Many of you sent your concerns about the placement of the East Link turn-back track to Sound Transit, prompted by Brent’s recent analysis of the problem. ST sent this thorough reply out to all of you and to us:

On behalf of the Sound Transit Board, CEO, and our staff, I wanted to thank you very much for taking the time to share your thoughts regarding the International District Station’s (IDS) design as it relates to Sound Transit’s light rail system. We greatly appreciate and share your interest in seeing the light rail system as well-designed and well-used as possible.

As background on the issue overall, when the ST2 regional light rail system is fully built out it will be important to be able to efficiently take trains out of service and return to the main operations and maintenance facility (OMF) in the SODO district of Seattle, south of the International District Station (IDS) and the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT). Although the agency is planning to build an additional satellite vehicle storage and maintenance facility, all heavy maintenance will continue to occur at the existing OMF. We expect each light rail vehicle to cycle through the existing facility once a week.

Given this, Sound Transit has spent almost a year analyzing options for the best placement of a “turnback track” to allow trains from the East Link line to be taken out of service and returned to the OMF. The Pioneer Square and University Street stations do not have room to maneuver a four-car train between the platforms (length of switches on one end and room for a four car train), which left Northgate, IDS and Convention Place stations as the best options in terms of operations, construction impacts and cost.

The IDS alternative is superior to the Convention Place and Northgate options in a number of ways such as construction costs, shorter-term construction impacts and long-term/permanent operations. It also minimizes the amount of travel through the DSTT by an empty train and avoids problems such as maneuvering non-working vehicles through an active line and stations while on their way to repair. That’s an important factor because trains will operate every four to five minutes in the DSTT when the ST2 system is fully built out, and any stops, delays, or traffic in this location could delay trains and affect reliability not just at those stations, but across the entire system and all lines that connect with the tunnel.

The idea of converting the existing IDS layout to a center-platform station has indeed been considered and investigated, but the extensive costs and serious disruption to existing services that would be required to reconfigure the station layout effectively took that option off the table several years ago. Essentially, the entire north and south station plaza would need to be rebuilt in order to create and provide the necessary access to and from a center platform (a center platform is required to have the same sort of stairs and elevators to the plaza as the side platforms in order to meet current fire/life/safety regulations). This would require closing the DSTT to all service for several months and would cost exponentially more than the current plans, which we simply do not have funds for.

Leaving IDS as a two-platform station still allows for very easy transfers with multiple escalators and elevators on both platforms, and a short and completely sheltered walk from one side of the plaza to the other. These types of transfers are quite common and work very successfully in larger systems with lines running in multiple directions.

Given all of this, we can appreciate that a center platform would be more convenient for travelers heading south from the east, but the benefits do not outweigh the significant costs, construction, and long-term operational reliability and impacts of such a change.

I do hope this help provide some explanation and context on this topic, and again, we greatly appreciate your input and engagement. Our boardmembers review all input received from citizens such as yourself and will continue to keep your comments in mind as decisions are made on the project. If I can help further in any way, please feel welcome to contact me any time.

Best regards,
Mari Wirta
Correspondence Management Coordinator
Sound Transit

Brent may have a followup on this issue shortly.

134 Replies to “ST Responds to IDS Concerns”

  1. I’d really like to see the study options. There has to be an option that preserves the utility of the center-track turn back, while also allowing for a center transfer platform. I’m sure it is not the cheapest option, but cheapest isn’t always best.

    And this notion that they would need to close the DSTT to add a center platform and/or the turnback is pure bunk. That is a little bit of “over the top” and that makes you distrust everything they are saying.

    1. It’s not “pure bunk”. The tracks in the current tunnel are embedded in a slab of concrete. So, in order to reconfigure the tracks for East Link and the turnback track, the concrete holding the track in place has to be removed (which renders the track unusable) then the rails have to be removed. After that, the new rails and fastening hardware has to be installed. Then, possibly, concrete will have to be repoured to embed the tracks. There have been some plans posted here* showing a total reconfiguration of the tracks south of IDS. It’s not easy or quick work.

      The process to build this sort of track is quite similar to the track building process of the First Hill Streetcar.

      Yes, there are some places that have done serious track replacement work in 48-hours. But they’re not limited in a tunnel with a ton of load-bearing columns everywhere.


      1. Indeed, the turnback track would require a shutdown. However, the center platform wouldn’t.

        I think the economic justifications for putting the turnback at IDS rather than Convention Place or Northgate are simply wrong; poorly thought out.

        Turn the trains back further along, and run them as *revenue trains*; people will appreciate the service and will use it. There is no need to run empty trains.

        Trains would have three possible destination signs heading south: “Redmond”, “Angle Lake”, or “SODO”. Trains going out of service would be heading south signed “SODO”.

      2. Seems like you could kick the buses out, construct a fair portion of the centre platform, then shutdown one track and replace it after one outer platform is removed, replace said track and catenary wires. Expand the centre platform further, construct the new stairs/escalators in tandem, reactivate, then do same for the opposite side, reactivate, and then add in the new elevators. Done. Expensive, sure, but good for the long-term.

      3. It would just be the addition of a center platform and ingress/egress infrastructure – there would be no removal of outer platforms, relocation of track or moving of OCS.

        In operation, the new IDS station would be an “all doors operating” station. You’d want to change the messaging to encourage end-of-trip passengers to exit to the right (outer) and transferring passengers to exit to the left (center), but daily commuters would figure it out pretty darn quick.

        The real “crime” here is that the DSTT isn’t all center platforms already. When Metro designed and built the DSTT they just couldn’t free their minds. If they had just reversed the direction of travel at each end of the tunnel then all buses would travel on the “British side” of the tunnel and their doors would open to the center. This would allow for all center platform stations and the elimination of the outer platforms. This would make for smaller station boxes, smaller excavations, shorter arch spans, fewer stairs/escalators/elevators, etc. Basically much lower construction cost and marginally lower operating costs.

        When the buses got kicked out you wouldn’t need to reverse the travel direction of the trains since they have doors on both sides already.

        But Metro had (has?) a bus mentality, and that means they really believed they needed their center breakdown lane. It never got very much use, but with buses they felt they needed to plan for breakdowns..

