Deutsche S-Bahn

With light rail expansion and planning well on its way, things look positive for rail transport in the Puget Sound Region. The momentum and demand for rail-based transport in the region appears higher than ever, with residents beginning to realize that our current transport network is simply inadequate for the growth rate in this region. When a single fish truck can bring the region to hours of standstill, transport alternatives cannot come soon enough.

However, as with every major project, there is always a time to step back and once again look at the big picture. What type of transport objectives are we trying to accomplish? What kind of connections and services do we need?

But here is the biggest question that we need to answer before Sound Transit 3: What exactly are we building right now?

The simple answer is, of course, light rail. The more complicated answer is that we are building a regional light rail network.

And that could be a problem, because light rail vehicle technology is not intended for regional services. If Sound Transit pushes these vehicles to compete with cars between Everett and Seattle, or Tacoma and Seattle, it will have to find a delicate compromise between competitive travel times and travel time reliability. Let’s discuss why.

Vehicle performance matters in a regional context

In an urban environment where station spacing is generally less than a mile, top speed has very few benefits. The top speed will never be reached and travel time savings will be negligible.

Sound Transit, however, wants its rail infrastructure to go far beyond an urban environment. Its infrastructure is decidedly a suburban rail system outside of Seattle, with distances between stations ranging from 1.5 miles to over 2 miles. In fact, Rainier Beach to Tukwila International Blvd spans a massive 5.6 miles. If the network is extended to Everett and Tacoma, Link effectively becomes not just a suburban network, but a regional one.

These are network characteristics where higher top speeds make an impact by providing some travel time savings, but more importantly, travel time reliability.

Between Roosevelt and Lynnwood, a Link vehicle with an acceleration of 1 m/s^2 (a conservative value lower than the 1.3 m/s^2 prescribed  by Kinkisharyo), deceleration of 0.9 m/s^2 and a top speed of 58 mph can make the trip in just under 17 minutes at the very fastest, including 30 seconds of dwell times at each of the six stations. Real-world operations are likely to be slower, as this is using simplified calculations that assume constant acceleration and deceleration.

For comparison purposes, a typical heavy rail German S-Bahn BR 423 rolling stock with a top speed of 87 mph, but the same acceleration and deceleration, can theoretically travel between Roosevelt and Lynnwood 2 minutes faster. It could save an additional 2 minutes between Rainier Beach and Tukwila (although realistically, the current infrastructure doesn’t allow for higher speeds through the entire section).

Travel time savings with a faster and higher-accelerating train will only accumulate as the line grows farther out from Seattle. A half minute to a minute saved between each suburban station will add up significantly over the 60-mile regional line that Sound Transit proposes to build.

Higher speeds may benefit the timetable, but more importantly, they provide an opportunity to recover from likely delays incurred along the regional line without increasing travel times on the time table. Deutsche Bahn suburban trains use this technique to maintain punctuality in outlying areas, where the top speed is increased from the normal 120 km/h (75 mph) to 140 km/h (87 mph) to recover from delays.


Our to-be regional train is limited by the design nature of our vehicles and infrastructure to freeway speeds at 58 mph. Sound Transit can run these trains as fast as possible to provide competitive travel times against cars, but they will be less likely to recover from timetable deviations accumulated along the line.

In a line as long as Link’s spine will become, any delay can create operational headaches for both Sound Transit and riders, especially when the trains will already be pushed close to its performance limits. With East Link also using the tracks between Northgate and International District, delays will create problems when trying to coordinate shorter headways between the two lines and may even cause delays elsewhere in the network. The solution, of course, is to pad the schedule and increase normal travel times, making them  less competitive with cars.

Whereas most operators such as Deutsche Bahn operate regional services with faster heavy rail vehicles capable of providing both travel time savings and reliability over long distances, Sound Transit is trying to apply light rail.

This is an area where light rail may not be the most effective and the reason is simple: It is designed for an urban environment. It simply doesn’t provide the right characteristics for both fast and reliable regional services.

In Part 2, we will also discuss some possible issues of increasing capacity on Link using 4-car trains.

[Jason: I’ve received some comments that limitations to Link’s performance has multiple factors other than wheel-rail interactions, which only engineers smarter than me can explain. To keep things simple, the technical discussion has been saved for another discussion.]

95 Replies to “Limitations of Light Rail as Regional Transport (Part 1)”

  1. “Including 30 seconds of dwell time”

    Is there a reason the dwell time has to be so long on LINK? I’m living in Toronto at the moment, and outside of peak hours where loads of people are getting on/o, off at each station, dwell time on the subway here is probably 8-10 seconds. In fact, the next time I take a subway trip more than a few miles outside of rush hour, I’m going to use my phone to find the average dwell time. I’d be shocked if it’s over 12 seconds. In fact, I’m betting it’s under 10. I might even record it and put it on Youtube.

    1. 30 seconds is actually quite reasonable for calculation purposes because it’s an average between off peak dwell times (like you said, below 15 seconds) and rush hour dwell times (45 seconds or more).

      Toronto and Vancouver dwell times tend to be shorter than other systems, usually falling below 30 seconds. New York can see dwell times over a minute…(See more here on page 3-24: )

      Either way, the calculations use the same dwell time for both trains, so in the end the difference in travel time is the same regardless of the value.

  2. One way to reduce the dwell time is to increase the number of doors, so that passenger traffic flows better.

    As far as maximum speed goes, there are light rail car designs available that allow for higher maximum speed than 55 mph. The Alstom car for Ottawa is one of several examples. There is nothing especially magic about 55 mph, other than the fact that this was the maximum speed selected on freeways during the 1970s Arab oil embargo, in order to reduce oil consumption.

    To reduce the dwell time, it is helpful to have more doors and have them well distributed along the side of the cars. If you look at the conceptual sketches for the Ottawa cars, they seem to have done a fairly good job with this.

    1. It will depend on both the infrastructure and the vehicle itself. The wheel-rail interface needs a lot of work (and construction precision) to make sure tram-type vehicles can stay stable beyond highway speeds. I’m not surprised that Alstom pulled it off though, especially with a 100% low-floor vehicle. Must be dark magic.

      That said, to show how unique their train is, 65 mph is actually one of their top selling points and it blows everything else out of the water. It would be interesting to see how fast Ottawa actually runs them though.

      1. It is sort of the natural progression of things though. In the 1980s, low floor cars were not available for 90 km/hr operations. Siemens developed the first. Today, they are common but not at 100% low floor. 100% low floor is common, but not at USA light rail speeds.

        It was only a matter of time before someone developed such a car.

    2. Agree. The curves on the link line aren’t especially tight as such things go. There are certainly vehicles capable of 65 mph+ operation with 100% low floors and able to handle turns tighter than anything on link.

