1,200 workers complete the switch from surface to underground tracks in 3.5 hours, joining a commuter rail line to the Tokyo subway. More details in this journal paper.

68 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Shibuya Switchover”

  1. Amazing what can get done when you don’t have greedy contractors drawing out a project and milking the system isn’t it? It’s a whole different attitude, one which would totally unthinkable here. Instead of taking 30 years to build out Link it would take 5, and Bertha would be done by now. Things get done way faster and cheaper when you don’t have greedy American construction workers.

    1. I especially like the way that Japan can complete its “test runs” in 10 minutes, while we require six months.

      1. I do not know who made up the US “test run” rules, but they seem like a deliberate attempt to prevent passenger rail operations. They’re ludicrous. In most countries, you can finish your test runs in an hour, in a leisurely fashion.

      2. I would like to propose that when the deep bore tunnel finally finishes that WSDOT be required to run test cars and trucks through it all day for 6 months, to make sure the tunnel doesn’t cave in, before they open it up to the public.

    2. It’s funny that you’d blame it all on greedy corporations. I would (and have) placed the blame on governmental red-tape that prevents things from getting done quickly, cheaply, etc. Just imagine how much time we’d save if we didn’t have to do years worth of environmental impact studies before even breaking ground!

  2. Mic: Would depend on a lot of things. For starters: What’s the condition of the track-bed and the ground underneath it?

    And continued with: What’s the condition of the hillside above the track- you know, the one that keeps sliding down across it?

    And also: How much manpower, equipment, and time will be needed to permanently stabilize that slope?

    And finish the list with: After all these years, why haven’t the agencies responsible fixed these hundred percent predictable conditions? Bingo!

    And Nathan: Any chance it took the Japanese more than five years to get system and its environs in shape to perform the work in the video?

    Also, how many stats do you have on the efficiency and reputation of the contractors, and the pay, adjusted to local cost of living, of the average skilled Japanese worker?

    And one more for both of you: How many years do you think it will take until our city- or our State- until our ridership, let alone population, comes anywhere near the load on those platforms?

    Not exactly apples to oranges. More like ten years’ fruit production to a single sapling of both kinds of trees. Meantime, watch a couple of WWI-era movies, and see how fast all those guys had to run.

    No wonder the war was over in four years! Too bad they didn’t have a guy playing ragtime piano in the front of the theater on this one.


    1. A. Condition of track bed is private, with favorable federal monopoly laws to contend with.
      B. Hillside also private with no penalties for closing a transit line and weak tea regulations.
      C. After public ownership of the right of way? or before? BNSF gets too many blank checks as it is.
      D. Refer to A.
      E. (toss up question with a question) How many stars are in the Galaxy is your answer. Infrastructure sometimes draws people to it, rather than a response to 10x the population.
      Our HSR effort of ‘fixing a few bottlenecks, rather than dedicated state ROW being sought after tells the whole story of how transit has been kneecapped by big money interests as nothing more than a cash-cow. Transit lanes in public ROW caters to the ‘free street parking lobby’ most times. And don’t get me started on how many new homes and fancy cars our transit agencies have bought for contractors and consultants since the JRPC was created in 1990.
      25 years later and still only 15 miles.
      Go figure Mark!

      1. A thru D? Thanks, Mic, for correcting my mistaken impression that local transit agencies were being blamed for excessive rubber tires under Sounder Northline.

        My reps have been making same excuses why filthy coal trains and rolling napalm bombs, I mean oil trains, still run along that whole shore, including under Seattle. More on remedy shortly.

        E? Physics on the galactic level would probably give the same answer for stars as for population levels and locations in Japan versus the United States: per acre (or parsec) populations of both countries, as opposed to (interstellar space) area.

        Even before outcome of World War II created present situation. Doubt that there was much infrastructure to attract left to attract either our GI’s or local residents back to what was left of transit systems there.

        But main force shaping Japanese land use was, and has always been, how little land has been available for single family residence there. Or any other kind. That’s why we’ve got so much room for parking now- and sprawl too.

        The United States government certainly did invest a huge amount of money rebuilding the cities of our enemies, transit and all. Not only out of pity, but because we didn’t want them to go over to the Russians.

