Last Friday, as part of the Annapurna business mitigation contest, Sound Transit invited media to tag along on their U-Link walking tour.  We were given the rare opportunity to walk the entire 3 miles underground, departing from UW Station around 2pm and emerging a couple blocks east of Westlake just after 4pm.

U-Link is now 85% complete and still on track for an early 2016 opening. UW Station is about 95% complete, and Capitol Hill station just over 50% complete. About a third of the track and electrical is finished, and no OCS (overhead catenary) is yet installed.

Below are some photos from the tour. See also Capitol Hill Seattle and the Seattle Times ($) for more photos and video.

Pre-tour briefing:


Approaching UW Station:


Construction near the pedestrian overpass of Montlake Boulevard:


Looking toward the north end of UW station. Note the center platform:


The ‘demising wall’, which will separate U-Link operations from North Link construction (apologies for the blur):


Bruce Gray holding down the fort:


Looking south toward the twin bores to Capitol Hill. Note that the crossover tracks will be built here for terminal use between 2016-2021, and for turnback service after 2021 in the event of service disruptions:


Walking from UW Station into the southbound bore, where tracks are not quite yet installed:


One of a couple dozen cross-passages for emergency use.


Inside the cross-passages:


The rails coming together. From here south the rails are installed:


Hi-Rail vehicle working just North of Capitol Hill Station:


The long straightaway between Montlake and Volunteer Park ending, with the tracks curving left to approach Capitol Hill Station:


“Now approaching Capitol Hill Station. Doors to my left.”


Interior of Capitol Hill Station. The “Kissing Pink Fighter Jets” art installation will hang suspended in between the pillars:


Capitol Hill Station:


Now in the northbound bore, the tracks briefly turn left to accommodate a gentler grade into Westlake:


This test section between Capitol Hill and Westlake will be a prototype of a ‘floating slab’ designed to reduce vibrations to within a tolerance of 5hz. If successful, this design will be included underneath UW, a required mitigation to protect laboratory equipment:


Crossing under I-5, the northwestward arc ends and the trains turn southwest to approach Westlake:


Approaching the end of the tour, the TBM receiving pit on Pine just east of the Paramount Theatre:


Daylight, and the end of the tour:


Behind the arch you can see the ULink ‘demising wall’, separating U-Link from Central Link:


39 Replies to “U-Link Walking Tour Photos”

  1. Any chance of punching through that U-Link/Central Link demising wall before 2016, to allow operation of longer trains before U-Link begins service? That could be very useful during special events like the Superbowl victory parade, which we will be repeating next February :)
    Yes, it would mean stringing a segment of catenary and energizing it with a jumper, but nothing terribly difficult.

    1. Trains only run with one pantograph up. So if you made sure the southernmost car had its pantograph up I think you could run the other three cars across “dead” tracks.

      1. when link operates, they have one pantograph on EACH car deployed … although I do not know if this is an actual requirement to operate MU’d LRVs or whether a single pantograph can draw the required power for the whole train

      2. I just looked at pics of trains in motion and you’re right. I feel like I’ve seen a train move with just one pantograph during testing.
        I’ve also seen a train with no pantograph up, but it wasn’t moving at all. All the lights were on, so the backup batteries last at least a few minutes.

      3. Link trains can haul at least one “dead” or non-operational car, so yes, the end of the new tunnel wouldn’t need to be electrified to operate trains longer than 2 cars.

      4. But wouldn’t it be nice to allow the operator at the front of the train pulling east be able to operate her/his train throughout?

    2. There are safety issues with removing the wall while significant construction continues. Looking at what’s still to be done, I’d be very surprised if the wall can come donw before next year’s Superbowl parade.

      The wall will come down well before the line opens — there’s something like 3 months of comissioning and training time, and most of that work needs trains.

      I suspect that the wall will come down some time next summer.

    3. I expect this is something that won’t happen unless someone on Executive Staff or a couple of boardmembers think it’s important.

    1. To the other tunnel. A ‘rescue train’ would be dispatched to the other tunnel in the event of an emergency. There are no exits except at the stations. However, the entire tunnel has a level-boarding walking platform adjacent to the train, so patrons could also walk to the next station if another train couldn’t be dispatched for some reason.

    2. The only connections to the surface on ULink are the stations and a single drainage pipe around Roanoke & 22nd from the sump pumps (also the lowest point on Link!). You can see where they rebuilt part of the street to dig straight down.

  2. would be really cool, when all is said and done, if they could make the lot for the TBM retrieval pit by the Paramount into a park with either an open or glass domed roof over the pit … to let light in and let people see the trains pass below

    1. It was a park before – complete with art (currently living at Central Link OMF).

    2. Agree completely. A light well would be kind of nice on so many underground lines. Parts of London used to have them, and maybe still do, on the routes that were previously steam hauled. It has kind of a nice effect.