    3. With respect to dwell times, the problem with our trains is that they tend to sit there with the doors open for at least 10-20 seconds, after the last passenger has gotten on or off. Part of the reason may have to do with signalling. I remember reading somewhere that the stations in the Ranier Valley require a dwell time of no less than of 39 seconds in order for the train to hit all the green lights, once it starts moving again.

      1. Oddly enough, the only place I’ve experienced dwell times much too long is inside the DSTT. When I’ve taken Link in the Valley, I am often surprised by how consistently short dwell times can be, yet I’ve never been on a train caught at a light.

      2. In downtown, the problem is the joint ops. There’s no point in quickly closing the door when you’ll just have to sit and wait anyway for the bus in front to get up and move.

  3. Send this article to the Pierce and Snohomish boardmembers and Dow. This is the strongest argument I’ve seen for not sending Link to Tacoma or Everett.

    However, the gap between Rainier Beach and TIB is not typical, and is not a precedent for other areas. One, it’s an industrial area, and two, the train is crossing several highways and a railroad all at once. A better argument would be, maybe Link shouldn’t cross those highways, and instead the Rainier Valley line should go to Renton and a separate Georgetown line should go to SeaTac. But the initial line is done, and any enhancement along those lines have to wait behind higher priorities. Meanwhile, the proponents of Lynnwood-Everett are asking for more stations than Northgate-Lynnwood has, so the likelyhood of more than two miles between stations is small.

    1. More stations between Northgate-Lynnwood would muck things up even further. Then we’ll have a regional train with near-urban stop spacing.

      I really want to know this: What is the reasoning behind using one system (light rail) to do something that should be done by two different systems (urban train and a regional train)? It’s like “light rail” became a political buzzword and people took off running with it.

      Oh, I just answered my own question.

      1. Heavy rail means Sounder, and that has its own issues. ST has to buy time slots from BNSF and they’re expensive. Sounder competes with freight trains on the same track, and freight trains have been increasing with changes in the economy and oil/coal trains. Sounder North is single-tracked along the shore where the bulk of passengers aren’t, and it’s prone to mudslides and they’re not going to cut into the hillside to double-track it. On the Eastside there’s no east-west track, and the remaining north-south track was single-track and deteriorated, and did not go to city centers. Building a new right-of-way for heavy rail would have cost as much as Link, and you’d have needed two right-of-ways if Link were to be a separate city system, and that would have doubled the costs. Or you could have built Link as heavy rail like the 1972 subway would have been, but then again you would have had the same system for city and regional. The 1972 subway went to Lake City and Renton, and did not contemplate going north and south to Lynnwood and Federal Way because the residential patterns were different then. Then also, light rail was a buzzword that was going to save everything. Plus, politically Seattle is just 1/5 the population and legislative districts a minority of mayors and councilmembers, so the suburbs have more power.

      2. “Heavy rail means Sounder”

        Not quite. It doesn’t have anything to do with size, and definitely doesn’t prescribe a double-tall monstrosity like Sounder.

        Most of our infrastructure can actually support heavy rail (with some modifications). The basic structural requirements are mostly met. It uses the same track gauge and even has a higher spacing between opposing tracks than some operators prescribe for their mainline tracks. The other, missing requirements are higher platforms, clearance and curves large enough to accommodate non-articulated heavy rail vehicles.

        FRA is even relaxing requirements and will allow mixed traffic if proper signaling is installed.

        Heavy rail vehicles like those proposed in the 1970s would have been much more capable of providing suburban and regional services, along with urban services. They would even do it quite well when properly designed (see German S-Bahn).

      3. Basically, USA operating conditions.

        In Europe, cars similar to Link cars could be used on the main line, and they could be used on regional trains where appropriate, and fast, light weight equipment could be used elsewhere where desirable.

        Here, the BNSF main line is the BNSF main line. You want access to that you pay for it dearly, and you must use equipment that is vastly heavier.

        Or, you build your own main line. But, if you build your own main line, you need to decide if you will be using European UIC compliant equipment or equipment approved for USA main line operation, and never the twain shall meet.

        Or, go with temporal separation, and the twain shall never meet except as permitted during certain hours of the day.

        Once Positive Train Control signals are in operation, the Federal Railroad Administration might be more willing to give out waivers for operating UIC complaint equipment on the main lines.

        Then we have to deal with the fact that a light rail train requires an operator, but operating a commuter rail train over on the main line requires one engineer, one conductor, several assistants, and several guards at each platform. If you are allowed to operate these on the main line, do they still require a cast of dozens, or can you do it with one person like you would if it were the same equipment operated on the European main line, or just a few yards over on the paralleling light rail line?

      4. Yep, it’s a complicated issue and you nailed it. Although it’s interesting that some agencies have managed to get waivers and are operating European trains (Bombardier Talent, Stadler FLIRT for BART, to name a few).

        And then Cal-Train is looking at converting their Sounder-type rolling stock to double-tall EMU units similar to those in Europe.

        So the tide is definitely changing, and those changes may come sooner than we think…

        Now the question is whether our agencies (WSDOT and Sound Transit) are doing enough to take advantage of them.

      5. Jason – Are you saying that “heavy-rail” cars like the S-Bahn vehicles could be retrofitting into Central Link by raising platforms? Are their any curves too tight?

        Could the current Link cars and S-Bahn cars share tracks? (i.e., S-Bahn for Central Link, Kinkisharyo for east Link)

      6. It would be more complicated that than. In terms of just infrastructure, the DSTT would never be able to support an S-Bahn type train. The curve radius between University St and Westlake is way too tight. Same thing between the maintenance facility and Sodo Station.

        Link vehicles are designed for an 85 ft curve radius, which was probably necessary to fit into some of the existing infrastructure.

        In terms of clearance, S-Bahn trains tend to be about 3 meters wide, which with a 4-meter spacing between tracks (Deutsche Bahn standard) gives 1 meter of clearance. I remember seeing that Link’s track spacing is 14 feet (about 4.27 meters), at least in some areas. But the catenary supports are placed between the tracks, so I don’t know if that would get in the way.

        Other than that, platforms would need to be widened (Link trains are 2.7 meters wide) and as you mentioned, made higher (Deutsche Bahn standard for S-Bahn platforms is 96 cm and Link’s is 35.5 cm). Power systems aren’t too big of a deal because trains can be designed to use multiple.

        Maybe we’ll save S-Bahn trains for the second DSTT and retrofit everything else…I guess we’ll keep dreaming.

    2. The 5.6 mile stretch between Rainier Beach and TIB marks the point where Link definitively shifts into regional mode. As you say, it also marked the stretch where we should have thought about serving that area differently. Link as an urban-serving mode should have stuck to the Valley (and served it better with more frequent stops and more sensitive interfaces) and, if extended, terminated in Renton via Skyway/Bryn Mawr.