        Same reason our troops didn’t face an Axis Taliban or ISIS after the war: our enemies were desperate for us to protect them FROM the Russians. Too bad neither of these points applied to Detroit. Also that Yossarian and those guys didn’t get off course. Detroit would’ve had rapid transit at US expense too. “Catch 22” good title all around.

        No question about the political influence of huge private money and the Government it has always owned. Or that the automobile industry had a hand, or paw, in helping dismantle public transit. But they had a lot of accomplices, namely most of the American people.

        World War II, to put it mildly, left the United States in a different world than Europe and the rest of the world. Them- good countries and bad- a giant world-wide pile of rubble. Us? Thanks to the war, the Depression was over!!!

        Federal help didn’t just go to Germany and Japan. Our war effort was history’s most gigantic socialist subsidy to every one of our private industries. And also, except for our casualties and their families, life’s greatest present to us the American people.

        A massive percentage of whom hadn’t endured a depression and a war to go back to either the dirty overcrowded cities they remembered- or the streetcars that were already dying when they left- but had to ride miles on in uniform.

        And so were ready to consider the Interstate Highway system, and the suburbs it made possible, fair thanks for their service. And also the big, beautiful cars, after years, or lifetimes with no car at all, that they could finally buy.

        But 70 years ago was then…and the times when all the space in America is so jammed with cars that nothing can move at all? Well, Mic, let’s figure that this is where we come in. This isn’t the first time in US history when Money talks too damn much.

        But lately it does seem like the first time We the People are acting so much like there’s nothing we can do about it. Which is probably because the world has never seen a tyranny that gave its people so much and asked so little of them.

        But there are at least two weapons available to us: two bitter, exhausted, over-aged, and idea-dead political parties with their basement doors left wide open. Democrat or Republican, nobody is going to fight us for precinct committee. That’s how the Southern Democrats got the Republicans after 1968.

        And there’s room for more than one other party as well.


      2. “Which is probably because the world has never seen a tyranny that gave its people so much and asked so little of them….”

        Roman Empire. Citizens were asked to do next to nothing, and got everything. Work was done by non-citizens who were desperate to become citizens…

    2. …which actually has some interesting implications. If the US were really gung-ho positive about illegal immigration, and if the US were willing to really give stuff to its citizens for nothing, the US could probably keep this situation up indefinately using “guest workers”. This is similar to the ancient Roman scheme.

      But our politics are not going that direction. Since 1980, welfare for American citizens has been cut massively, while there has been hysterical opposition to immigration.

  3. Is it just me or has the signaling system for LINK through the Rainier Valley been off lately? It used to be rare for a train to “‘miss” a light, but I’ve been on a few trains that miss several in a row, repeatedly stopping at consecutive lights. Also, I am continually amazed at how slowly some operators run their trains. Some trips on LINK remind me that we made some short-sighted design choices that we’ll have to live with forever.

    Okay I’m done whining.

    1. What’s wrong with operating Link trains more slowly? I thought slow meant safe. When you people build sand boxes next to roads, you demand lower speed limits to “protect the children.” Well, doesn’t Link go by numerous schools and playgrounds? And since there isn’t a fence preventing children from darting in front of a train, in the name of safety of the children and pedestrians, shouldn’t trains, like cars, go more slowly?

      1. There is slow, then there is zero. His main complaint is that the trains are often stopped, even though they aren’t at a station. This is really bad. Going a bit faster on the sections between stations would make little difference (although the distance between Tukwila and Rainier Beach is so big that it might actually be significant — but that is because someone had the bright idea to design a light rail line as it if were a commuter rail line).

    2. Blame the City of Tukwila for that. They refused ST permission to build the line down Tukwila International Boulevard, hoping they’d instead put it through Southcenter – but Sound Transit said that’d be too far out of the way, so we ended up with what we have now.

      1. The reason Tukwila refused a permit for International Boulevard is that they had just beautified the street and didn’t want it torn up again. If they’d wanted Southcenter they could have said “Southcenter” as clearly.

      2. It was substantially more complicated than that.

        Tukwila kind of screwed itself, it missed out on a lot of potential benefits by its stance and lack of cooperation.

