Raising the price of admission may keep parking manageable for those that want to come a little later. …or else the first train arriving in Seattle at around 6:00 a.m. will be full, and the later trains will be empty because no one can park and ride the train to work.

      While I admire everyone’s use of Europe as a benchmark, one must consider the compactness of the urban metros of European cities. The American mentality, and the American reluctance to adhere to that European mentality. …especially after how King County muscled this last election. I think some of y’all need to re-evaluate how you interact with the public and convey your way of thinking.

      Having lived in Germany for 12 years, Verkehrsverbindungen are regional transportation authorities. These agencies are heavily subsidized, heavily unionized, and are prone to strikes and work stoppages. Additionally, there are a plethora of layers of transit among these agencies (Regional Express, Regional Train, S-Bahn, U-Bahn, Streetcar, Bus). Not all of these cities have subways (U-bahns) or streetcars, but these countries are overtaxed to fund these agencies. …hence the reason why Germany’s gas prices are well north of $6-7/gallon. My folks are still in Germany, and I routinely visit them.

      In Germany, if you had a pass within a Verkersverbindung and walked onto an InterCity or InterCityExpress, expecting to ride from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof to Frankfurt Fernbahnhof. You’ll be paying a premium to the conductor. Many of the the trains passing making that connection travel onto Cologne and continue onto Brussels, Amsterdam, or the Ruhr area. Finally, don’t get your Sounder Train confused with your Cascades. The Cascades travels the equivalent to the ICE route that traverses Germany from Munich to Hannover via Karlsruhe and Frankfurt. I would advise keeping the fares separate. Too much risk for fare sliding and human error.

      1. So you’re saying that the train fares need to be made higher as a way to ration parking? This doesn’t make sense. If we need to use price to ration parking, charge directly for parking, but don’t make people who walk, bike, or bus to the train station pay for the “ration” of parking they aren’t using.

      2. You’ve got the advantage over me on European experience. A couple of trips to the Nordic countries don’t compare with 12 years in Germany.

        However, having worked for both public and private non-union passenger carriers in this country, as a passenger my experience leaves me preferring to negotiate with union personnel at a higher cost than put up with bald tires, bad maintenance, shoddy training, worse attitudes, and high turnover for less money.

        As for taxation, the highest and most regressive tax I pay is the cost of being forced to use my car to live my daily working life in an industrialized country. I suspect I’d be a freer and richer citizen paying German taxes for German public transportation than paying car expenses to private corporations for driving to work in Seattle and its suburbs.

        Speaking of freedom, I’m curious about how King County “muscled” the last election. Do you mean “lawfully delivering the most votes?” Also wonder what’s particularly European about a first-world transit system. We used to build the world’s best trains and streetcars.

        A history of prosperity,large amounts of space, and distance from foreign wars have left many people in the United States with the luxury of possessing some wasteful and destructive habits. But now our national survival, let alone honor, depends on seeing to it that not every stupid and backward idea on Earth counts as “American.”

        Mark Dublin

      3. I get sick of hearing this “King County muscled this last election” talk. One person, one vote.

      4. CharlotteRoyal,

        Read Donald Shoup sometime. If the parking capacity is an issue, you raise the charge for the parking.

        I am quite familiar with the levels of subsidy, unionization etc. of the various systems around the world. I think you’ll find that the percentages are the same in the “Soviet of Washignton” minus the tendency to strike.

        This has nothing to do with any “overtaxation”, fuel taxes (which in Germany are adjusted for inflation and actually pay for the maintenance of their existing road system) but a decision made by a policy maker who, sadly, probably never used public transit for their commute and certainly has never been dependent on it to make their livelihood.

        As for your paragraph about using ICE trains (we should be so lucky) for local trips, you are aware that there are such programs in the USA that allow a customer to ride these “express” trains either for free or for an upcharge as you described in Germany? At least these programs and the scenario you describe on the German Rail system recognize the need to allow for mobility without getting into judgment call about what is and what isn’t “Luxury”

        This is understandable in regards to the ICE and IC level services, as they are not run with equipment that lends itself to frequent ons and off like the Regional Trains of DB (or the contractors) or the Regional Trains (marketed as “Sounder”) of Sound Transit. Ever notice that *all* of these regional trains use mostly Bombardier-built cars of a similar layout?

        As you point out, the trip from Tacoma to Seattle on bus is faster than the trip by train, so in that case the time factor drive customers to bus. But on the northside it is opposite, and so the factor of the fare must not be a part of this. Parking costs maybe, but not fare.