      1. Exactly. The only reason it went out to the airport, and did so in the way that it did is because it made sense politically. You have an iconic location (the airport) that many people have gone to, although most rarely go. That seems like a good location for everyone. The route (as poor as it is) was chosen because it was cheap. That combination (cheap and famous) was why that was built in the first place.

        The better solution would have been two lines as Mike suggested — those two line being built years and years from now.

      2. I don’t even necessarily agree we should have what would have amounted to a dedicated line to the airport. I think the only way a Link line would have eventually served the airport—had not someone decided “Seattle is a World Class City and World Class Cities have rail connections to airports” and unnecessarily distorted the network—is on a line coming south from the West Seattle area via Burien.

        An extension from the Rainier Valley to Renton will be worthwhile at some point and I imagine would be competitive with any extension north of Northgate and south of the airport.

    3. Mike,

      Between Lynnwood and Everett is exactly where Spine Link should have lots of stations. Let’s not kid our selves and argue that there will ever be a significant “reverse peak” commutation toward Everett; there’s no “there” there and probably never will be. What economic advantage does it have against Lynnwood or Northgate?

      So if the thing ran at-grade down the middle — or possibly better yet, a block on one side or the other — SR 99 it would actually be able to attract development and become a part of a transit-based neighborhood. The only people who would suffer would be the exurbanists from Lake Stevens who aren’t paying for it.

      If they want a fast ride to Seattle, let them ride express buses to a big interceptor at the I-5/I-405 interchange.

      1. But Swift (an appropriate solution for this segment of the 99 corridor) carries fewer than 6,000 riders a day along its 17-mile stretch and its stops are extremely frequent compared to what will be proposed for Link running gone the same corridor. Installing a magic train that doesn’t get you anywhere very fast to begin with (especially in relation to other options/what this post is all about) and then slowing it further is going to be even less likely to catalyze the developments you envision. Additionally, there is no “there” there along the ENTIRE 99 corridor, from the county line on north, so putting several more stops on a train in the middle of nothere in the hope TODs will spring up everywhere doesn’t make much sense.

        Let’s use our dollars and sense for things that will be useful to real people.

      2. Swift also suffers from the fact that its connection to Seattle is extremely poor – you have to slog it out on the E-line all the way to Aurora Village, just to get to it. The only way to get to Swift via the freeway is to spend an hour riding the 512 all the way to Everett Station.

      3. A thought: maybe we shouldn’t measure the utility of a piece of the transit network by its proximity or its being quickly connected to downtown Seattle. This is an error Sound Transit is wont to make and it’s resulting in our Link “spine” rail. I wouldn’t call Swift suffering because of it’s lack of a fast Seattle connection as serving Seattle is not its intended purpose. There are services designed to get you from south Snohomish County into Seattle quickly (the 512 you yourself identified).

      4. The problem isn’t so much Swift not going all the way into downtown Seattle as it not connecting with the 512 in a way to make it useful for trips to or from Seattle. There are a lot of places within Snohomish County that have a Swift stop, but no 512 stop. Trying to get to Seattle from any one of these stops is a 90-minute ordeal. You either have to take Swift all the way to Aurora Village and ride the slow E-line all the way downtown (and transfer again if you want to anywhere other than downtown) or backtrack north all the way to Everett and catch the 512 there, from which it’s still nearly an hour’s ride to downtown.

        Today, at least, there’s no good solution, as a deviation into Lynnwood TC would greatly slow down local trips. If Swift could eventually extend itself one more mile to connect to the 185th St. Link Station, that would be sufficient improve the Seattle connection to a mostly-reasonable level.

      5. There may not be a “there” along 99 north of Lynnwood now, but it’s a great place to put some of the thousands of people who move to the Puget Sound region every year. As you say, it already has top quality local and semi-express transit between the 101 and Swift. Adding Link with a few stations would truly expand the attractiveness of the corridor. Swift won’t even interface with Link if it uses the I-5 option which is what you’d advocate.

        People love “streetcar” neighborhoods like Phinney Ridge/Greenwood, 24th NW, Eastlake and Wallingford. But they didn’t happen magically; someone built them and (usually) built the streetcar line to serve them. It was only later that transit began being a “public utility”.

        There are far more people who want to live in such an environment than there are dwellings along them. And if we line them with 6 story buildings cheek-by-jowl they’ll lose the “isness” that makes them attractive. So we have to make new ones.

        The problem is, we really can’t make new “streetcar suburbs” in developed areas which already consist of valuable housing. The residents hate the idea, and they have lots of political power. But if there happened to be a six mile long corridor mostly (but not entirely) lined with trashy buildings and chaotic car-oriented businesses a 1/4 mile wide, wouldn’t that be a good place to build a “streetcar suburb”? I think it would, and there are five in the region: Aurora/SR 99 from 130th to north of the Boeing Freeway (SR 526) in South Everett, Lake City Way from about 110th to 145th, Rainier Avenue for most of its length, Delridge from a few blocks south of Spokane to about 115th, and SR99 between the Airport and Federal Way.

        Some form of separated but mostly at-grade rail transit should serve all of these corridors someday.

      6. The bottom line is that not that many people will ever want to travel between downtown Everett and downtown Seattle or the U-District, which is the trip you’re trying to optimize. If Everett were as big as Tacoma, sure, worrying about the time required to travel between the two downtowns would be worth it. But it’s not, and it’s an almost absolute bet that Lynnwood and the region between it and Everett will grow much more rapidly in the next three decades than will Everett itself.

        If the region is going to spend a bajillion dollars to extend link to Everett, it should at least pass by some riders along the way.

      7. asdf,

        I’m all for a jaunt over to I-5 at the southern end of Swift to expedite journeys to Seattle. If people are trying to get to Seattle from Swift mid-route, they should instead consider one of the several east-west bus lines that connect 99 in Snohomish to a freeway station, though at the low frequencies those lines run at, they might be better off simply taking Swift down south.

      8. Anandakos,

        Please don’t put words in my mouth: at no point did I suggest we spend several billion dollars so a few folks will be willing to commute from Everett to Seattle by rail via the I-5 median; if light rail comes to Everett—and it shouldn’t—it should definitely do so on 99 so not every single rider will come from people driving to stations or taking buses, just most of them.

        I think you’re overestimating the power of a train to catalyze redevelopment, especially when constructed in areas designed and built for a single purpose that has nothing to do with charming human-scaled neighborhoods. The massive retrofit required to make the relevant stretch of 99 attractive to people who enjoy the compact, leafy, walkable, and proximate-to-a-significant-amount-of-other-worthwhile-stuff areas you extoll is unprecedented. This is not the same greenfield situation real estate barons financing streetcars were walking into at the turn of the 20th century! Additionally, streetcar suburbs of yore were directly adjacent to downtowns, ensuring quick travel to the regional job center and social activities. This corridor feeds into no such adjacent, magnetic and comprehensive activity center.