        So now we are stuck….but we should bite the bullet at IDS and do it right since it will be a major transfer point.

      1. Because we’ve seen construction projects before. It’s pure bunkum. Specifically, this is pure bunkum:
        “Essentially, the entire north and south station plaza would need to be rebuilt in order to create and provide the necessary access to and from a center platform ”

        Adding an elevator and a staircase can be done in a very narrow spaces. I’ve seen it done at transit stations many, many times. It shouldn’t come anywhere near the east and west platform access.

        It’s certainly *easier and cheaper* to do the construction in a larger space, but I watched the construction of the new Westminster station in London, through the smallest access pit I’ve ever seen.

    2. Cutting concrete for elevator or escalator pits, next to active rail lines is problematic and installing these systems next to active catenary would be excessively dangerous. Doing all the work needed in small windows of time in the wee hours is expensive to have so many starts and stops in a job.

      1. Work like this hardly rises to the level requiring complete shutdown of the DSTT. It’s just not that difficult. There *might* be a need to close the IDS station for a short period of time, but the entire DSTT? No, not required.

        This is why we have professionals – they know how to do things like this.

      2. Work like this hardly rises to the level requiring complete shutdown of the DSTT. It’s just not that difficult.

        How do you propose to run trains on rails that are no longer supported? Let’s hear your magic plan… because magic is what it would take.

        Building an ADA-compliant center platform would require a near-total rebuild of the station, no matter how much you proclaim otherwise. Even building the turnback track, a far simpler project, is going to require one week-long closure and a number of weekend closures. At least that’s what the actual professionals say.

      3. I am a near-professional* who knows how to do these things ;-)

        And it does. Can’t dig too close to an active track without jeopardizing it’s stability, even with retaining structures. The platform edge has to be constructed with less than a inch of tolerance for level boarding, so there can’t be trains whizzing by every 4 minutes. The plaza above has to be modified for escalators and elevators, so there needs to be construction equipment everywhere. And to do any of this work, the electric wire that powers the trains has to be turned off. There are many other factors too, but these are the ones that come to mind right now.

        Having worked on active rail lines before, it’s a damn difficult task to orchestrate construction machinery and trains. Safety is a big deal since people can easily get injured or even killed if things aren’t done right. It’s just easier to remove the trains to get anything done. Look at Chicago’s Red Line rehab. Either 5 months of total shutdown, or 4 years of weekend work. Consider a quick read:

        *Can’t legally call myself a professional, yet.

      4. I speak from experience on this – it can be done, and it isn’t necessarily that hard.

        If would be very easy to add the center platform and build access/egress without any significant disruption to operations. I’m not saying that you *might* not have to endure a weekend closure here or there, or that you *might* not have selective closures of the IDS station, but certainly it wouldn’t take any long term disruption to total DSTT operations.

        It all depends on where the turn back track goes, and doing that well could get costly. But it is doable.

        Maybe I’ll head down to ST on Monday and see what I can learn.

      5. I’ve seen this done in other places. Lazarus is correct about the difficulty of center platform construction, Mike B. is basically wrong.

        It’s certainly easier and cheaper for the construction companies if they can sprawl out over lots of space and shut everything down. But if they’re told that they can’t do so… there are standard methods of building a platform, with elevators and stairs, next to an active railway line. It’s done *all the time* on subway systems *all over the world*.

    3. The DSTT is already going to be closed for major track work (adding a turnback). Might as well build a platform while they are down there.

      In order to improve the movement of East Link vehicles to the Operation and Maintenance Facility (OMF) at SODO and operational flexibility in general Sound Transit staff have sent to the Board a proposed Contract Amendment to the East Link Final Design calling for a turnback track at International District/Chinatown Station. The work is to take place in 2019 and will require the closure of the DSTT for 10 weekends and one whole week.

  2. Though I also would have been happier with a center platform, I don’t feel this is a critical fight. I have used a number of stations where I had to get out, climb stairs/escalators and cross the platform to get to the right train. Its pretty common in major transit systems.

    Their point about needing quick transfers for trains going down to maintenance yard make sense to me, but I’m not an engineer so maybe you guys know something I don’t.

    Personally I would rather focus my energy on getting more of these lines built more quickly than spend my time arguing about how they should rebuild existing stations. Let’s get the ridership first so there would be more public support around station rebuilds.

    1. Yes to more lines more quickly.
      Anyone want to guess who will win the great race in Seattle – Link to Northgate, or the worlds largest TBM going to Seattle Center.
      The smart money is betting Bertha isn’t much good for more than the 6.5 inches per day it’s now doing.

      1. It’s managing that? I thought there was a p*ssing match going on between the Teamsters and the Longshoremen that had shut it down completely.

    2. Charles B, I’m with you. If there is an operationally sound and not-too-expensive way to avoid having the turnback track in IDS and build a center platform, then let’s do it. But this isn’t something, in my mind, that warrants dying on a hill or spending tens of millions. I’d be more worked up if we were building IDS from scratch and a center platform weren’t planned, but installing a center platform after the fact has the potential to cost a whole lot of money which I’d rather be used to dig a few more feet of tunnel under Belltown and Queen Anne.

      1. This is a very reasonable, and almost completely uinsurprising letter. While a cross platform interchange between East to South would have been nice, the proposed interchange is just fine. In a completely new build it could be viewed as a mistake, but it’s very comparable to what tends to be done worldwide when dealing with legacy infrastructure. ST’s planners advance plausible arguments to support the position that placing a center platform at IDS would require a complete rebuild of the station. Given the projected volumes at this station, and especially for the facilitated interchange, I think it would be fair to characterize building a center platform as goldplating.

        People have also suggested that a center platform might be useful for large events or for Spanish style boarding. I am of the opinion that any cheap center platform would be too narrow for either use. In particular, two sided boarding is only really useful when a station has significant passenger turnover and one is trying to improve on 2:30 headways. As such, the center platform would need to be able accomodate a minimum of a crush loaded trainload of passengers while still being usable.

        In addition, unfortunately, a center platform would make an operationally important turnback facility at the IDS station impossible. It appears that ST have considered numerous other options, and found them operationally inferior. Given the number of regular moves that ST seem to expect to need, I’m inclined to agree.