      5. BTW, I don’t think only Europe does this. Even Toronto appears to charge the same for trips by train on GO Transit, versus bus.

        Anyone want to chime in about Asia?

      6. Asia? No. Fares are usually distance based for both bus and rail and they are separate (Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, The Phillipines). Sometimes you are able to pay for it with a single fare card but the fare structures are different and most likely no free transfers.

      7. Perth has a free CBD and nine zones (8-10km in width) radiating from it, and you pay a zone-based fare that is not related to whatever mode of transport you use. You’d pay the same fare for a trip that was a four-zone trip, whether you used one bus or, say, a bus-ferry-train combination. Their SmartRider card gives you a 15-25% discount from a “cash” fare. (Perth, in fact, says that they do not accept cash at all on their system–you need to buy what they call a cash ticket at a vending machine or, strangely, from the bus or ferry drivers–which kind of means they DO accept cash despite what they say!)

        Perth also has a pleasant rail/bike corridor on the route out to Fremantle, proving it can be done. It appeared to be well-used.

        Sydney has different fares for bus, train and ferry, and also has zones; there is a pass that covers all modes or you can purchase a mode-specific pass (multi-pass). The zones bear no relationship to one another; the metro area is three zones on a combination pass but the same area is covered by 2 zones on a ferry pass, 5 zones on a rail pass or even more on a bus pass. It’s horribly confusing….

    2. Unfortunately Sounder North is, for most people commuting from Everett to DT Seattle, slower as well as more expensive, because they have to backtrack from King Street.

      On the South line I basically agree, though. Also with Alex’s post below that it would be nice to have some all-day service that’s a direct substitute for Sounder South when it’s not running.

      1. Except for Kent, we do. Tukwila station is served by Amtrak. Auburn, Sumner, and Puyallup are served by the 578. Tacoma and Lakewood are served by the 594.

      2. It’s a complete mystery why the 578 stops at Federal Way rather than Kent. The off-peak service between downtown and Federal Way could be backfilled very easily by having the 594 stop at FWTC.

      3. I think it’s because Federal Way is on I-5, and the precedent of the 194. Nobody wants to give a city less service than it previously had, so because Federal Way had the 194, it got the 577/578. Kent never had an all-day express, so giving it nothing was politically feasable.

      4. Having the 594 stop at Federal Way would accomplish the same goal. The only thing Federal Way would lose by switching from the 578 to the 594 would be service to Auburn and Puyallup (over an incomplete span of service). And it would result in gaining frequency to Tacoma, where far more people go from Federal Way.

      5. If the 594 provided Federal Way’s service, every delay through downtown Tacoma would cause people in Federal way to spend more time waiting at the bus stop. Would people in Federal Way accept this, even if it buys more frequency than what they currently have?

      6. I’ve never understood why Amtrak stops at Tukwila — which doesn’t even have a proper station, just some planks in the middle of an empty field — instead of at Kent Station.

      7. Oran +1. I’ve never understood the purpose of Tukwila Station either. It seems like a political extra in the middle of nowhere. Kent Station would make a better centerpoint for the south suburbs, and it has amenities within walking distance.

      8. Mike, Orv isn’t me but a cool pseudonym nonetheless.

        I think the reason Tukwila is a stop is its proximity to Sea-Tac Airport. It’s listed on the Amtrak Cascades timetable that way.

    3. Fares should be used mainly to limit demand, to keep it in line with capacity. Capacity far exceeds demand in North Sounder, and fares should be lowered to that of buses until this is not the case.

      1. Fares should be adjusted, up or down, to maximize revenue. If you can get 5 people to ride at $5 and 30 people to ride at $2 then lower the fare to $2. If you lower the fare to $2 and only 10 people ride then $5 was a better answer. If nothing gets you close to at least 25% fare recovery then the best thing to do is cut and run.

      2. The point of transit is not to limit demand or maximize revenue, but to attract the most ridership from cars and to fulfill the maximum percentage of people’s non-walking/non-bike trips. People use transit if it has a short wait time and is fast and direct, so these are the things the transit agencies need to work on. Revenue is a constraint, not a goal. A means, not an end. Likewise, affordable capacity is a constraint, not a goal. The ultimate goal should be to increase capacity to meet demand.

    4. I would raise the competing bus fares before I lowered the train fare. Honestly I don’t think either will happen.

  4. A station somewhere between Broad Street (Pier 70) and the mouth of the GN tunnel would also help customers reach their downtown Seattle destinations sooner.