        And to your point about redeveloping trashy 6-mile corridors: while land around 99 is not valued as highly as land in Wallingford, it’s also not valued highly enough for someone to tear up what is there and build pleasant single family homes that no one would live in because they are right next to a flippin’ highway. When has an Aurora or Pacific Highway been transformed into a NE 45th through Wallingford or the best parts of Rainier Ave? Never.

        And I’m not sure how any part of Rainier made it onto the same list of “bad places that need light rail to fix them” as 99. If anyone wants to see what surface light rail as implemented by Sound Transit can do to an area—and you’d like another street to add to your list of “bad aves”—look at MLK. It’s not particularly charming or human-scaled but it does have cars flying down it at 45.

        There are much better places to put the throngs moving to the area, including anywhere in Seattle, or in the cities that ring the lake and are actually close to existing job and activity centers. Any of these places will be easier and less costly to stick more people in than trying to attract folks to the Pacific Highway, even with all the folks belly-aching about density and changing character.

      9. I too want to see our transportation investments leveraged to create more places more people care about as well as places that encourage people to behave more sustainably, environmentally, socially and economically. The 99 corridor is definitely not the place to attempt this.

      10. Lynnwood has already zoned its Swift station areas for TOD, and even named the stations for their future neighborhoods. So housing is coming, it just takes years to develop. I don’t know how 2-dimensional the areas are; That’s an important issue for walkable neighborhoods, Wallingford is minimally walkable but it drops to single-family one block from 45th, which drops the number of people who can live near it to a fraction of its potential.

        asdf2 is right that Swift’s biggest problem is its isolation from the 512. When Link reaches Lynnwood, the express buses will be truncated, which will free up a huge number of service hours for frequent east-west buses between Swift and Link.

        A 99 Link routing is always preferable, but it would be ironic and sad if we get a 99 routing in south Everett and Fife but not in Bitter Lake or Edmonds.

    4. Perhaps the lesson of the long non-stop between TIBS and Rainier Beach is that we need to create infill stations that have suitable demand and that long stretches without a stop are a waste of money when it comes to light rail. Rather than have long station spacing. we should be encouraging things like higher-density development or commercial buildings or major sports or events centers to get more riders on the system and make it more cost effective. Finally, the last awful thing that the long spacing does is it makes it terribly awkward to route feeder bus service from Link into parts of Tukwila, Renton and Kent. If we had simply put a station with express bus access along I-5, all sorts of regional express and local bus connections would become remarkably easier and intuitive.

      The problem now with 133rd Street is that there is no advocate for doing anything except the Tukwila City Council — and unlike Bellevue or Seattle, Tukwila has little clout. A big advocate is needed. WSDOT seems to want a transit operator to lead on things like that. ST is so heavily oriented to subarea equity that “edge” issues (this location is right at the junction of North King, South King and East King) don’t seem to attract their interest, and Metro has only lately begun to buy into using Link more strategically in their bus routing.

      As a result, we end up in this circular logic to not build a station at 133rd Street or Boeing Access Road: No station means no feeder buses and no land use density and no freeway HOV ramps, which means no riders if it’s built which means no station justification. It’s a major connectivity opportunity missed that could have been a centerpiece of the entire southern ST express bus network as well as for several key Metro trunk routes.

      1. “long stretches without a stop are a waste of money when it comes to light rail. Rather than have long station spacing. we should be encouraging things like higher-density development or commercial buildings”

        We need to stop thinking like this regarding the Rainier Beach-TIB area. The issue is not just whether there’s a destination at the next 1-mile mark but how important the 5-mile destination is. I’ve said repeatedly that SeaTac is an important 5-mile destination, and even if others disagree I still believe that. Converting the industrial district would have the same problems that converting SODO has: we need industry to maintain a balanced economy and jobs and as insurance card for our unknown future.

        In general, yes, we should be building higher-density linear corridors all over the city and suburbs where feasable, but that doesn’t mean we should break up the southern industrial district or refuse to allow Link to bridge it.

        The biggest change in industrial land use I’d like to see is infill development on the Kent industrial blocks, like the vast open spaces around the 68th and 64th and 212th. Talk about towers in the park, or rather one-story sprawl in the park. I can’t believe those companies need all that space, or that taller buildings wouldn’t work.

  4. In other words, ST is going to be coming back to us one day, and say “Ooops. Our bad. Light rail isn’t cutting it as a regional transit system. We’re now going to need to build an entirely new rail system.”

    1. This will only occur if 1) they actually recognize what they are building doesn’t satisfy any particular need well (other than perhaps political ones) and 2) if the current sub-area taxation rates are untethered from one another—allowing more transit to be built in areas that want it and are financially willing and able to support it aka urban parts of North King—giving Sound Transit an opportunity to exist as more than an operating and service planning agency beyond ST3 which—if approved—will be the last package approved under the current taxation arrangement.

      1. Yeah, if the spine gets completed, then I doubt they will come back later and try to build something else. We will already be paying for that. It will have some value (for getting to the airport and inside Tacoma) but will be unpopular for getting to Seattle (from the northern or southern suburbs). But where you draw that line depends on where you are. I think you could go a bit further north and still prefer it to the alternatives. Not that it would be worth the money, but that once paid for, people would use it. I don’t that is the case in the south, where even a Federal Way stop seems to take too long for anyone to prefer it over an express bus.

        The obvious solution is to stop this madness now, and build what makes sense to build. Express buses to the northern terminus makes sense (it is close enough to the city to be popular). From the south, adding more Sounder runs, and trying to make them faster makes sense. When it comes to speed, this is where it makes sense to focus. The distances between stations are pretty big, and you could easily skip a few stations and make a “Tacoma Express” as they do with other commuter rail lines. At the same time, more express buses from the south make sense as well, especially if we can do something about the HOV lanes (which shouldn’t be as hard politically as many say it is). I would prefer a southern terminus to Link with a bus only ramp and station to the freeway, so that express buses could connect to Link on their way into Seattle. That would make for a decent bus/Link network at very little cost (and save the agencies quite a bit of money) Both Lynnwood and the southern terminus become big transit centers, so that people can connect to Seattle or SeaTac (via rail) or the other suburb/city via a different bus.

  5. On the other hand, independently rotating wheels, such as those in the center trailer of Link vehicles, lose the stabilization capabilities provided by an axle, again leading to instability and excessive wear at higher speeds. This factor, I suspect, contributes to the poor ride quality on the elevated section between Rainier Valley and Tukwila and is a reason why Link vehicles are limited to below freeway speeds at 58 mph, with real world operations even slower.

    It would be really nice to know a bit more about this.

    Portland’s Bombardier cars hunted really badly on some curves when they first arrived. Those have axles on all wheels, so this wasn’t the issue. After some years of service, this problem slowly started to go away.