      3. Yeah, I know it was very complicated. Anyone who knows anything about this city would wonder why we didn’t start with a line from downtown to the U-District, especially since the downtown part was essentially done years ago, when they built a bus tunnel. The reason we didn’t start with obviously the most important line in the state is, well, complicated (a mix of political and engineering fears). Adding a few stops in Tukwila might have made it a bit more palatable, but it still wouldn’t be the most popular stretch (or second, or third …). My guess is it would rank 6th.

  4. Meanwhile, check the performance of the D-line on the other side of town. Yesterday, I walked all the way across the Ballard bridge (~1/2 mile), while the D-bus about 100 feet behind at the start of the walk. When I turned onto Emerson at the other side, the same D-bus was still about 100 feet behind me.

    Moral of the story – next time you just miss the bus at Leary to go downtown, walk across the bridge to Emerson. You can probably still make it.

  5. What do we know about the next “bridging the gap” for seattle? Has there been any planning for what projects could be included in it?

  6. LINK construction feels really slow. I assume it would have been more expensive to have it built faster. What I’m wondering is if it would be more expensive to order ST3 and ST4 earlier. Maybe we shouldn’t be building any line particularly quickly, but shouldn’t we be building many lines at once?

    1. That’s been my concern/comment for years but there never seems to be an answer to it. Why are we designing one line at a time when we should be at different stages of multiple lines at any given time. Really, we should already be building East Link across Mercer Island, and while that is under construction, do the designing of the route in Bellevue. The placement of the route on Mercer Island is not going to affect the placement of the route in Bellevue so there’s no reason why we couldn’t be building the first segment already. Just like North Link, we should already be building the route from Northgate to 145th while we’re finishing the design for the segments north of 145th. If we could shave off at least two years from each segment, a lot more people could be using LINK and more people would be willing to vote for future segments. To have, what, eight years from Central Link completion to the segment going to Husky Stadium is just too slow.

      1. For what it’s worth (and I agree that faster would be better) Sound Transit is doing the work in parallel. University Link was already well underway when Central Link was complete, and the Northgate Link extension already has both tunnel boring machines operating while the stations are being excavated.

    2. I have been told by wiser heads that it is because we finance the construction by selling bonds as we go instead of receiving all of the money up front. Vancouver gets cash in one lump sum, for example.

      1. Also because they’re local bonds. The state could probably issue bonds for huge amounts of projects at once, but nobody trusts a locality to commit 100 years of its sales taxes in advance. Credit ratings and all that.

  7. Brett, I think that before the day’s over, one or two train operators will tell you why the signal system out on MLK can get out of “synch”. And also, under what conditions a train can be ordered by Link Control System (LCC) to slow down.

    But I think that in general, you have to remember that that whole length of right-of-way isn’t completely under Sound Transit’s control. Considering how many extraneous blockages could occur, either LINK is lucky or its drivers extremely skilled that there aren’t more delays.

    Also: exactly what design choices to you think were short-sighted- considering the choices available and their cost?

    Are you referring to the choice to run street level on MLK, including level grade crossings? Short-term answer was likely that for a certain number of years, this alignment would carry enough passengers to justify the line, but not enough to justify flyovers and undercuts.

    Both of which can certainly be done in the future. Japan is only a few hours’ plane flight away, even for the fleet of jets needed to bring all 1200 of them, and we’ve doubtless got enough beat-up trailers to hide the meth-works to make them work like in the video.

    I’d also like it a lot more if airport service could have included both current line on MLK, and an express line out Airport Way, either meeting present line upgrade to Sea-Tac, or a crossing toward Southcenter and the Kent Valley.

    Which can be done in a lot shorter time than “forever.” But meantime, especially since I want the DSTT used to the max for as long as it’s needed, I wouldn’t mind at least experimenting for a shake-up or two with a restored “194” straight to the airport. Maybe fifteen minute to a half hour headways.

    That way, we can can compare operating time and reliability for a year or so, to see how soon we really need that express line. My guess is that LINK as is will have a better record than the bus. Might be good right now to start noting exactly how many passengers miss flights because of LINK delays.