      1. I was thinking the same thing. Reminds me of the underground, non tube lines of London, like the Circle, Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City, and District lines. I like that feel of getting random, intermittent views of the city above.

      1. +1. (Actually, +3: we need stations at Convention Place, First Hill, and Volunteer Park.)

      2. Are these stations deep enough to allow them to serve a broad area?

        Moscow Metro has very deep stations, and their very long escalator rides mean multiple entrances can provide a very broad area of service for one set of platforms. Yes, that does mean making diagonal “elevators” as well for ADA access, but the Puget Sound area has been doing that for decades now at various marinas and other bottom-of-hill docks. It just needs to go in a tunnel in this case.

  3. I can’t deny how cool and exciting this all looks, in spite of my prolific past and future criticism of system politics, routing and architecture.

    (The only issue I can’t ignore appears prominently in the second and third images. If your primary passenger access route involves climbing from deep underground to 30 feet in the air, despite its location on a filled-marsh flatland, then you’ve made some very, very bad decisions along the way.)

  4. I’m amazed on how long construction has taken, over 4 years to date for three miles.

      1. Yes, but so little progress for so many years. Think about…. Lynwood won’t be in service until 2026, assuming everything is on time. That’s 12 years from now. A baby born tomorrow will be in 8th grade when lynwood opens. I’m surprised there is not more outrage at sound transit’s snail progress.

      2. Jim, Out of curiosity where did the 2026 date come from? Every indication I’ve seen says 2023 for Lynnwood link.

      3. My apologies 9 years give or take before opening. The baby will be in 4th grade. Let’s see if we can really get it in 2023. As is…. The first hill streetcar has been delayed.

    1. I agree Jim. Surprised that there is little discussion about moving the rail build out timeline up several years. They (ST) often praise themselves when mentioning a station opening 6 months before scheduled. Not good enough. The citizens should demand or make happen a reasonable time frame to open these lines. Change the funding structure. Traffic and congestion will be far worse by the time these lines are built. But everyone is quiet on the subject.

      1. ejs,

        I am glad that both you and Jim are so squarely behind ST’s plan for deploying Light Rail in the greater Seattle region. There was a time, not long ago in fact, when many people openly debated the very idea of even building LR. However, with the current success of Central Link, the debate has moved from “should we build LR?”, to “how fast can we build LR?”. I find this shift in the debate to be refreshing and very encouraging.

        That said, I’m sure that if ST’s revenue stream was fatter they could deploy LR faster. They could also probably shorten the bonding time, which would be nice (I generally don’t like funding infrastructure with debt, but don’t mind increasing taxes to fund infrastructure. Increased taxes always seem to be the key).

      2. If more money becomes available, the line to Northgate could be started by all the people that will be released from the MAX Orange Line project around May or so of 2015.

    2. I love when armchair planners with little (or more likely no) knowledge of the situation complain about how long it takes to build giant infrastructure projects. Yes, these things take time and cost a lot of money. At least Sound Transit can now deliver projects on time and budget (a major feat considering the track record of public agencies completing giant infrastructure projects in America). Of course it would be nice to have these faster, but as they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Not sure what ST could be doing to speed things up even if they somehow magically had the extra funding to expedite. I’m just glad we have a competent organization building mass transit. We could have WSDOT style project management.

      1. Ya, compare WSDOT’s *success* with the DBT to ST’s success with U-Link and it is pretty easy to see that faster isn’t always better.

        Or compare the SMP’s monorail *success* to what ST has been able to accomplish. ST has been able to actually BUILD SOMETHING! Which is way more than the SMP was ever able to do.

    3. First Hill Streetcar has not been delayed unless you have information I don’t. Planned opening has always been Fall 2014, my understanding is that timeline is still in play despite issues they are addressing with the cars. Sounds like U-Link is on track to open about 9 months ahead of schedule (early 2016 instead of late 2016.) I don’t think we have any reason to think that Lynnwood will open later than scheduled, but it will be limited by Northgate Link’s performance (the highest risk portion of the alignment.) If Northgate Link Tunnelling goes as well as other ST tunnelling has gone – then 2023 (or who knows… earlier?) is in the bag.

      1. The First Hill Streetcar has been delayed — the vehicles didn’t pass some sort of fire/burn through test and are being reworked.

      2. @lazarus The project has been delayed, but only until fall this year. There were issues with the initial testing for the cars, but it appears that they must have gotten past this because they are already shipping some of the cars to Seattle to be assembled.

      3. Can confirm Charles B’s comment — Back in February they had one (relatively minor) delay by the manufacturer. That issue was resolved long ago, it was one of the required tests, it is fairly routine to fail the initial test and then make corrections. This direct from the project office. No dates yet for initial track testing.

  5. sure wish i could find a PDF file with the cross section of the tunnel as is hanging on the wall in the background of the pre-tour briefing photo…

    1. I saw it on line once, but I have no idea where…..and that was a long time ago. It’s a cool chart.

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