    I’m guessing that it was the same problem as SkyTrain had when it was first opened: the wheels were profiled to a different profile than required for best performance on the rails that were ordered. SkyTrain just ordered a rail grinding car to go through and change the profile of the rails.

    Over time, the Portland cars have had their wheel profile ground down a few times, and today the problem is gone on those cars.

    Stadler GTW have a small center articulated section and are low floor through out, and have been used on “light rail” lines in the USA. However, those are also available in 87 mph versions. So, those particular cars don’t seem to have trouble operating at higher speeds.

    1. The first paragraph was supposed to be a block quote but it didn’t come through as such.

      1. They do, and they have a special guiding mechanism for maintaining stability, which is combined with their tilting system.

        Here’s the basics of the issue: Wheels that are coned and connected by an axle have a self-steering effect in curves (if making a left turn, the inside wheel rotates with a smaller diameter than the outside wheel). This reduces wear. Below a “critical speed” this design contributes to stability and keeps the train along the center of the tracks. Above the “critical speed”, lateral forces increase beyond those needed for stability, and rather, causes a continuous over-adjustment in lateral position from side to side. This is “hunting oscillation”, which leads to flange contact and instability. The critical speed depends on the specific design requirements of the vehicle.

        On basic designs of independently rotating wheels, the hunting may be reduced, but the lack of an axle removes its self-steering function. Unless the wheels are specifically designed to guide itself around a corner (which Talgo does with its tilting mechanism), it becomes less stable in curves or track disturbances and leads to higher wear and tear. The wheels often end up being guided around curves or track disturbances by the flanges, rather than the coning of the wheels. This is the problem with a lot of light rail vehicles.

        Combined independent wheels with the short double-articulated center trailer of light rail vehicles, the center section rotates excessively relative to the rails and becomes both a wear/tear and ride comfort issue.

        So yes, there are ways around these issues, and it’s one that is being heavily researched, and it’s one of the disadvantages of (many) light rail vehicles.

      2. The articulated triangular structure the Talgos use for stability isn’t still protected by the patent from back in the 50’s still, is it?

        Is that what’s stopping LRT manufacturers from adapting it?

        I wonder.

      3. I’m not sure about the patent, but one limitation might be the lack of space and the need to accommodate low floors. There’s very little room to add additional equipment. Alstom Citadis Trams that operate at higher speeds manage to fit a driveshaft into their system that connects the wheels together, even with low floors.

  6. Interesting stuff. Thanks for the detailed explanation. I’m a BART commuter in the SF Bay area. BART’s website says that they have 20 second dwell times. My anecdotal observation is that it is typically longer, especially during Rush Hours.

  7. My understanding is that heavy rail is not commuter rail or DMU/EMU! APTA’s definition of each is:

    “Heavy Rail is a mode of transit service (also called metro, subway, rapid transit, or rapid rail) operating on an electric railway with the capacity for a heavy volume of traffic. It is characterized by high speed and rapid acceleration passenger rail cars operating singly or in multi-car trains on fixed rails; separate rights-of-way from which all other vehicular and foot traffic are excluded; sophisticated signaling, and high platform loading.”

    “Commuter Rail is a mode of transit service (also called metropolitan rail, regional rail, or suburban rail) characterized by an electric or diesel propelled railway for urban passenger train service consisting of local short distance travel operating between a central city and adjacent suburbs. Service must be operated on a regular basis by or under contract with a transit operator for the purpose of transporting passengers within urbanized areas, or between urbanized areas and outlying areas. Such rail service, using either locomotive hauled or self-propelled railroad passenger cars, is generally characterized by multi-trip tickets, specific station to station fares, railroad employment practices and usually only one or two stations in the central business district. Intercity rail service is excluded, except for that portion of such service that is operated by or under contract with a public transit agency for predominantly commuter services. Most service is provided on routes of current or former freight railroads.”

    Riding BART the other month, it became apparent to me that there is another advantage of heavy rail. That advantage is that there are lower clearance requirements for trains because there is no catenary. That means that cut-and-cover tunnel holes and underpasses don’t have to be as tall and bridges don’t have to be as high.

    1. Those are quite the definitions…

      Commuter Rail: “Such rail service, using either locomotive hauled or self-propelled railroad passenger cars”

      Doesn’t that make it an EMU/DMU? :P

      I wouldn’t get too caught up with APTA definitions. Those are very likely going to change in the near future, now that FRA itself is beginning to pry itself off of 1920s regulations.

      Light rail systems can also be designed with third rail, but it has to make sure that only the section underneath the train is powered so that no one gets electrocuted walking across the tracks.

  8. Hi Jason, interesting topic. I just got back from a trip to Europe and enjoyed the speed and frequency (and capacity – long train sets with center facing seats!) of heavy rail metro systems in several cities.
    There certainly are other cities in the US were light rail provides regional service; the Gold, Green, Blue, and Expo lines in L.A. all connect rather far-flung destinations in sprawling SoCal. Any idea how they measure up in the areas of speed and reliability?

    1. I would say those are still quite suburban services compared to where we want to send our trains. The longest line is the Blue Line at 22 miles, which means delays won’t accumulate too much based on distance alone. I’m also not quite sure on their operating conditions, but a 1998 report by Hamilton (quoted to Wikipedia) says that the line is under a lot of pressure to provide quick travel times and consistent headways, which has compromised safety, especially at level crossings. I hope we don’t see that on MLK one day.

      I think one of the misunderstandings here is the term “regional”. There doesn’t seem to be much of a consistent definition, but usually it means the type of service provided between suburban trains and intercity trains. In this case, Link to Tacoma and Everett would be providing a regional service because it goes well beyond the suburbs of its “home city”.

      1. I’ve always considered that to mean commuter rail; how would you compare the two terms (regional versus commuter rail).

      2. That’s a sifficult question.

        As noted on the posting some months back about Amtrak Cascades ridership by city pair, some people take Amtrak between Tukwila and Seattle. Setes, that is the only choice available.

        Throw a snack bar/lounge car halfway down the train and Sounder becomes reasonably passable as something you could run in place of a Talgo set.

        New Mexico Rail Runner operates trains using Sounder like equipment. Is that commuter rail? Then how come their Saturday service is so crowded?

        If the London Underground is a subway or metro system, then what about the British Rail trains that used to share a line or two?

        What qualifies as commuter rail vs intercity in Belgium or the Netherlands?

        An awful lot of our definitions only make sense because USA operations and political conditions try to make a distinction where other places have none. (No no no, it’s not a streetcar. It’s modern and new, so it’s light rail.)