    If LINK comes out loser re: airport, we can speed up schedule on the express LINK line. And when time comes as more trains come in, while we build the rail line we can dispatch buses from present Bolt Bus stop.


    1. Quick Shuttle already operates 4 buses a day from downtown Seattle to SeaTac, but doesn’t sell tickets for that part of the run. If people actually wanted to get from Seattle to SeaTac don’t you think someone would already be offering this service?

      (This very response is pretty much what I have been told by several Puget Sound transit agencies when I suggested various improvements: obviously there’s no market for my suggestion, otherwise, someone would already be doing it.)

    2. I think there is still a downtown airporter bus that runs every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day. But, in the time it takes to stop at all the other hotels downtown before it gets to yours, it’s not actually any faster than Link. (That’s not to say it isn’t useful for people carrying heavy luggage; the fact that it runs at all during the late-night hours that Link doesn’t run is also worth something).

    3. There’s also a social factor: people’s opinion of Link changes over time, and that leads to changes in what they consider a reasonable budget or what they’re willing to vote for. Before Link started running it was hard to convince people that grade separation was worth the cost. That’s why previous light rails were all surface except where there absolutely had to be one underground station (Portland, Dallas) or where existing rail ROW existed (Portland). We’re lucky that Link got as much separation as it did. But now that Link is running, people start to see the value of faster service, so all the extensions are almost fully grade separated. So the ultimate reason Rainier Valley got surface is that it was the first segment.

      1. Exactly, I’ve become a recent convert to advocating for grade separation.

        Getting onto a 5:15 Skagit Transit 90X at Everett Station to only make it to Chuckanut Station in Burlington at 7:45PM-ish due to traffic will do that to anybody.

    1. My Co-Op Apartment at Bellevue and East Republican looks out over I-5 to the Cascade District. I-5 is a wall that blocks me from Cascade — I either have to walk up the Melrose Bike Trail and cross over the freeway by Seattle Cancer Care OR walk the 6 blocks to Denny and then down the hill and then 6 blocks back norther. Basically from this area you can’t get there from here (and since the 47 was killed you can’t take a bus either). Walking, bike or car – its a pain. A lid on i_5 would be IDEAL — I’m all for it and Sam has my vote on this one.

      From the isolated transit and walkshead waste land of Bellevue and Republican….

      1. When I lived in Portland years ago, there was talk of covering I-405 thru downtown Portland to build more apartments/condos and also to have more open space. Mostly, it was shelved due to cost but as land values increase, I’m sure Portland will look again at that idea. For Seattle, covering I-5 would probably be even more expensive since there is such a climb between downtown and Capital Hill.

      2. I think there used to be a big staircase right in that area (somewhere between Denny and Mercer). It was a steep slope to deal with even before the freeway made it steeper. In order to build a straight-line staircase connecting any of the east-west streets you’d probably need to completely rebuild the freeway underground.

        The most natural lids are over freeways in trenches, of course! By that standard the U District sounds like a good location. But much of a U District lid would be mostly filled with interchanges and ramps, sort of like the Montlake stuff being designed now.

      1. Thanks for linking to that. I think it is a great idea. I would also add a smaller cap up by the U-District. These are expensive, but nowhere near as expensive as, say, burying a viaduct. In both cases it would tie together neighborhoods better than the viaduct burying will. A lot of these areas simply have no crossing for miles, while the viaduct, as ugly as it was, has (or had) them all over the place. With the new parks authority, I would certainly support such a project downtown (as your link suggests) and in the U-District.

    2. This may sound somewhat off topic at first, but hear me out:

      When I-5 was built through Portland, the area near what is now the Moda Center was a very active restaurant scene.

      In 1995, the Trailblazers (aka Paul Allen) built the new arena, and tried to turn the area in something that would once again draw people even when no games or events were going on. With the wall created by the freeway still there and no effort aimed at it, the area has remained strikingly resistant to change.

      Therefore, I think people tend to underestimate the impact of these road obstacles, and the potential good mitigating them could have.

    3. I’ve wanted this for a long time. Not necessarily a park; private real estate would be fine. Just something to fill the emptiness and connect the streets and dampen the incessant noise.