  5. I think regarding sounder it would be really helpful to create a bus equivalent for the times the train doesn’t run, so that the route is active all day. When I was reverse commuting on sounder from Kent to Tacoma if I wanted to stay in Tacoma and hang out with my friends, my options for getting home were terrible. Usually I just had them drive me, or took the airport bus to Kent des moines rd. and had my dad drive his truck to pick my bike and I up. Occasionally I’d bike across the valley and get picked up there, but usually at the end of a long day that was the last thing I wanted to do.

    1. There already is an all-day Sounder shadow, the 578… except that for some inexplicable reason it doesn’t serve Kent.

      1. So that’s not a very effective shadow then is it? Kent is like the second highest ridership station, and it is the 3rd largest city in the county. it ought to have service all day…

  6. I live up in the N. Sound area and I’ve taken the Sounder to Seattle multiple times, but since last Spring, I’m no longer a DT commuter. As a tax payer, and former rider, I feel strongly about this subject.

    My two cents:

    -You can’t compare South to North. South has a huge advantage, it’s straight up the I-5/SR167 corridor, while North is along the coast. South draws folks from both sides of the track while sounder draws from one side.

    -Reliability. A lot of this is not ST fault; they can’t control the rain or the location of the track. But they should encourage slope stabilization and ice-proof switches. Rail can be very reliable during a snowstorm, but it isn’t, the rail infrastructure isn’t quite there yet.

    -Speed. The North line is horribly slow because it hugs the coastline unlike the south line that just shoots up the middle of the cities. The 510 will get you to Everett (in traffic too) faster, sometimes way faster. There must be speed limits on the track because sometimes the train will move at a reasonable speed, but other times it seems like it’s going 25 mph.

    -Stations. Richmond Beach? Ballard? Even the ONE downtown station is horrible, is it even considered downtown? If you work in SLU or even Westlake, it’s a hike to get to that one station. 510 is right outside your building.

    -Wifi. I’ve never really had Wifi or solid cell signal. Again, the track is at the bottom of a steep slope. But they have bathrooms!

    So, I think North Sounder is a waste. Yes, I’m harsh, but I can’t see myself EVER using the line except to show my out-of-town family how gorgeous the Puget Sound is, because the views are incredible. When I commute, I don’t care about the views. There are so many costly improvements Sound would have to make, and I simple don’t want to pay for them. I rather pay for a link system that runs right up the gut of I-5 that serves both Edmonds and Lynnwood, Mukilteo and Mill Creek, Everett and Snohomish/Lake Stevens.

    Another thought:

    Where is the reverse commute? I think there is one train that runs in the morning but it doesn’t stop at Mukilteo. What’s above Mukilteo? A little company called Boeing. The transit options for Boeing are ridiculous.

    1. I agree with you. I don’t understand why everyone is saying that the Sounder has to stay, even after ST2 is all built out and Snohomish County is served with a rail line that will be much faster, more reliable, and useful. Can one really argue that the entire operational cost of the route can be justified only be the scenic views? Especially when those that really want the scenic views can ride Amtrak and still get them?

      1. Sure, after ST2 is built out, *sometime after 2021*, perhaps Sounder North will be halted. In that distant, far-away future, perhaps there will be lots of Amtrak service from Seattle to Portland too.

        In the meantime, Sounder North is likely to stay for at least ten years.

      2. That’s not what I’ve heard. For what I’ve heard, everybody is saying that the North Sounder just has to operate forever even along side Link to Lynnwood. Heck, the way people are talking, even if Link extends all the way to Everett one day, the north Sounder will probably still be operating.

      3. Do you know how many elections are between now and 2021? From a politician’s point of view, it *is* forever.

    2. It may be a waste, but it’s voter approved. It would be hard to get rid of, even legally.

      1. Courts and legislators frequently and legally overturn things approved by the voters. That said, I don’t think Sounder North is going anywhere, because I think some of the same people who have the power to pull the plug on it, commute to work on it.

    3. Disagree. If I rode the North Sounder for two years; it got me from Everett Station to King St. Station on average, just as fast as the 510, and MUCH more comfortably. Yes, they need to fix the WiFi, but I had decent cell coverage the whole time.

      Adding a station near Broad St. would be fantastic, because there are people who work in the north end of downtown. (I happened to work in Pioneer Square, so it was perfect).