      3. I agree, terminology is short hand for patterns, many of which (of course) break down when we try and apply them to a particular area. But whether it is “intercity” or “commuter rail”, some of the same sort of rules apply. Unless you have a hugely populated area in between, it makes sense to serve it with limited stops, whether you serve it with a train or a bus. None of our suburbs have a very bidirectional travel pattern, nor are they very dense (which make them follow “commuter rail” patterns). This also means that the value of the stop is minimal for someone further away. The cities themselves (Tacoma and Everett) have a bit of bidirectional travel, but that is easily handled by express buses going the other way. In between you have a bit of suburban traffic going the other way (especially to Tacoma) but again, that is easily handled by buses, and it is hard to justify the expense of light rail so folks in Federal Way (a not particularly special suburb) can get to Tacoma. Spokane, a city of the same size, is focused on adding good bus service, and I think Tacoma should as well. But for both Tacoma and Everett, if they can leverage good city to city train service (through Amtrak, the way that Baltimore did to D. C.) that would be a great idea.

      4. I’ve always considered that to mean commuter rail; how would you compare the two terms (regional versus commuter rail).

        Sometimes it is just a matter of operating practices or focus of the agency doing the operating. SEPTA, the Long Island Rail Road, and Metro North typically refer to themselves as operating “regional rail” service. Other agencies operating the same equipment elsewhere would call themselves “commuter rail” because they primarily focus only or mostly on standard office worker transportation to the suburbs.

        SEPTA’s “regional rail” service to the airport starts running at 5 am on Sunday morning. The Trenton line operates hourly until midnight on Sundays.

        Even at midnight, Long Island Rail Road is operating trains every 20 minutes between Jamaica Station and New York Penn Station.

        Calling these types of services “commuter rail” is a bit of a stretch. Their goal is to serve transportation needs, which includes commuters but also everything else.

      5. Correction: LIRR is operating trains every 8 minutes between Penn Station and Jamaica at midnight. The trip takes 20 minutes.

  9. This is a tad off topic but it sounds like you might have an answer to this. Do you have any reason why Link’s AC system is so loud?

    1. I’d love to know the answer too. I once rode LINK when the HVAC system was disabled for some reason, and it was 1000% more pleasant without the 80db of white noise.

    2. I…..would also like to know this. I would almost prefer it if they just turned it off.

    3. I’ve always assumed it’s partly there to keep the annoyingly loud people (or headphone free music listeners) from bothering everyone. I love it when the bus has the HVAC turned on high (on the newer vehicles) because it drowns out a lot of individual conversations and/or other noisy riders.

    4. Adam, yes, this is what I want to know, too! The interior of LINK seems louder than an airplane cabin! For the last year and a half I’ve traveled every other week and always take LINK to and from the airport. The same volume at which I listen to my headphones on a plane just isn’t loud enough on LINK.

    5. I have no official statement. I did not work on the HVAC system for these cars. However, the company I work for does that type of thing, always for much smaller car orders. So, I can tell you some of what I have seen at other agencies.

      Typically, the problem is that the specification calls for a certain cooling capacity, but the car design only has a small amount of space for duct work. Sometimes the air flow in the duct work has to be extremely fast to meet these two constraints.

      Typically, this HVAC capacity is specified by the number of passengers at crush load in São Paulo and by the hottest day of the year ever seen in Tehran at humidity levels only seen in Panama. Seriously, take a look at some of the passenger car HVAC specifications and try to connect them to actual weather conditions in an actual city.

      Another problem can be what is available. At least one of the HVAC system makers will give you a great deal on their railway HVAC systems, but only if you order vast numbers of them. So, the systems in use on Link may have had to be sized for Houston or Dallas or Los Angeles or something.

      Without having been involved in the design I wouldn’t know what happened, but if I did know I wouldn’t probably be able to comment about it.

  10. The technology discussion is interesting — basically we are trying to build a commuter rail system on the bones of a light rail line. It won’t work for technical reasons.

    But even if it worked for technical reasons, the stop spacing is wrong for it. There is only one section where it appears to act like a commuter rail line (or regional train network) and that is the one you mentioned. That happens to be part of a pretty slow line. So even where we have spacing that might support a regional network, the train is slow (in part because it makes too many sharp turns). East Link will have a couple of big gaps (around Mercer Island) but otherwise function as a light rail line. North Link will have plenty of stops between Northgate and Lynnwood, and will have more if it moves northward. So even if the train could magically change modes (from light to heavy) it really wouldn’t make much difference. It can’t operate as a commuter rail in the suburbs, because there are too many stops.

    This would be fine if the suburban stops all operated with in an urban environment (as they do in Bellevue). For every person who will ride Link to get from Bellevue to Seattle there will be someone who will ride it from one part of Bellevue to the other. But that isn’t the case in Shoreline or anywhere north of there. The same is true for the south, other than SeaTac. So while urban spacing makes a lot of sense inside Tacoma (and will gain a bit of ridership there) it makes little sense for getting to and from Tacoma.

    Ultimately it is a matter of geography, and finding the best tool for the job. Between Tacoma and Seattle, or Everett and Seattle, the answer is commuter rail or express bus service (to the city or the light rail line). The same is true for the suburbs along the way. For the northern suburbs, connecting to light rail is fine, since it isn’t that far from there to Seattle, and there are plenty of destinations (the UW) before you get downtown. For the southern end it is trickier, because it will take a long time to get downtown. I think it makes sense to stick with express buses unless the commuter rail can be made faster and more frequent. You will still need a way to connect the the southern suburbs and Tacoma with SeaTac. This can be done as it is now (via buses) or via an easy transfer station on the freeway, so that express buses can serve both Seattle and Link.

    1. One cheap way to speed up trips, at least during rush hour, is to do a skip-stop pattern, where every train alternates between serving only the odd-numbered stops and only the even-numbered stops, with all trains serving the most important stops (e.g. Lynnwood TC + everything between Northgate and the International District Station).

      As long as every train does this, you get the benefit of express trains that don’t get stuck behind local trains, without the expense of building a separate express track.

      1. Granted, if Link stops at Lynnwood, the timing savings of doing this would be minimal, but if it continues onto Everett with stops every couple miles, the time saved starts to add up.

      2. Alternative methods exist too. It does, however, mean having to design track and stations to deal with the conditions.

        At least one of the BNSF / Metra commuter services out of Chicago will do local trains out to a certain distance. A second train operating on the same line will run express to the end point of the local, and the express then turns into a local from there on out. If you are going between intermediate stations you only have one transfer to deal with. The service pattern also makes some sense for Link because the most likely destination for passengers close to Tacoma is Tacoma, and the most likely destination for passengers closer to Everett is Everett. Skip-stop service means you get faster service, but it means interfering with local travel patterns that are also extremely useful. Link stations are so far apart now that I’m not sure that skip-stop service would really work that well.

  11. Look forward to part two. We really have a mistake in the making here by pushing the light rail spine all the way to Everett along I5, that corridor should be served by heavy rail and also support future long distance services rather than the coastal route.