    4. This is actually a good idea. I-5 is a gash across Seattle, but nobody has seriously proposed removing it entirely. (Well, except me, I proposed relocating I-5 to I-405 and dismantling I-5.) If it remains, ti should be capped.

      1. John,
        I will read this and schedule another write-up closer to the Sound Transit Board Meeting. Just as the Page One/First String guys are riding the Monorail-ORCA integration cause, we need to be riding the Sounder North cause.
        Thank you;

      2. John, I agree that that Edmonds-Everett route is not safe, but it isn’t safe to drive in bad weather in winter either (exceedingly unsafe, actually). Your chance of getting killed on the train line is probably a lot less than your risk of getting killed on the road. So take it for what it is. I still think the inland Northern Pacific line (now the Burke-Gilman Trail) should have been retained as the primary rail route.

      3. Once again… http://www.willhiteweb.com/biking_washington/burke_gilman_trail/burke-gilman-trail-map.jpg

        With lots and lots of grade crossings.

        Does that look to you like an efficient mass-transportation corridor to anywhere?

        Why don’t you tell us again about the modern streetcars we should put up the >12% grades of Yesler?

        This is what happens when ignorant people carrying-out “research” from their small-town basements decide to insert prescriptive advice into discussions all over the internet.

    1. I’ve been reading your posts.

      Sounder North is horribly expensive per passenger. It either needs to be made more useful to more people or replaced with something else.

      I don’t see it being made more useful as that would mean significant investment that really should go to Link construction.

      The problem with trying to replace it with buses is that every time I have visited that area I wind up on a bus stuck in I-5 traffic.

      Therefore a good solution isn’t apparent to me.

      1. Thanks Glenn.

        Doing my research for a piece to drop Tuesday evening or Wednesday, and got my hands on the Sound Transit 3rd Quarter ridership report.

        Sounder cost per rider: $11.32
        Express bus cost per rider: $6.22

        One can cynically guess why the Sounder North & Sounder South routes aren’t broken out.

        At some point somebody has to discuss conserving resources. I am hoping Dow Contantine moves to shut Sounder North down indefinitely or at least until the slopes are stabilized, using that time to rebrand and relaunch the service.

      2. I’ve told ST repeatedly in its LRP comments and ST# comments to cancel Sounder North and shift the money to replacement buses and to Link extensions. But ST’s response in the LRP update was that it wouldn’t do anything that contradicted previous voter-approved positions, which seems to mean it won’t delete Sounder North.

      3. One would think Dow Constantine being the King County Exec and appointing so many members of the Sound Transit Board could start the process to turn this around….

      4. But that’s just the thing. Dow is the KING County Executive, not the Snohomish County Executive. The Snohomish County subarea is paying for it and their politicians, for better or worse, have so far supported it. I agree it appears to be a suboptimal use of resources, but I don’t live there and don’t fully understand the traffic and transit use in that area.

      5. One issue is that the Everett extension isn’t actually approved by voters yet, so ST can’t argue that the ratepayers definitively want it as much as they want Sounder. So therefore it could only apply the money to the Lynnwood extension without risk of lawsuits. This in turn shows the problem of voting for the line piecemeal. If the Everett extension had been authorized already and just deferred until funding was available, then it could put it into the Everett extension now, and not be throwing good money after bad on Sounder.

      6. “The Snohomish County subarea is paying for it and their politicians, for better or worse, have so far supported it.”

        The subarea’s representatives can quash a proposal by saying it doesn’t sufficiently benefit the subarea, but I don’t think that works in reverse, that they can unilaterally approve a proposal. The other members generally defer to the subarea’s members but that doesn’t mean they have to. That’s where Dow’s power as chair and over several seats comes into play.

        “I agree it appears to be a suboptimal use of resources, but I don’t live there and don’t fully understand the traffic and transit use in that area.”

        I agree that we must strongly defer to the subarea’s wishes. What’s really needed to stop Sounder is for those within the Snohomish subarea to submit a petition to ST, and to get their city leaders to also recommend looking for alternatives. Especially the leaders of Edmonds and Mukilteo because they’re the primary beneficiaries of Sounder.