        I’ve spent some time thinking about alternatives, and, given that Pioneer Square is too short, the only acceptable option I’ve been able to come up with would be passenger rated bidirectional signalling between IDS and Stadium/SODO and a scissors crossover somewhere south of the East Link divergence in this section.

        I do wonder if it would be possible to have trains run in service via reversal in the turnback siding to provide a poor-man’s East to South chord. The biggest problem, I suspect is going to be that doing so steals a train from the North end of the line.

    3. Hi Charles,

      The reason why this is an important issue to resolve now is that the window of opportunity to build a center platform will close in 2019, and perhaps much sooner due to lead time for engineering etc. There are many important things we push for here, that we’ll still be pushing for 10 years from now, but will still be achievable. One way or another, the IDS center platform won’t be on that list.

      We’re not asking for a station rebuild that isn’t already happening. Barring a nuclear war or an Eyman initiative to defund all transit projects already approved by voters, IDS will be closed for a while to redo the tracks south of the station. There will also be major work inside the station. We just want it to be different major work. Plus, from the time IDS is shut down until East Link opens — a period of four years — the 550 and all other eastside I-90 buses will be running on the regular bridges all the time. Anything that is going to be done to renovate IDS needs to happen when it is closed in 2019. We won’t get another shot at this.

      Yes, there has to be a way to get out-of-service trains out of the way of the in-service trains quickly. IDS, Convention Place, and Northgate all work for that purpose. IDS works a little better for that purpose for some scenarios. Convention Place and Northgate each work better for other scenarios. The IDS turnback is particularly useless if a northbound train gets disabled inside the DSTT, in which case we’ll be wishing we had built the turn-back at Convention Place, in order to get that train out of the way as quickly as possible. If getting trains out of the way is the paramount operational concern, then ST needs to find the money to also build the IDS and Northgate turn-backs, even if it means adding them to ST3 or lobbying for a federal grant. BTW, the clock may also be ticking on our ability to ever build turn-backs at Convention Place and Northgate.

      1. Though I agree that normally the time to do this kind of thing would be before they lay the tracks, I am more concerned that spending the not insignificant amount of money required to do as you wish will deplete the limited resources we have to finish the current lines and make a useful system that will actually get more people riding transit in the first place.

        An idea transfer at IDS would be great if it were affordable, but I am afraid it would be a full station reconstruction (not just track realignment). We can’t ignore the ADA concerns, because people will end up getting stuck on the center platform and will need a way to get off (imagine a mobility constrained tourist accidentally getting off there and having to wait for a train to get back out — this will happen at some point and the city would be sued over it if someone got injured trying to escape an orphaned platform with no elevators).

        I think the discussion about rebuilding this station actually needs to happen several years down the line after we already have two to three more transit lines running through the city and can afford to tear down and rebuild IDS (it will happen at some point — probably when we want to put faster intercity rail in). In the mean time we will just have to put up with crossing over the courtyard for transfers. Its not a big deal, I did this all the time in Tokyo. It will be a bother, but compared to having to find a place to park a car or transfer between buses, it will be a minor inconvenience.

        Missing a transfer will also be a lesser concern when the frequency of trains go up.

        To me the bigger issue with east link is not this station but the quality and placement of stations on the east side itself. I would rather wait to see how many people are actually going to use the east side connection before we invest all the money in rebuilding IDS for making east side transfers easier. Those funds could be better used to have a more complete system downtown to make downtown a more attractive train destination (not just the airport).

      2. There will be a turnback at Northgate because East Link trains will be terminating at Northgate off-peak.

      3. Hi Mike,

        Yes, there will be a turn-back at Northgate. What I meant is that there won’t be a turn-back *track* at Northgate — just a crossover between two tracks that will eventually continue to Lynnwood.

        Similarly, there could be a turn-back in Pioneer Square Station, University Street Station, and/or Westlake Station, but it would be a crossover, not a turn-back track. There might be safety reasons not to do this, and I hope that someone at ST can give a definitive explanation if such crossovers would be unsafe, and why the crossover at Northgate won’t have the same functionality as a turn-back track.

      4. @Mike Orr

        Will that be the same turn back they will be using for all trains as they build north link up to Lynnwood?

        Also, won’t there be some kind of turn back at the UW Stadium station since the line will terminate there from 2016 til 2021?

      5. A turnback track is one track with a junction to two lines. Train goes in, changes direction, switch is thrown, train goes out.

        A crossover is a junction between two tracks. No third track involved.

      6. Brick:
        I think the answer is that they don’t want a train tying up (blocking) a tunnel track for the period of time it takes to change direction. The operator has to physically get out and walk to the other end of the (4-car) train. And if it’s a train having mechanical difficulties, it could take even longer to change direction.

      7. “I think the answer is that they don’t want a train tying up (blocking) a tunnel track for the period of time it takes to change direction. The operator has to physically get out and walk to the other end of the (4-car) train. And if it’s a train having mechanical difficulties, it could take even longer to change direction.”

        I’m suspecting there is more to the plan than that. Is ATU cool with having operators step out between the turn-back track and one of the active tracks (where, in theory, nobody is supposed to be off the platform), and walking 400 feet between the tracks?

        This is one safety consideration where Convention Place outscores IDS: There would be no active tracks alongside the turn-back track.

        Thanks for bringing this up. I’ll try to get an answer from ST.

      8. Brent: Presumably there will be a narrow platform on one side or the other of the turnback track. The “passing lane” in the tunnel looks wide enough to my untrained eye to allow for both a track and a walkway. There’s a similar tiny platform alongside the elevated tracks near the SODO OMF, where there are occasional operator changes (but no direction changes, so that platform is short)

    4. “Their point about needing quick transfers for trains going down to maintenance yard make sense to me,”

      It doesn’t make sense, and the reason it doesn’t make sense is this: why are the trains going out of service when heading NORTH from East Link? That’s an insane operational practice. Most of the people coming from the east are heading further north than IDS.

      By contrast, it’s perfectly reasonable to run trains from Northgate to IDS and go out of service after SODO. This fits actual traffic patterns.

      All trains should come into service at SODO heading north, and should go out of service at SODO heading south. Once you realize this, the claims that the turnback needs to be located in IDS make no sense.