    A light rail line if it were to reach north should run near 99 along the former route of the interurban. This supports local trips while the heavy rail would support fast long distance and commuter trips to alleviate the mess that is I5 every day now. It would be interesting to see a costing for a fast tracked heavy rail on the I5 median into the city via the express lanes instead of LINK to Lynwood etc.

    1. What would you do with the heavy rail line north of Northgate? Run it on the Link tracks to Lynnwood? Perhaps the three stations could be built with a center express track for the HRT to bypass them. But it had better be done when they’re built, not later.

      1. I wouldn’t build LINK to Lynwood along the I5. That is precisely the mistake I think we’re entering into with this continued push of Link north of Northgate. My hypothesis is that a heavy rail line would have better results along I5. If there is a need for local light rail style service within the northern suburbs that should be served by a light rail line along 99 and the old inteurban route. That might link into a tunnel through Fremont to downtown.

  12. In New York there are multiple trains like the #4, #5, and #6 that have different endpoint destinations in the Bronx but occupy the same track in the most densely populated and high-trafficked areas of Manhattan. As we develop Link’s spine is it possible that we could recover from potential time delays and maintain regular train schedules by significantly increasing the number of trains that begin and end in the urban core and decreasing the number of trains that go all the way to Angle Lake or Lynwood? At high traffic times it may make sense to limit the number of trains that actually go all the way to the very last stations so that the majority of users who will catch the train and leave the train somewhere between Northgate and Sea-Tac airport can avoid delays and have a more regular rush hour schedule.

  13. It seems like most current and planned station spacing on Link is similar to many S-Bahn lines in Germany. There are some German S-Bahn lines that are effectively above ground U-Bahns (and, they sometimes run underground too). I recently used an S-Bahn train from Dusseldorf Airport to the city center, and the stations were spaced very Link like. However, the S-Bahn seems to enjoy some (short) bursts of speed in the city that don’t happen on Link. The suburban network in Copenhagen also has Link like station spacing. I assume there will be a technological fix to the (lack of) speed problem for “light” rail vehicles in the near future that won’t require a bunch of infrastructural renovation.

  14. I’m going to have to disagree on some of the technical aspects presented here

    1) A continuous axle does not seem to contribute to vehicle stability. Siemens S70 vehicle has independent wheels and Utah operates them at 65mph. The Talgo trainsets we have here in Washington feature interdependently-rotating wheels which operate at 79mph and they’re capable of 125mph, which they do on a regular basis in Europe. The Talgo AVRIL also features independent wheels yet can travel up to 240mph. The simple fact is nobody in the North American market has asked for a fast LRV, therefore it doesn’t exist. If we tweaked the design for a 70% low floor vehicle capable of higher speeds, it could be done. Siemens’ Desiro is an example of such an LRV available on in the European market.

    2) The rough ride caused between RV and Tukwila is caused by the elevated guideway structure, not the vehicle. Tukwila to Airport is smooth at 55mph on the ballasted section of track. The design of elevated guideway has since changed.

    3) Assuming an acceleration of 1 m/s^2 throughout the entire speed profile isn’t accurate. Vehicles accelerate quickly then that rate decreases at a decreasing rate. Getting from 0 to 30 is done quickly, but from 30 to 55 isn’t (I happen to have a Link acceleration table on my desk). The time savings might not be that great considering how long it takes to get from 0 to 55 to 0. Station spacing becomes a key factor here.

    4) There could be a ton of reasons why 55mph was chosen. However, the faster the trains get, the bigger the curves get and the more space they require. To obtain higher speeds would require more land to make the curves fit, and the operational benefits of a few seconds (even over the lifetime of the system) might not necessarily pencil out for one reason or another. 55 is a “standard speed” for systems old and new in the US, the market is set up for it and so are engineers.

    5) There are plenty of heavy rail/metro systems that operate at or below 55mph and have very sharp. Chicago L, NYC subway, Boston, to name a few. They may be old, but so is the S Bahn.

    6) The tunnel between Westlake Station and Univ St station is bored tunnel, not cut-and-cover. Downtown Bellevue is sequential excavation.

    7) Look at Link on the spectrum of rail transport: it’s a blend of heavy rail and light rail. Heavy rail capacity, grade separation north of International District, long trains, large stations, high frequencies with light rail vehicles, some stations, overhead power supply, and at-grade segments. S-Bahn, by looking at their system, seems to be more commuter rail acting as heavy rail (like BART).

    8) I see a lot of technical mentions, but few references. Such as heavy rail moving away from coned wheels. That’s news to me!

    The conclusion I would make is that Link is limited to near-freeway speeds due to the infrastructure. We could purchase vehicles capable of 100mph, but the track geometry still limits trains to 55mph. Any faster and rider comfort becomes an issue, which is what design speed is based on. Of course, trains could be operated much faster before they derail, but passengers would be thrown from their seats.

    1. Hi Mike,

      Thanks for the extensive comment.

      1) It all depends on how it’s designed, but light rail vehicles with independent axles have shown excessive wear at speeds. See here:
      You seem to have some information. How have the center trailers been performing over time?

      2) I’m interested in what has changed in the design of the elevated guideway, because I’ve been on several non-ballasted elevated structures in other systems and the ride quality has been fine.

      3) Want to help us make a real timetable?

      8) Yes, I said moving away from “strictly coned profiles”. I will even get you the wheel profile type if you’re interested.

      So now here’s the question…Now we know there are not just vehicle limitations, but also infrastructure limitations, why is Link being proposed to serve Everett and Tacoma, given these limitations?

      1. What about just tightening up the track gauge so that hunting isn’t as likely? It’s not like Link is going to have much in the way of curves on the straight shot segments where the higher speeds are possible.

      2. Jason, assuming you can see my email address from the admin side, feel free to send me an email.

    2. Mike,

      With regards to your 7th point, it boils down to lack of clarity about what Link is trying to accomplish and—on that murky basis—trying to choose a suitable tool for the job. If we wanted to build something able to get between Tacoma, Seattle and Everett in a time-competitive manner, designing the infrastructure for 55 mph operations wasn’t a smart move. If we cared about serving urban contexts in sensitive ways, we shouldn’t be running 400’ trains on streets. If we truly cared about addressing regional mobility needs—our biggest problems all related to “last mile” travel—we shouldn’t be building mass transit lines with > 1 mile stop spacing. Effective tram-train services exist, capable of serving both urban and, if not regional, then suburban needs—Link just doesn’t resemble those services.

      The comparison to the S-Bahn seems to exist to point out one successful and effective way of serving the regional travel needs Sound Transit’s Link claims to be catering to while bringing out the comparative deficiencies with Link.

      In the end, engineers (me) are problem solvers and with Link they are trying to solve the poorly defined problem they’ve been handed by planners (also me). This discussion of mode is just the beginning of the discussion of why we have what we do, what it means about the folks making decisions about what we have, and how we might be able to plan and engineer (with clarity) more effective (meaning it accomplishes some clearly set-forth goal) solutions.

