Our Vision has been well publicized so Seattle Subway focused on three other areas in our public comment letter:
To: Sound Transit’s Board and the entire Sound Transit staff
Re: We need fast, reliable, transit that is both economically sustainable and designed for future expansion.
Seattle Subway is thrilled to see that Sound Transit has begun the study work for ST3 corridors – which, within Seattle, include Ballard to Downtown, Downtown to West Seattle, and Ballard to the U-District – and that Sound Transit is aiming to run a 2016 ballot measure. Congratulations are also in order for U-Link, which is on track to be both under budget and ahead of schedule. We are writing this public comment letter for Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan Update to urge Sound Transit to: (1) use driverless technology for all new rail lines, (2) design and construct all future rail lines prioritizing further expansion and (3) select the fastest possible rail vehicle technology.
1. Use driverless technology for all new rail lines
Funding for operations is critical to the economic health of any transit system and the direct Return on Investment (ROI) case for rail projects. The former is demonstrated by the current funding shortfall for King County Metro’s operations. Though the subsidy for each ride on Link will be far lower when U-Link opens, current fares pay for less than 30% of total operating cost per trip. The driverless system in Vancouver, BC covers its entire operating budget via fares; possible due to their low cost per trip. In 2011, Vancouver’s driverless system’s operating expense per trip was $1.97. Using Vancouver’s 2011 expenses per trip, Sound Transit’s revenue per trip in 2011 of $2.05 would have covered operating expenses completely. Such driverless systems convey three immense benefits: 1. Massive savings to taxpayers through faster ROI on rail system investment; 2. A more flexible system, which does not incur cost penalties to run a 1-car train every 2.5 minutes instead of a 4-car train every 10 minutes; and 3. Permanently removing partisan politics as a threat to funding operations of new rail lines.
2. The design and construction of all future lines prioritizing further expansion
These new rail lines are desperately needed and must be built for expansion. Seattle began building rail late, missing an opportunity in 1968 to begin design and construction; when the ST3 lines are finally built, demand for expansion will be overwhelming. The two most pressing opportunities for expansion are: 1. The line from Ballard to West Seattle and Burien, via a new tunnel in Downtown Seattle, must have the potential to fork at both ends of Downtown Seattle. This will enable expansion north from the Commercial Core Urban Center Village through booming South Lake Union Urban Center and north along Aurora, one of the highest demand transit corridors in the state. This will enable expansion south to employment centers in SODO and at Boeing Field in the Greater Duwamish Manufacturing/Industrial Center, to nightlife in Georgetown, and allow for the long-term need for trips to the airport and points south unencumbered by at-grade sections of track. 2. The new rail line being designed from Ballard to Downtown must include the option to expand northward from Ballard Hub Urban Village towards the Crown Hill Residential Urban Village and points north. Seattle Subway believes it is crucial to consider the future of all potential corridors when designing new rail lines for the region.
3. Select the fastest possible rail vehicle technology
The faster our rail system is, the more useful it will be. Light rail vehicles are a prudent technology choice when designing for both at-grade crossings (such as in the Rainier Valley) and elevated grade-separated sections (such as from Tukwila to the airport). Because travel times and capacity will become increasingly important as the region’s rail network grows, we encourage Sound Transit to consider faster rail vehicles and entirely grade-separated alignments that enable faster speeds for all future rail investments. Light rail vehicles have a top speed approximately 40% slower than other rail vehicle technologies. Due to speed limitations, a faster technology should be selected for the future rail lines that will take full advantage of our investment in entirely grade-separated rail.
Again, we write in support of the work Sound Transit has done for Seattle and the Region. We are passionate fans who urge Sound Transit to build a system free from unnecessary compromises. Our city and region has only one chance to do this right. Please, build new lines in Seattle using the fastest possible driverless technology and ready for future expansion so that we can realize our shared vision: A city and region fully connected by fast, reliable high capacity transit.
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Seattle Subway is an all-volunteer organization that advocates for drade-separated rail transit in Seattle.