      1. How are you proposing to get trains from East Link to the OMF if the only way into the OMF is heading north? Are you gonna run a train from the eastside all the way to Northgate, then send it all the way down to SODO, and _then_ into the OMF?

      2. Kyle: Yes, of course I am. Run them as revenue trains, and such trains would be quite popular. That should account for the majority of moves.

        Organization first, before concrete.

        For the minority of obscure overnight moves of crippled cars, it’s OK to put in switches which block both main tracks, and those will really fit *anywhere*.

      3. Your scheme ties the last revenue train on the Eastside to the closing time of service on the Northgate line.

      4. @Kyle,

        Not really, it recognizes the reality the North Link is going to have more service later than East Link.

      5. why are the trains going out of service when heading NORTH from East Link? That’s an insane operational practice. Most of the people coming from the east are heading further north than IDS.

        We’re not dealing with trains going out of service in this movement. The majority of East Link trains going out of service will not be going to the SODO facility, they’ll be going to the new Eastside facility.

        This turnback is primarily for trains being moved between the two facilities for repairs or “heavy” maintenance that the eastside base will not be equipped to handle.

      6. “This turnback is primarily for trains being moved between the two facilities for repairs or “heavy” maintenance that the eastside base will not be equipped to handle.”

        For something that rare, which will be done *only* overnight, a crossover which blocks the main tracks is fine, and it could be put in any of the stations, contra Sound Transit’s claims. It would fit in University St. station.

  3. Seems like a pretty reasonable and logical response from Sound Transit. Although, I don’t really understand why Sound Transit has the requirement of turning a non-revenue train during peak periods when revenue trains are running every 4 minutes. As their own response states, it would increase the operational risk to Link if such a train was roaming around in the Tunnel, so why have that requirement at all? Wouldn’t sending an out-of-service train, possibly with a broken vehicle, between OMF’s at peak be equally risky to the entire system? Why not make all such moves at, say, 5am, noon, or 11pm? If they did, ST could just any standard crossover, like the existing one at Pine Street.

    1. I don’t understand their reasoning either, regular maintenance should be able to be scheduled so that trains can be moved at night or early morning, and emergency maintenance shouldn’t happen that frequently.

      1. Most emergency moves are “get this off the main track” moves and the train will be left at the nearest siding indefinitely. Given that Link does shut down, emergency moves of these broken trains to the maintenance base should not be done while the system is operating.

      2. Since the trains run on electricity from the catenary, they can only move while the system is electrified. In practice, that means moving them at some point during operational hours. But there are certainly plenty of options to avoid doing it during peak. But, consider that personnel have to get back to the base, or come from the base, and not just sit there all night waiting for the white light, long after their shift has ended.

    2. the purpose is for unplanned breakdowns / mechanical issues … you cannot schedule those in advance.

      1. Given that they are building a base on the Eastside, I don’t see that as a reason to move a train from East Link to the Forest Street OMF during peak hours.

      2. That’s clearly not the purpose, since they expect every car, coupled in a 4-car train, to do it once a week. There’s no way the unexpected breakdown rate is that high. This is for weekly scheduled maintenance.

      3. What David said.

        The intention, as clearly expressed in ST’s statement above, is to routinely move trains from East Link through the OMF in the middle of revenue hours.

        Which doesn’t make one single lick of sense, and which, like so many things ST does, is tantamount to chasing an industry worst practice.

      4. The scheduled “heavy” maintenance at the SODO facility can be accomplished with moves outside of peak hours, but I doubt they’ll do it overnight or anything so aggressively out-of-the-way. Probably midday, between AM and PM peak, where they can easily extend a part-time operator’s shift to include the move. This gets it out of the way of the peak time tunnel congestion, but you’re still not going to want to be blocking a platform for 5 minutes while you change directions.

        Repairs however, can’t be scheduled. They can be required at any time, and Link isn’t exactly bristling with convenient sidings to stick a dead train on.

      5. Other than breakdowns, I don’t think ST wants to have deadhead train movements from base to base just for maintenance. Rather, the operational algorithm would be designed to have each train end up at the SODO O&MF multiple times a week. (Indeed, it would be hard to design an algorithm that doesn’t achieve this result, given that a majority of the trains will be stored at SODO.)

        The turn-back would be to put East Link trains into service from SODO, and to take deadheading trains from East Link out of service. Assuming the East Base doesn’t get built, that turn-back would get used a few dozen times a day, with the heaviest use happening, of necessity, at start of service, at the beginning of AM Peak, at the end of AM peak, at the beginning of PM peak, at the end of PM peak, and then spread out throughout the evening as headway is reduced. The times the turn-back would get used are very predictable. Except for emergencies, THE TURN-BACK TRACK WILL NOT GET USED RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF PEAK. (Sorry for the all caps. I don’t know how to bold on this blog.)

      6. Brent: to get bold type “ bold ” without the spaces. Also italics and strikethrough. The old interface had help text for this, but it still works.

  4. The lack of foresight in creating a center platform for south-to-east train-to-train transfers for a system plan conceived decades ago, combined with the institutional resistance to fixing past mistakes would be astounding if we weren’t also doing a consistently wretched job on intermodal transfers at the existing Mount Baker and Sea-Tac Airport stations, the under-construction UW station and the planned downtown Bellevue station. The First Hill streetcar stations dutifully avoid adjacency to both IDS and King Street station. All of these involve street crossings, in some cases, multiple busy street crossings. The number of poor connections in the system is great enough that it’s likely many people will have a lousy experience on each end of the trip, in both directions.

    My conclusion is that Sound Transit as an institution simply does not care about anyone’s time or convenience. It may be a different argument in each case, with all sorts of justifications, but the pattern is abundantly clear. At least they are consistent about it.

    1. On the Streetcar’s lack of adjacency, note Jackson between 3rd Ave S and 5th Ave S is all on structure and therefor might not be capable of supporting the added weight of a station. I’ve heard the structure underneath is being retrofitted for the additional streetcar and track weight. At Cap Hill, the Streetcar will terminate directly in front of a station entrance.