  7. The solution to Sounder North’s problems might be more density.

    That coast has some of the most desirable views in the world, but the land is used up by a very, very few number of sparse homes.

    Isn’t that where they should be putting up lots of new high rises connected by more frequent Sounder service with more stations along with commercial areas. There is no reason that all sides of the Seattle isthmus have to jam into one linear corridor every morning.

    Back to the article, I agree. I would love to see through trains that make the whole route without changing in Seattle. The Kent Valley is ripe with low cost commercial space easily accessible from Kent Station and Longacres stations.

    1. To minimize erosion, I don’t think we can have much more density along the coast than we already have. Also, the agreement between ST and BNSF means Sounder will never be more frequent. A train that makes four trips a day to downtown is not transit oriented – it’s car oriented. Those that don’t work downtown will not get to use the train. Nor will anyone who does work downtown get to use the train for any purpose other than work.

      1. With density and new development would come modern environmental review, including runoff management. With denser development would come runoff discharging into municipal storm drains and retention ponds, rather than expansive lawns that discharge stormwater directly down the hillside.

      2. Exactly, those sand cliffs could be completely replaced in parts with brand new concrete foundations…I would regrade them completely, making them much lower by at least half, then create a level plane and build apartment complexes and have transit stations along the route with bridges over the tracks and more beach access for residents.

        The first order of business is to start charging market rate property taxes on that land, where “fair use” is just such an application. Clearly, any one of those enclaves could house tens if not hundreds of families at middle class costs.

      3. But then the issue is that any new development is relatively isolated from the existing activity centers, which are a mile or more inland from most of the line. Sure, you’d have great Sounder access, but with only 4 one-way weekday-only trips, no walking-distance services, and no hope of increased Sounder service ever, we’d be locking residents into car-dependence.

        That said, the best place to do something like that would probably be somewhere around Blue Ridge, just south of Carkeek park. It looks like the only place along the shore close enough to all-day transit to be practical for walkers, with good local connections to Ballard.

      4. That is where TOD comes in…an archipelago of “new towns” all along the West Coast of North Seattle…a complete shift from vapid large estates to modern, small cottages and high rise living all with shopping and work zones interconnected by Sounder to the cultural centers.

        It would be like an upscale version of Aurora Way.

      5. Actually, “modern” stormwater management is mostly not about storm drains and retention ponds, but about marshes and swales. But anyway.

      6. So let’s do Edmonds. Following is the Sounder departure schedule from Edmond Station and the relevant CT buses that bring people to the train.

        6:11: 196 – no, 116 – no, 130 – no, 110 – no
        6:41: 196 – 6:20, 116 – 6:29, 130 – 6:36, 110 – no
        7:11: 196 – 6:50, 116 – 7:01, 130 – 7:06, 110 – 6:56
        7:41: 196 – 7:20, 116 – 7:31, 130 – 7:36, 110 – 7:26

        The first Sounder has NO transit connections in Edmonds!
        The second Sounder has a 21 minute wait, a 5 minute risk and one good connection of 12 minutes.
        The third Sounder has a 21 minute wait, a good 10 minute connection, a 5 minute risk and a 15 minute connection.
        The last Sounder has a 21 minute wait, a good 10 minute connection, a 5 minute risk and a 15 minute wait.

        In summary the first Sounder train has virtually no transit connections anywhere between Everett and Seattle. It’s a wonder anyone rides it.

        The second train has one good connection. The other two are either too long or a risk.

        The third and fourth trains has one good connection, one OK connection, a long wait and a risky connection.

        It’s very clear that CT paid NO attention to the Sounder when scheduling their buses. If I have to ride a bus 20 minutes to Edmonds and then wait 20 minutes to get on the train I’m going to just go the other way on a CT commuter or ST 511.

        So I maintain that if we want people to use Sounder we need to make sure they can get to it. I for one would use it if I didn’t have to get in my car to drive to it first.

      7. That is where TOD comes in…an archipelago of “new towns” all along the West Coast of North Seattle

        So long as we can add trips to the schedule, both peak-direction and reverse-peak, I have no problem with that.

        If we’re permanently locked into a maximum of 4 daily peak-direction trips during each rush hour (which, from a practical standpoint, is how it appears now), any TOD built on the line will be too underserved to succeed; the new development will be car dependent regardless of our intentions.