        What’s missing is a concrete alternative. How many replacement buses? Could they be extended to the midday (a wider span of service)? How much extra money would be available for the Lynnwood extension and what would it accomplish? Would it enable it to open earlier (even though it’s dependent on the Northgate/Shoreline segment)? If not, what’s the point? Could it be lent to North King to finish it faster? Could it be banked for an Everett extension even though ST3 hasn’t been written yet? (This is where the long-range plan comes in. ST definitely couldn’t do it if it’s not in the LRP, but Everett has been in the LRP since the beginning.)

      7. Here’s an idea. Just get the ST board to explain why Sounder North should not be cancelled, and what would be the criteria for changing its status. If ST can point to current research that the Snohomish public still prefers Sounder over alteratives and that it understands the tradeoffs, that’s one thing. But if it’s just, “People voted for it in the past”, then it raises the issue of how long a past vote should remain unquestioned. Ten more years? Thirty more years? As the years go by it will become more important to know what is ST’s criteria for changing past decisions, and how can a public who wants a change get ST to review the decision?

  8. I think I remember hearing that Jim Ellis-who in addition to being greatly responsible the creation of the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle, also led the project to build Freeway Park.

    I was also told that the park was originally intended to bridge a good deal more of the freeway through Downtown. Which, theoretically, can still be done.

    But I think this is a very good time to be thinking about what we can do with at least the urban sections of our freeway system as it reaches the end of its design life. On board a Sacramento light rail train awhile ago, a trainman told me that several miles of track were built on land and elevated structures designed as part of a freeway that didn’t get built.

    He also told me that structure designed for highway was more than heavy enough to carry rail- though don’t think this holds for bridges the other way around. So it’s possible that highway traffic- whatever its future form- can be diverted around the city, leaving the CBD section for either transit or further parks, or both.

    It would also be a good idea to investigate how much living and business space can be bridged over the freeway at different places. Bridge-building is well understood- but not sure whether any of this has ever been done- except in Venice (not the one in California) where there are Renaissance buildings on a bridge across a canal.

    But- it won’t be our grandfathers’ bridge. And park, and urban neighborhood.


    1. There’s a bridge in Bath, England with buildings on it. Probably a little newer than Renaissance. Considerably newer is Chicago’s old main post office building, which was built before the Eisenhower (then Congress) Expressway, but designed to have a road run under it. That’s just a big building with a hole in the bottom, more than a bridge. Not too different from some of the convention center stuff here, actually.

  9. A week or two ago, when Link and the tunnel were shut down, and it was revealed the Pierce Transit was operating the 97A replacement, someone made a comment on here that it may be a rare chance to see PT coaches operating in downtown Seattle (not realizing that they were just going to use the same ST coaches they use on the 59x routes).

    Imagine my surprise on Thursday, when Sounder North was shut down, as I walked past the bus stop on 5th outside ID station and saw that (a) Pierce Transit was operating the replacement buses to Edmonds and Mukilteo, and (b) they were doing so with regular Pierce Transit livery!

    (Presumably since it was rush hour, all their ST coaches were in use on their regularly scheduled routes?)

    1. Just getting closer and closer to one transit agency from Olympia to Smokey Point ;-).

  10. Interesting article. “Stockholm’s Housing Shortage Threatens to Stifle Fast-Growing Start-Ups.” But after reading the article, I don’t think that’s the appropriate headline. It should be, “Tech Start-Ups Threaten to Make Housing Prices Unaffordable.”


  11. They shift major infrastructure in 3.5 hours without missing a single scheduled revenue run.

    Meanwhile we shut down the transit tunnel for a full day to install signaling equipment…. which ought to be possible to install during the 4-5 hour overnight closures (5 hours Sat-Sun and Sun-Mon)

  12. In this country, we’d be meeting for at least 3.5 months, if not years, deciding how to do the project.

    Japan is light years ahead of the U.S. in mass transportation. They’ve had the Shinkansen (120 mph bullet trains) for decades, the superior option for shorter trips, and they had both the stop bell on the bus only ringing once on their buses in 1980 (Metro didn’t figure that out until the late 1980s, so imagine a milk run like the old #6 along Aurora via Wallingford and southwest Green Lake, and you heard ding, ding, ding for your entire trip).

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