      1. The last part is categorically untrue.

        The Cap Hill streetcar platform was laid two weeks ago. It is 50 or 60 feet from the southernmost station entrance, 250 feet from the actual station box, and 400 feet from the nearest point on the subway platform. It is a whopping 700 feet from east-west bus transfers on Olive.

        The most stunning revelation is that this “mid-Broadway” streetcar terminus is actually closer to Pine than to the cross street it claims to serve!

      2. “note Jackson between 3rd Ave S and 5th Ave S is all on structure”
        I have read that that section of bridge under Jackson needs to be rebuilt anyway. It can be rebuilt to carry a station. A station is not a heavy object compared to track and streetcar.

      3. @ d.p, alright, my bad. It is 60 feet off. I haven’t been up there for a while. It is a shame that it had to be build so far from Olive. Maybe when the Aloha Extension goes in the platforms could be reconfigured to be closer to Olive. It certainly would be worth fighting for.

        @Nathanael, my best guess is there isn’t enough money to rebuild them despite being badly needed. As for the weight of a station, my back-of-napkin calculation is 80 tons just for the concrete slab. 100′ long, 1′ thick, 10′ wide, which needs roughly 40 CY of concrete, and concrete weights roughly 4000lb/CY. A streetcar weighs 30 tons and a bendy bus is about 15 tons. That’s a significant amount of additional weight.

      4. The slab is basically equivalent to the existing asphalt road surface. It’s not meaningful weight.

      5. To make this more clear: if there seems to be some problem due to extra thickness, the slab can be built up on structure, leaving a void at the height of the existing roadway. A platform can always weigh less than a road way.

    2. “My conclusion is that Sound Transit as an institution simply does not care about anyone’s time or convenience. It may be a different argument in each case, with all sorts of justifications, but the pattern is abundantly clear. At least they are consistent about it.”

      It is pretty consistent, isn’t it. Transfers are made wretched and any excuse whatsoever is used to keep them wretched.

      It’s a very bizarre attitude.

      1. Not to drift too far off topic, but for those who simply trust staff’s decisions without doing due diligence (and I see way too much overconfidence in not doing due diligence in some of the comments on this post), consider how building Tukwila Sounder Station too far north reflected catering to a few dozen park&riders at the expense of adding several more minutes to the commutes of thousand of daily F Line riders. The park&ride could have been rebuilt further south, and saved a few minutes for all the park&riders, in addition to saving twice as much time for every F Line rider. Someone was asleep at the wheel in this process. (Perhaps it was me, but should each of us really have to study all the blueprints for every element of every station, to find out if some terrible blunder is being made?) I fear that the F Line will forever be crinked, and nobody will step up to retrofit the station to enable bus pick-ups on the arterial without a several-minute pull-off stop.

      2. We can save several minutes of people’s time on the F-line today, with the parking lot we have. The distance between the platform and the street is not too big to ask people to walk. There is already a signalized crosswalk to get across the street. Depending on how full the parking lot is, even people who drive to the station may still have to cross the street to get to and from their car.

    3. I think you’re on to something, Jonathan and Nathanael. I usually attribute it to Sound Transit culture is still more in “builder” mode rather than “operator” mode when it comes to rail. I share your frustration.

      I view IDS as Seattle’s main hub. If it isn’t done right, then the entire system suffers.

      The tragic thing about it is that that ST3 will need to include things in Central Seattle or many of the existing residents won’t embrace an expansion plan. This fix is an opportunity to add a Central Seattle project that will be perceived as a benefit to people in Seattle, Mercer Island and Bellevue. That could even make the difference in a referendum.

  5. I hope that ST/KCM better maintain their elevators and escalators much better at the stations, if they are forcing people to go up and down at IDS (seems that something is out of service, went to Westlake station on Sunday, one elevator and one escalator was out of service). I can see their point about providing fire and safety access for the center platform, though in a real emergency, people would simply cross the roadway to get out (thank goodness for no third “electrified” rail here), the issue would be people in wheelchairs.

    1. @Warren: I have to agree with you on this. It seems like they have a full time crew working on the escalators at the University Street station.

    2. The problem isn’t “real” emergencies, it’s someone getting trapped there unexpectedly, panicking, and doing something stupid.

      1. +1

        This is one of the many reasons why we can’t just build a center platform without access to escalators and elevators.

  6. I wrote to ST saying that if a center platform is off the table, it should provide alternate mitigation to improve train-to-train transfers. This should be at minimum “down” escalators, and also consider an inter-platform crosswalk, faster elevators, or something. (In my science-fiction vision, a lift on a semicircular track arching over the trains from one platform to another.) The time it takes to go up and back down is enough to sometimes miss your connection, and having to go down stairs in the middle of a transfer makes the station seem incomplete and corner-cutting. (The lack of “down” escalators in all DSTT stations also looks like corner-cutting, but it’s worse if you’re transferring than if you’re originating at the station.)

    1. Won’t frequency be way up by the time east link is open anyway? I would think that missing your connection wouldn’t be that big of a deal if there is another train coming within 7 minutes or so…

      1. Actually, when ST talks about a train coming every 4-5 minutes, they mean every 8-10 minutes from East Link and every 8-10 minutes from South Link. So, no, frequency on the train a transferer is deboarding and frequency on the train a transferer is boarding won’t increase beyond today’s peak frequencies in our lifetime. (And failure to look at dwell time issues will help ensure that frequency can’t increase, even if there is demand for it.)

        BTW, the 550 has just moved to 5-minute peak headway, as of the new pick. ST may actually have underestimated eventual East Link peak ridership, just as they underestimated eventual 550 peak ridership when they negotiated the joint-use agreement. Mic has it backwards. Underestimating ridership creates more problems than overestimating ridership does.

      2. To be clear, 4-5 minutes (or even down to 2) refers to the overlapping segment from Intl Dist to Northgate where ridership will be highest. These are precisely the riders who won’t care about the up-and-down-again transfer because they’ll have a one-seat ride to everywhere anyway. The riders who do care about the up-and-down-again transfer are the ones who will be caught by this 10-minute frequency. AFAIK the south segment is already at its final frequency (7-8 min peak, 10 min off peak, 15 min after 10pm), and the east segment will probably have the same frequency. “Final” until/if ST has to deal with overcrowding, of course.