    2. The solution to North Sounders problem is getting those of us who don’t live right on the water to the Train and offering better scheduling. There are 4 Sounder trains that stop at Mukilteo Station in the morning and none of them have transit connections with the 113 bus. Let me say that again, you can’t take a bus to the Sounder to commute. Let’s look.

      5:56 am (first 113 is at 6:22)
      6:15 am (first 113 is at 6:22)
      6:56 am 113 arrives at 6:52
      7:26 am 113 arrives at 7:22

      It takes roughly 8 minutes to get across ferry traffic and make the connection. You have 4. IF you have zero ferry traffic AND you run (and I mean run) AND your 113 is on time (never) you might make it.

      If you take the 113 and then wait until the next Sounder you’ll board it about the time your 417 would be pulling into downtown Seattle.

      So not only is the walkshed bordered by water and a cliff the transit connections when it does have stations are nearly impossible. This train is scheduled NOT to work. It’s an Everett to Seattle train.

      The solution is to have CT change their scheduling but if they do they’d lose half the ridership on their commuter buses out of Mukilteo.

      1. I don’t think they’d lose half the ridership on their commuter buses. The problem is that the 113 is unreliable enough so that there is simply no way to time the schedule to make a decent connection. If the scheduled wait time is under 10-15 minutes, it’s unreliable and you risk being left stranded for at least a half hour if the bus is late. If the scheduled wait time is over 10-15 minutes, that’s too long to stand and wait for the bus the 113 is on time.

        Because of this, almost no one is going to take the 113->Sounder. They’ll either drive to Sounder or take the 417 right from home.

      2. To add to my own comment while I’m venting.

        There’s only two types of people who will ride the Sounder from Mukilteo – ferry passengers and those who think it’s a good idea to drive their car to Mukilteo and attempt to park in the limited parking. There aren’t any other options.

        Everett Transit connections

        5:56 am ET 18 Arrives 5:48 (a bit tight but possible connection)
        6:15 am ET 18 – No connection
        6:56 am ET 18 6:50 am (connection too tight but maybe possible if the planets are aligned)
        7:26 am ET 18 7:20 am (connection tight)

        With all of that in mind who is supposed to board at Mukilteo?

      3. asdf, the 113 used to be reliable. I rode it daily to connect with other buses. After the shakeup it’s been worthless. The route is half the length and they can’t keep it on time. I honestly walk 15 minutes to catch a different bus instead of chancing the 113 being 15 minutes late (on a 30 minute headway).

        Step 1. Make the 113 reliable.
        Step 2. Make it show up 10 minutes before the Sounder.
        Step 3. Do nothing else.

      4. Shouldn’t 6:15 be 6:26? You used it twice now.

        If I recall, Everett Transit used to meet all trains, but there must not have been much ridership as those trips didn’t make it through their service reduction last summer.

      5. You just illustrated the problem with bus->train connections – an 8 minute connection is “a bit tight, but possible”. When you walk, bike, or drive to Sounder, an 8-minute connection means you’ve allowed a lot of time and are getting there early. By bus, an 8-minute connection means you’re constantly of edge knowing you’re one wheelchair user or change fumbler away from missing your train.

        This is not just true in Snohomish County – it’s true in King County as well. Tomorrow morning, I will be traveling from the U-district to Issaquah Transit Center and need to be there by 8 am. The 554 is beautifully timed to arrive in Issaquah right at 8, so the question becomes how to get from the U-district to downtown to catch it. To bus it the whole way, I would need to be out the door no later than about 6:30 in order to be confident that I would make my connection (if I miss the 554, the next one’s an hour away).

        Back when I first started making this trip (about once every month or two) without a car, before I knew better, this is what I did. Since then, I developed a routine in which I pay Eastside for Hire $13 to whisk me from home to the International District station in a very reliable 10 minutes (at 7:00 on a Sunday morning, there’s no traffic), then hop straight on the 554. Door-to-door, I get from home to Issaquah Transit Center for $13 in just 45 minutes – half the time it would take had I gone bus all the way. Given that I save hundreds of dollars a month by not owning a car, spending $13 every 2 months to sleep a half hour later and avoid a ton of stress is a no-brainer. (On the way back, I do bus it all the way since I don’t have time constraints).

        Now, shift times and destinations. Pretend Sunday morning is Monday morning, the U-district is someone’s house in Multikteo, downtown Seattle is Mukilteo station, Issaquah becomes downtown Seattle, and the 554 becomes the Sounder train. Get what? It’s the same situation. And if someone who doesn’t own a car is willing to pay for a taxi to avoid the unreliable bus connection, how do you expect someone who does own a car to take the unreliable bus connection when driving exists as an alternative?