  15. This is great stuff. Link’s sharpest curves look like they have about 250′ radii (Maybe Westlake is smaller, don’t know). Light rail trains are designed for 82′ radii if I recall, and I suspect there are 250′ curves on heavy rail systems (the loop in Chicago of course, but also NYC and others). So it seems like they could swap in more cylindrical tires that would be more rickety around the curves but allow higher speeds, which would mean that the low floors and non-solid axle is the Achilles heel.


    Might be good to research a couple of experiments. Between 1941 and 1963, it represented the last attempt of a respected interurban system to bring an old technology up to date to where it could compete with the emerging massive shifts in living patterns and transit.

    Two articulated four section trains ran ordinary streetcar track through Milwaukee before taking off on their own right of way down the Skokee Valley- capable of 90 mph under trolleypole.

    At Howard Street, the Chicago city limit, conductors would manually pulled the poles down by rope with the train in motion, to where it made contact with the third rail of the CTA heavy-rail elevated track.

    The train then made an express run toward downtown Chicago, where it continued around the “Loop”- the elevated also used by the CTA trains. All the bistros were still in France- so the dining car section was called the Tavern/Lounge- white table cloths and all.

    In the second link, noted urbanist Jarrett Walker describes a currently operating system in Karlsruhe, Germany, where trains also run street track and intercity rail on the same run.

    In my opinion, a bottom-line working definition of the term “light rail” is the ability to negotiate streetcar track- however successfully the necessity can be avoided. So I think that these two examples should provide some extremely necessary study as we decide where to take our system from here.

    And by the way: I don’t think anybody has mentioned the fact that none of our presently-planned system seems to have a single section of express track. Which under any setup is the first requirement for a single train to be “high speed”.

    Mark Dublin

    1. It’s interesting that he mentioned Karlsruhe. Karlsruhe is actually a very special case and many people point to it as an example of how light rail can operate inside and outside of a city (but not quite as far as Tacoma to Everett).

      Karlsruhe tram system existed before the regional extensions. The later regional extensions actually used mostly *existing* tracks that were already there. The situation there isn’t “Hey let’s build an intercity tram!” but rather, “where else could our tram go on existing infrastructure?”

      That said, Karlsruhe’s trams operate on-sight in the city center, and they’re running into a problem where the headways are so short that crossing the street becomes a challenge for pedestrians. Of course, a tunnel is now in the works…

  17. Interesting insight on both your part and Jarrett’s. Seattle’s main problem is hardest one of all at this time in US history: restarting both local and regional electric rail decades after that form of transit almost completely disappeared.

    Both the Chicago and North Shore and the Karlsruhe system had years of right of way, equipment, infrastructure, and experience to build on.

    We have to build street rail and interurban transit (which LINK actually is)back from worse than zero. Meaning the sprawled living patterns under which most of our population lives. Breeding several generations of non-transit habits that make early-last-century horse-attachment look tolerant and quaint.

    To me, for us, the most important value of interurban rail is its versatility. White tablecloths or not, what’s critical is the design skill a railroad that can handle a variety of operating conditions. With seats comfortable enough for a ride between Everett and Olympia.

    And a bathroom every couple of cars as well.

    Mark Dublin

  18. While all good points, the system would never be built without regional buy-in and funding. It is the simple truth that no one likes to acknowledge. ST3 is being built to continue a regionalist tone because Snohomish and Pierce County are wanting a return on their ST2 investment and BRT isn’t going to satiate that. I suppose most of this debate is coming up because no one read Sound Transit’s EIS/Priority Project Network until now. Central Spine has been the mantra for at least the past 6 years.

    1. Central Spine at the expense of Seattle urban mobility hasn’t been ST’s stated mantra until this month.

      Which means it’s the perfect opportunity to force ST to face the reality that their real choice is between growing the system intelligently or not growing it at all beyond its current ST2 boundaries.

    2. Remember sub-area equity. Pierce and Snohomish aren’t paying for any trackage not within their county. Thus far, Pierce’s money has gone torwards more buses and Sounder Trains. Snohomish’s money is going towards a combination of more buses and Link to Mountlake Terrace and Everett.

      The argument that Pierce and Snohomish need to see the spine completed in order to realize their investment implies that Link so far was actually their investment. That is simply not the case.

      1. It is the case for building out a regional transit authority under ST. Otherwise Metro would have been giving Seattle light rail on a silver platter. Subareas or not.

      2. I believe Pierce has been saving up money. That’s partly why Tacoma Link is free: Pierce has plenty of money while it waits for Link to reach Federal Way. But with subarea equity, Pierce doesn’t have to worry about losing that money. It just has to be willing to release it for a different investment than Central Link.

  19. S-Bahn style trains would require a more rigorous standard of engineering than does LRT; you as much as admitted that in the article. The region would never have voted to adopt something so completely foreign (pun intended) to American standard practice. Your points are well taken: LRT is not a good technology for BART del Norte. But the legislature as much as commanded that it be the selected technology.

    And given all the questions about LRT on the I-90 bridge, how much more hysteria would there be if it were rail carriages? It would be very difficult for people to accept that “a train” would not sink the bridge.

  20. Jason

    Great article, thank you.
    Also something I want to ask you to discuss is the higher cost (Both capital and O&M) of LRVs compared to heavy rail, the capacity restrictions, and comfort.
    And I think Express service will have to commence at some point in the future if ST wants to replace the parallel bus service.

    TG Court

  21. Link is great if you’re going a few stops, it gets you around, we all need, and can make use of that.

    But its not really suited to those of us that can only afford to live far away and commute into the core = e.g. Sumner south, only Sounder makes that a reality because it has few stops and cranks along at 80+mph. The only other solution that could achieve this is dedicated / elevated highway for buses only that are isolated from the current road system, with few stops at transit hubs, and uninterrupted travel at 60 to 70mph between them.

  22. Just for comparison:

    Link (now) Seatac to Westlake, 17.3 miles, 38 minutes.
    Link (2023?) Lynnwood to Federal Way, ~40.8 miles, more than an hour, 80-90 minutes? (help me here)

    S-Bahn Dortmund to Duisburg, ~35 miles, 59 minutes
    Regional Express Dortmund to Duisburg, ~35 miles, 37 minutes.

    It doesn’t look good for ST’s ‘regional mobility mission’ if it’s gonna be so much slower than even an S-Bahn, slower than driving, slower than an express bus.

    1. Westlake-Lynnwood is 28 minutes. Westlake-Federal Way is around 52 minutes. So end to end would be 80 minutes.

      Tacoma-Everett would be around 135 to 150 minutes. :)

  23. Anyone looking at L.I.R.R. rolling stock. They use diesels and electric units. They have max speeds around 100 mph.

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