    2. Isn’t the lack of escalators pretty typical of late 70’s early 80’s thinking on when you ought to take the stairs: two floors down, one floor up

      1. That wasn’t cited at the time. And there’s an interesting difference between the street escalators at Westlake and the platform escalators. The street escalators go both ways even though some of them are laughably short. That seems to be because they’re also used for department-store access, and shoppers expect two-way escalators or they’ll take their money elsewhere. But the platform escalators are one-way, as they are throughout the DSTT, because transit riders aren’t important enough to build a complete station for as other cities do.

    3. I agree Mike. The DSTT stations need down escalators!

      People that study mobility needs of older Americans know that it can be harder to go down stairs than to go up them. Down escalators are common to almost every new light rail and heavy rail transit stations built in other cities since 1970.

      1. People that cannot manage the stairs can use the elevator. Personally, I prefer using the stairs both up and down, just because it’s faster. I wouldn’t want ST to install a down escalator if it meant taking out the stairs.

      2. Instill a “stand on the right, walk on the left” culture and install only escalators wide enough for two lanes, so that an escalator is also a staircase. Apparently Taipei does this with hefty fines, and Nordic countries manage with cultural conformity pressures alone.

      3. The “stand on the right” culture seems to be 100% in London and 50% in Washington DC. But to instill that culture in a place that has never had it is not as easy or as quick as snapping your fingers. I haven’t seen the stand-on-the-right culture strong anywhere on the west coast.

        And the escalators are two-person except where the space is too narrow; i.e., Pioneer Square 3rd Ave entrance and Convention Place station. In fact, the first time I saw these 1-person escalators I couldn’t believe it because I’d never seen escalators like that before.

      4. Just a little more comment on the escalator/elevator issue:
        There will be more riders on Link, and if IDS is the transfer point, there will be hundreds if not thousands of new people making transfers every day. You can’t base the escalator need merely on existing usage.
        Using the elevator is a very time consuming process. If you miss the elevator, it may take up to 2 minutes to reach the platform.
        There will be people with luggage, strollers, walkers little kids in tow as well as wheelchairs.
        Finally, if there are at least 6 to 8 transferring passengers (maybe less with luggage), it’s likely that the elevator will “fill up” in the upward direction and riders will have to wait two trips.

  7. I will say this: Sound Transit’s claims would make sense only if they intended to operate Link 24 hours a day. Do they plan to do that? That would be exciting news.

    1. By the way, the entire announcment — full of nonsense and holes — smells of “Decide, Announce, Defend” behavior.

    2. 24-hour service is in ST’s long-range plan, but there’s no date for it, and it’s lower priority than the next round of extensions and lines.

  8. OK.

    So it seems that they are pretty fixed on placing the turnback track at IDS … and they don’t like my (and others) idea of using CPS for it.

    Since that means that we cannot have a center platform at IDS … can we ask them to build one at Pioneer Sq? That station should be much easier to add stairs/elevators at the two opposite mezzanines … and since they have to shut down the tunnel anyway for the turnback track and for reconfiguring the south-end approach tracks for connecting East Link … then they could build the new platform at the same time.

    Would y’all be amenable to that solution?

      1. I agree that only a cost effective solution would be worth doing. I am not sure that a one million dollar figure is realistic though given all of the ADA concerns with a center platform (they will still need elevators at a minimum in the middle platform).

        It would at least give me a reason to use the pioneer square station though… I have never had a reason to get off there even once so far.

      2. okay… I admit that “but only if it’s less than a million” might as well be “no”, but I think it’s worthwhile for people to be a little more specific than “only cost effective”.

        From some of the rhetoric I’ve seen here, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were people that were willing to spend 9 digits on this, and I’d be curious to hear their justifications.

      3. @William Aitken

        I am not of the camp that we absolutely need this, but if we can do it for the low millions and it will actually get used I might be ok with it. Over 10 million though and limited to no likelihood that it will be used would be a titanic waste of money.

        I am concerned that if we put the transfer point up at Pioneer square when people actually get out at IDS to transfer instead it will be a wasted space. If the transfers are timed for Pioneer square though it might work.

        I know when I would ride lines with an express they would tell the riders in advance which station they would be meeting the express at, and that is the station you transferred at. If the trains come frequently enough to make timing irrelevant though, it might not be worth building the center platform at all.

        Lack of actual data here makes it difficult to decide really.

        The nice part of thinking about a pioneer square option though is that you might be able to build that at a later date after knowing what the transfer patterns are. The drawback of course is that the tunnel will be quite full by then and it will be even more painful to shut it down for the construction effort….

    1. A center platform would be useless at pioneer square. It only makes sense at stations immediately after the lines merge, because those are the only places it makes sense to transfer between directions.

      The twin mezzanines would make exits totally doable, though, but the width of the bus tunnel’s center lane might not be enough for an acceptable platform.

  9. I just timed walking from the center of one platform to the center of the other platform at IDS. I used the escalator going up, and stood, not climbed, and walked at a leisurly pace. Less than 2 minutes. Since buses will be out of the DST by then, all transfers will be to the Southbound link. If we are looking at 4-5 minute frequency, as someone stated, why spend millions to go to a center platform. I agree that it would be better, but really? Don’t we have better uses for our tax dollars? Parking?

    1. +1 except for the parking bit. We should use extra money to build the center line faster if we can.

    2. There is no “4-5 minute frequency” on whichever line you actually need.

      ST anticipates pretty much never garnering the demand for better than 9-minute peak headways to the Eastside. 10 minutes is the presumed standard on each line until 10pm.

      Missing a connection that comes again ten minutes later isn’t the end of the world, but when it happens unnecessarily and you know a better station design could have prevented it, it still sucks and it still suggests an agency that doesn’t value your time or convenience.

      1. Coordinating train arrivals (where possible) or at least letting riders know on the train they are riding how much time they have to catch that train would probably help alleviate some of this.

        Extra elevators and/or escalators at IDS might be a good idea too.

        Holding the transferring train until people cross might seem like a good idea for those transferring, but I suspect it would slow down the whole system, and would not be worthwhile. The could probably do construction on things like these while the station is still in full operation too.