      6. Wouldn’t a broke-ass transit agency like CT love to “lose” half the ridership on their super-long Mukilteo commuter routes by funneling riders to Sounder? Then they could cut half the trips!

        Edmonds, more than Mukilteo, has a bunch of bus service that goes right to the Sounder station (110, 116, 130, 196). Timing of connections isn’t great… it sort of looks like most of the routes start their first runs in Edmonds and head east, and don’t get back on the return trip until after the first Sounder train has passed… I wonder where the bases are that these buses are deployed from, and whether the buses could run special early-morning Sounder feeders on their way to start their first runs in Edmonds.

        Of course, the fact that their are four Sounder runs and two leave Edmonds before 7:00 AM can’t help. Seriously, what kind of terrible human being is awake at that hour? Are they even humans or some sort of weird mutants? And why are we spilling so much digital ink on a commuter train that runs four times per day and primarily serves these potential mutants? If CT ran a 4x-daily express bus (half-)full of possible mutants at 6:00 AM nobody would know or care whether it was performing well or not.

      7. The 113 used to be reliable because it was timed realistically, now it seems like the schedulers just put in times that sound good on paper but don’t work in real life.

      8. Oh my gosh, is CT still not providing decent connections? I moved away 6 years ago, I figured this would have been fixed by now. Seriously, how hard is it to design a schedule that works with that train…no wonder everyone drives to Lynnwood.

    3. Bailo is right in the general principal that density should be focused on existing or planned train stations. It’s exceedingly expensive to move the Sounder tracks, so the alternative is to make the best with what we have and build larger neighborhoods around the stations. Except that that doesn’t work for Sounder North because of narrow area between the hillside and the shore.

      We could increase the density on Shilshole Bay — make it like downtown Kirkland — but there’s no way the NIMBYs would allow it. There’s also the question of how a large increase in cars would get to it: they’d have to funnel through Ballard or down the switchbacks at Golden Gardens. They aren’t going to tolerate the switchbacks, so that would mean huge traffic increases in Ballard.

    1. That was my first question – I imagine it could have an impact based on where the train sets are when the mudslide happens. I’m not sure the advantage to potential folks commuting from Everett to points south of Seattle would be worth the risk of decreased reliability for the south line which is working really well as is.

      1. Well, they could just revert the schedule in the event of mudslides couldn’t they, they’d still have the 5 south line trains not going north?

      2. My reading of the suggested schedule is that it’s possible to just turn the first 2 Northbound peak trains around at King Street Station and make it back to Tacoma in time to complete the last peak-direction runs. It will work if North Sounder is shut down. Slides would mean no disruption to South at all.

      3. In the proposed schedule, South equipment never goes north of Seattle.

        It’s possible for up to 2 of the North trainsets to be stuck south of Seattle, but so long as we can find a place to park it, I don’t think that’s much of a problem.

      4. One mitigating factor is that mudslides are often cleared quickly, to maintain freight traffic — it’s just that they’re not allowed to run passengers over the line for an additional 48 hours. This is a BNSF operating rule to try to ensure the ground is stable. Empty passenger trains are allowed, so once the tracks are clear (or if only one track is blocked) trainsets could still deadhead down to Seattle.

  8. This is something I’ve been wishing for in quite a long time. An Everett-Lakewood Sounder trip is just what we need, not so much for compensating for the supposed benefits described above, but for the sake of breaking the mold of having all trains originate or terminate at KSS. While we’re on the subject of Sounder:

    Ideas for Potential New Sounder Stations:
    North Line:
    Pier 70–Provides easy waterfront, Belltown and North CBD connections (especially useful if the city finally decides to re-activate the waterfront streetcar)
    Galer Street–Under the Galer Street overpass.
    Interbay–Under the Dravus Street overpass.
    Ballard–Already under consideration, need I say more?
    Golden Gardens–Yes folks, in the park itself. The park’s parking lot can possibly double as a P&R.
    Carkeek–Same reasons as above.
    Richmond Beach/Shorline–This was under consideration for a while, and can be theoretically executed similarly to the Golden Gardens and Carkeek stations.

    South Line:
    Spokane Street–Under the West Seattle Bridge. Can be used in conjunction with a new Metro Freeway Station/Flyer Stop on the WSB.
    Georgetown–Under the Albro Place overpass or the Argo bridge.
    Boeing (Access Rd)–Although this was cancelled by ST, one can’t deny a three way bus/commuter rail/light rail transfer point, with easy access to Boeing’s HQ, provides benefits.