      2. Is a level crosswalk really that infeasible. There will be plenty of gaps between trains long enough to cross the tracks, especially off-peak.

      3. asdf: There is a level crosswalk across tracks, underground, at Boston’s Park Street Station. There used to be a LOT of crosswalks across the tracks (there are a lot of tracks there), but it’s been reduced to one.

        Level crossings underground can be pretty scary to use becuase you can’t really see whether a train is coming (due to the tunnel). Having used them in Boston as a kid, I would say that they are not a good idea.

  10. I really hate “no we can’t do that” summary responses. Anything can be fixed with enough money. Sound Transit should really be answering this question: “How much would it cost to redesign IDS area for a South to East transfer platform?”

    1. Yeah, and while they’re at it they should be busy planting money trees so that the harvest will be there when the time comes to pay for it.

      1. This isn’t the same as Ben drawing fifteen lines on a map and screaming “build it all!”

        This is about having a line-item-level understanding of the cost tradeoffs inherent in designing for passenger convenience, designing for ideal operating conditions, or designing for both… versus designing for lesser ideals like grandiose ceilings and football-field mezzanines, or designing for middling transit outcomes at all levels.

        I can’t think of a better location to be doing such analysis than the only confirmed transfer point in the nascent system. Seeing such tangible line-item figures could even lead to a culture of making better choices down the line.

      2. @d.p. You’re right, and I apologize for being so snarky. What you suggest is a much more reasonable interpretation of what Al S. than the one I obviously made.

        I’m not really a big fan of our public comment process, it spends way to much effort worrying about the effects on paraplegic lesbians, and not enough on bona fide transit issues, and is way to prone to turn into a stage for whoever holds their breath longest. Nor do I have much faith in our board to make good technical decisions. Still, what you propose is probably useful.

      3. No worries. You may have noticed that I occasionally snark on this blog myself.

        But only occasionally.

    2. Their response indicates they have that answer (or had it at one point in time), and deemed the cost too prohibitive.

      1. If they have the answer, why not disclose a ballpark cost? The public deserves to know.

        It’s much tougher to have a valid discussion on the merits without ballpark costs.

  11. General question, folks. ST says that Pioneer Square is too short to accommodate a full four car train and the cross-overs to it from the through tracks. I expect they know what they’re talking about.

    However, by definition Pioneer Square is long enough for a center platform, isn’t it? Why not modify it with a center platform during the time that IDS is closed for the track re-configuration. There’s no need for escalators, just a set of stairs at one end and an ADA elevator at the other.

    Surely if the platform were constructed mostly at night those final amenities could be added during the time that the overhead is deactivated for the track realignment.

    It’s less than three minutes from arrival at IDS to arrival at Pioneer Square.

    Is this a possible “win-win” solution?

      1. This really isn’t a bad idea, if it’s not too costly. That said, I doubt I’d ever use it: it’s hard to see any circumstance where it gets me a better train than just changing at IDS. That said, it might be useful to the mobility impaired or those with heavy luggage (an important use case).

        I’m probably more tolerant of situations like this than most though. I used to think very little about changing Jubilee to Piccadilly (and this was before the new passageway) at Green Park on the way to or from Heathrow. And I was _not_ travelling light.

  12. “The idea of converting the existing IDS layout to a center-platform station has indeed been considered and investigated, but the extensive costs and serious disruption to existing services that would be required to reconfigure the station layout effectively took that option off the table several years ago.”

    Did nobody else catch that they are talking about the cost of tearing out the side platforms and converting IDS to a center-platform-only station?

    Furthermore, it is evident that they did not revisit the question seriously when we started bringing up the idea of adding a center platform.

    1. Brent, I see no evidence from that letter that they are referring to converting IDS entirely to a center platform.

    2. To meet current safety regs, the center platform would have to be designed to the same standards no matter if the side platforms are there or not.

      I believe that this might require a wider center platform than the bus tunnel’s “passing lane” will allow, so one or both tracks would need to be moved outward, necessitating at least a partial removal of the platform(s).

      And then, since the center platform has to be designed to handle the entire load anyway, why even bother rebuilding the outer platform?

      1. The purpose of a center platform isn’t just for ease of transfer. It is also to reduce dwell time. Converting from two outer platforms to a center platform would probably be a step backward in that regard.

    3. Reading through the letter again it does sound as if they are talking about converting the station from side platform to center platform, not just adding a center platform.

      1. Are they seriously [ah]? We’ve said repeatedly that we’re referring to ADDING a center platform.

        This has all kinds of advantages including *redundancy* — in future, either the center platforms *or* the side platforms can be closed for construction while maintaining service.

        And the [ah] at Sound Transit can’t even figure out what we’re suggesting? Seriously?

  13. I think the best path forward is to convince the Board to direct staff to come up with multiple scenarious for building one or more turn-back tracks (or something that has the same or better functionality) somewhere other than IDS, with cost estimates, cost out what it would take to build the IDS center platform, and let the public weigh in. If the cost is too high, so be it.

    Regardless, I’d like to see that price tag on the Convention Place turn-back track, even if the IDS one is built, as the operational benefits of adding that turn-back are substantial.

    1. I agree with your recommendations, Brent. I don’t understand why there isn’t a comprehensive study of the DSTT operations underway, considering the billions we are spending on East Link and North Link.

  14. I agree with Sound Transit. We should place short-term cost and disruption over long-term quality. Compromising and getting mediocrity is better than disrupting people and spending a little more and getting excellence.

  15. One minor correction on an oft-repeated assumption here: One stairwell, one elevator, and one escalator suffice for the federal requirements. You’ll notice at several of the elevated and below-grade platforms that that is all that was built. I can easily envision the IDS center platform having an elevator at the north end, and fanning out to have a stairwell and an escalor at the south end. (If I were a legislator writing laws about long transit platforms, I would probably require two stairwells, in case of fire, but that’s not the requirement.)

    That said, having one elevator for a platform is asking for trouble, as we’ve seen with elevator breakdowns at some of our one-elevator platforms. If it is not too much trouble, having an elevator in the fan-out area on the south, followed by a an escalator and a stairwell side by side, should be a workable floor plan. A narrower stairwell could also be built toward the north end, or even mid-platform, blocking only half the platform, with railings to keep people from being pushed off the platform at that spot. I’d only see use for a second escalator if the platform were to be used for egress, and not just transfers, but spacing it out along the platform would still be doable, given over 400 feet to work with. They would have to be placed somewhere that won’t be adjacent to train doors, of course.

    1. That gets you Federal requirements (i.e. the ADA). Would it also fly with the Seattle Fire Department who presumably have to sign off too? I’m a little dubious that safe egress can be built on a platform of that width except at the ends. In particular, fire codes tend to frown on ultra narrow stairways, while ADA requirements are going to impose a minimum width on elevators. But admit that I don’t have a great eye for width.

      1. Correction: I was at Mt Baker Station today, and realized that it does indeed have an emergency stair exit at the north end of each platform.

      2. I don’t know how wide the pair of center lanes is at IDS, but I’d assume a minimum of 16 feet.

        Minimum elevator width is 36 inches (clear through the doro), which probably comes out to 4 feet for the shaft. Minimum stairway widith is much the same. So there’s plenty of room for a stairway and an elevator at EACH end of the platform. There might be trouble dropping the stairways and elevators in the MIDDLE of the platform (because you also need several feet clear on either side of them to maneuver around them) but on the ENDS of the platform there’s PLENTY of room.

  16. There seems to be a misconception that ST are saying that we can’t have the center platform because they need the space for a turn back siding. But that isn’t the case. The need for the turn back siding seems to have been a late breaking realization — otherwise it really ought not to need an amendment at this late stage. But the decision not to build a center platform because it would be too costly was made years ago. What the letter in effect is saying is that since it’s been decided that building a center platform isn’t going to happen, there isn’t a whole lot of point in planning the turn back facility to accommodate it.

    If the center platform weren’t an issue, after thinking things over, and reading others’ comments, I’m of the opinion that the pocket siding is a little bit overdesigned (perhaps modulo the possibility of there being no train storage on the Eastside), but that monetarily it isn’t that big a deal. Again ignoring the center platform, I don’t think turning trains here is obviously stupid [although I agree that the letter seems to make the claim that they want to be able to do so in the peak, which is stupid]

    1. “But the decision not to build a center platform because it would be too costly was made years ago.”

      Yeah. So how much will it cost? I’m guessing a maximum $3 million based on other projects in the US. Sound Tranist just spent a million dollars on concrete barriers to keep cars from driving into the tunnel.

      I think Sound Transit is being disingenuous.

  17. I’ve just read over these comments and formed a conclusion: Sound Transit is afraid to level with the public because of criticism of Sound Transit’s previous screw-ups. It’s far easier for them to just build and worry about usefulness later.

    I don’t mean to imply that what they’re building is generally useless. I firmly believe that some things they are building (such as the Spring District maintenance station or the silly little Bellevue tunnel) will soon turn into short-term investments (i.e., wastes of taxpayer money.)

    1. There is plenty of debate to be had about the best locations for alternate train bases, and we haven’t had that debate here. But the debate about the “need” for a turn-back at IDS could largely be made moot if an east base is built. Yes, there would still need to be a turn-back, somewhere, but it would be used far less often that if all the east trains were deadheading in and out of service from SODO.

      1. An east base IS going to be built (the only question is where), but all the “heavy” maintenance and repairs will take place at the SODO facility. The east base will just be “light” maintenance and storage.

  18. I really think the whole idea of having to send every car in the system back to the central OMF once a week is crazy. For something that needs to happen that often there should be a second facility capable of doing the work if for no other reason than business continuation planning (previously known as disaster recovery planning). For the amount of time that shuttling out of service cars will consume over the years and the corresponding reduction in available time on the tracks for revenue operation plus the actual cost of building any of these extra turnbacks and associated station modifications and the impact of DSTT closures it makes way more sense to build the eastside maintenance facility as a complete maintenance facility.

    1. Actually, the possibility of future DSTT closures points to the need to build a full mainenance facility on the north end (i.e. the other side of the DSTT from SODO). In the long run, the north base will be the second largest for train storage, anyway, to minimize deadheading.

      ST isn’t planning to deadhead every car from the east base to SODO once a week for maintenance. They are just saying each traincar needs to end up at SODO base once a week, for maintenance. So, can we stop imagining all these extra deadheadings that ST didn’t even say would happen?

      1. If they don’t need to ‘deadhead’ out of service then they don’t need the turnback at IDS. A full maintenance facility isdifferent from a storage facility. It appears that they are planning to only do light cleaning at the storage facilities and only have one single point of failure, I mean maintenance facility. Things happen, earthquakes, fires, explosions (remember Pierce Transit’s refueling depot?), power system interruptions (large transformers do have the occaisional spectacular failure leading to anywhere from days to months to replace). The current plan smacks of NO planning for disruptions and instead plans to insert disruptions. As far as putting the storage on the northern extension, cars from there would not need to turn around and could run in service easily to the current OMF without any disruption to normal operations. This plan appears to be incredibly short sightsighted and laying the foundation for unrecoverable disaster.

      2. “If they don’t need to ‘deadhead’ out of service then they don’t need the turnback at IDS”

        Yep! This is exactly what I said above. If they don’t need to deadhead, they can travel right up to Northgate and remain in service all the way back to SODO, and people will appreciate it.

    2. As for where the next train storage base will go, from a long-term perspective, it should be on the eastside. For one, that will deal with the issue of all the deadheadings into and out of service that would otherwise have had to use the IDS turn-back.

      Second, the east line is not expected to grow beyond Redmond. The other two lines are expected to grow far beyond their ST2 termini, and would benefit from holding off building storage facilities until those lines are longer.

      Third, there has been talk of a Kirkland-Bellevue-Issaquah line, for which the Spring District base would be perfectly situated.

      IIRC, only one new storage facility will be needed to handle train volume by the time ST2 is built out.

  19. As someone who just moved to NYC, “these kinds of transfers” are the ones I typically avoid.

  20. Sound Transit should have planned a turnback track at IDS during the planning of Central link because they would not need to worry about closing the DSTT for as long because the turnback track is already their. I know transLink did this for Lougheed Skytrain Station the future connection to the Evergreen line, so TransLink doesn’t need to close the station for that long to install it.

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