    This may seem far-fetched in terms of actual station spacing, but similar conditions exist on other commuter rail lines in the country (eat your heart out, CalTrain!).

    1. Carkeek P&R is completely ridiculous. Transit coverage for peak-hour downtown commuters that might drive to Carkeek is good enough that you’d be better off walking to a bus stop than driving all the way down into the park, parking, then walking in many cases just as far to a train platform. That’s mostly true of Golden Gardens, too.

    2. WAAAYYYYY TOOOO MANY STATIONS. This is diesel hauled heavy rail. One north of the tunnel would be very nice with decent bus connections; the south trains should run through the tunnel to it too. And maybe one more farther north maybe in Richmond Beach. Don’t destroy the running time with too many stations serving too few people.

    3. Caltrain is not an example. Or rather, it’s an example of what not to do. Too many stations and you end up with commuter rail that’s slower than driving.

      1. Caltrain is electrifying and upgrading its signal system to increase line capacity to six trains an hour during peak and improve travel time. They’re also buying new EMUs.

        At 50k riders a day, Caltrain’s single line is the highest ridership commuter rail system on the West Coast and ridership is expected to jump after the upgrades. So they’re doing something right.

      2. Upgrading the signal system to provide a theoretical capacity to run 6 trains per hour doesn’t provide money to actually operate 6 trains per hour.

        Outside of rush hour, CalTrain operates once an hour and that’s it. For a corridor that is worthy of 2 freeways totaling a combined 8-10 lanes per direction, a transit frequency no better than once an hour is downright pathetic.

      3. Are those 10-lane freeways jammed during non-peak times? Just because the capacity is there doesn’t mean it’ll be used to capacity 18 hours a day. You build infrastructure to handle peak demand.

        Electrification is going to cut Caltrain’s operating costs significantly, some say in half. That’s where the money for more service will come from.

      4. Yaay, six trains per hour. All day? That would make me drop my insistance for BART to go all around the Bay.

      5. “Electrification is going to cut Caltrain’s operating costs significantly, some say in half. That’s where the money for more service will come from.”

        I’ll believe it when I see it. It may very well cut energy costs to operate the line in half, but it won’t do a thing to reduce labor or equipment costs.

        Then there’s the problem that the CalTrain trains are huge, so if you run them during the off-peak at the headway that produces the capacity to meet demand, once-an-hour is all you get, even if it makes the service very difficult to use. I’m sure more would use it if it ran more frequently, but I very much doubt running the train every 10 minutes would give you 6 times the riders. There are other issues, such as too many station stops along the way, limited walksheds along the suburban stations, and the fact that accessing the part of San Francisco west of downtown via CalTrain is a pain-in-the-ass – it requires a transfer AND a slow bus crawl through downtown AND a substantial amount of backtracking – all of which is avoided if you abandon the train and just drive down 101.

  9. Sounder North is an interesting discussion of ‘buying ridership’.
    On the one hand, adding 10-20% more daily boardings (~100 extra @ Edmonds) to Sounder N will look good on the stats, lowering overall cost per boarding by about $2 each.
    On the other hand, spending an extra $200,000 a year to get them will cost ST about $2,000 per rider per year for the free parking.
    If that’s the going rate now to attract a new rider to transit, I ask the question.
    Would Metro be justified in buying 10% more riders per day (about 38,000) for the additional cost to the system of $76,000,000? If not, why not. (also assuming they didn’t have to add capacity to do it).
    A rider is a rider, is a rider…
    I suppose you could extend the argument even further to existing park n rides, where we have done exactly that. No free parking would mean fewer riders.
    I like the idea of getting better utility by through routing the trains, but wonder how much lipstick it will take to make this pig route a pretty one.

    1. Sound Transit is paying $150/mo for those spaces. An Edmonds rider with a monthly pass pays $126/mo. Each of those riders is costing Sound Transit $24/mo before they even step on the train. So I don’t see any possible way this will help farebox recovery overall.

      So wait, why are we paying $150/mo for parking in Edmonds? Seems like quite a rip-off; you can get monthly parking in the supposedly car-unfriendly fringes of downtown for that price without even shopping around.

      1. I’ve been wondering about that myself. In particular, if parking alone costs more than the train fare, why not do the reverse – make the train fare free, but make people who ride it and want to drive to it pay market price for parking?

      2. Of course the obvious answer to this question is that psychologically, people react more strongly to a charge for parking than a charge for train fares. A $5 parking charge probably has about the same deterrent effect as a $10 train fare. Therefore, subsidizing parking is a more efficient way to spend money than lowering fares because you get a stronger psychological effect for each dollar actually spent.

        I noticed the same effect a few years ago when I was driving to the national zoo with 3 other people in the car. Parking was $12, but admission was free. However, psychologically, $12 for parking felt like a bigger deal than a $3 per person admission charge, even though rationally, it should have been the same thing.

    2. Well, ok, let’s do the napkin math, why not.

      Current $36/boarding is based on 604 round trip commuters per day (151 average load * 4 round trips). Rough total daily cost is $43,488.

      If all 103 new parking spaces result in one boarding each, we’re looking at 707 commuters instead. The added spaces cost about $702/weekday, bumping up the total daily cost to $44,190. That brings the cost per boarding down to $31 (even though we’re paying an extra $6.80/day for every new rider).

      So it does make Sounder North look better on paper, even though it’s still not actually any more sustainable.

      1. I guess that’s how a car dealership can sell cars below cost, but they make up for it in volume. I think I just skimmed those chapters in Econ., so it makes sense.
        The FTA requires economic benefit analysis, and figures perpetual ROW at 40 years. So if we allocate the 1/3 Bil spent over 40 years, that’s $8.9 mil a year, or about the same as annual operating cost.
        So now, when all cost are considered, we’re way North of $50 a boarding, or $100/day.
        My guess is the three Mayors of Snohomish are more interested in owning a big-boy train set than in getting the maximum number of people to ride transit for the limited amount of operating revenue available.

  10. OK, I am going to make another comment on schedule.

    So, thanks to the contract with BNSF, there are four trains one way in the morning, practically chasing each others’ tails, and four trains the other way in the evening, doing the same. With 604 commuters in cars which have at least 136 seats, this requires a total of 5 bilevels and could be handled on a single train each way. But be generous and run two 3-car trains each way on something approximating the current schedules.

    While frequency benefits public transportation, Sounder North is at a “check the schedule and plan around it” frequency already.

    Running four each way on tail-chasing schedules is pretty redundant. But reducing the number of trains per day is not the answer: the answer is running some of the trains at other times of day. Later departures northbound from Seattle are the most obvious gap, followed by a reverse-commute and/or midday trains. All of this is viable within the constraints of four-trains-each-way-per-day — but apparently not within the constraints of the BNSF contract.

    If I had the information on the BNSF contract negotiations I might be able to get a better picture of what happened, but I think Sound Transit ended up with a bad deal. The inherent problems of the route are not bad enough to kill it, but the very limited schedule windows on top of that — well, it’s barely useable for a commute to a 9-5 job in Seattle, and that’s saying something.

    1. Half-hour frequency is not “chasing their tails”. It’s a moderate frequency — better than hourly but less than every ten minutes. The latter is what might be called chasing tails — although we don’t call it that for buses or light rail.

  11. I was thinking of doing a mini-documentary on Sounder North but right now between funding and the fact it seems we’re stuck w/ Sounder North spending bad money after good money for a while… it’s iffy.

    Good blog post.

    1. I would start with some closeups of lawmakers voting to create the Regional Transit Authority (ST) [a good gavel shot], then over to Gov. Lowry signing both that legislation and another interesting piece
      that requires commuter rail to be more cost effective than existing bus service.
      Now you start laying the foundation for why politics and beauty contests have more sway over what the ST board does than using sound transit metrics to decide where limited resources are spent.
      Where’s Frontline when you need them?

  12. Too bad Sound Transit and WSDOT can’t do another bypass like the one in Tacoma-Lakewood.

  13. One more risk with through-routing is that North Sounder gets shut down for a day or two, and the shorter trainsets are stuck in Everett.

    1. … such as yesterday. Until the mudslides cease to be a threat, through-routing risks the South Sounder schedule.

  14. Unfortunately, the stub track at Everett Station currently can’t support any longer trainsets. There is a lot of land though; I’m not sure how difficult it would be to extend, or add a parallel storage track.

  15. There is room at Everett to add a car to each trainset. Also, I am not wealthy but I’ll gladly pay more for the comfort of the train. I travel early to Seattle and return to Everett late so the sceneery is only really a bonus in the brighter summer months.

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