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A Sounder North Train Pulls Into Mukilteo Station... In Kodachrome

My photo: A Sounder North Train Pulls Into Mukilteo Station… In Kodachrome


I’ve decided to divided this write-up into three sections: The trip home, the Sound Transit response, suggested rider experience improvements and concluding thoughts.  With that, here goes.

The Trip Home

Recently, I was in Mukilteo combining a fact-finding mission with business travel and got to as part of that fact-finding mission interview Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson.  As part of that fact-finding mission, I took Sounder North to Mukilteo Station from Everett Station and then erred doing the same going back.  However, I did get this nice photo of almost 70 cars in the Mukilteo Station parking lot:

Mukilteo Station at 4:23 PM, 8 May 2015

Problem is, I was a bit early to the first 4:47 PM train but had to wait until (according to my camera) 5:18 PM for my train to Everett – a full 31 minutes late.  I also had to relieve me behind the bush as there was no public restroom – an act degrading to my dignity and possibly to Mukilteo residents’ dignity as well.  Between me with a simple LG 500G Tracfone and a lady crossing the train tracks with a smartphone we were unable to check the Sound Transit website because our phones would be unable to handle the Sound Transit website – too much data or something.

          [For those on e-mail subscription like I, I’ve decided to insert a jump point here so if you want to read the rest of the story – just click the header.  Or if you’re at the full size page read on.]

        Therefore I missed out on several e-mails and alerts until I got home that Sound Transit attempted to send such as:

4:54 PM:

Northline #1700 (4:05 pm Seattle departure) will be approx. 15-20 minutes delayed getting into Everett Station due to trespassers around the tracks near Mukilteo. Sounder #1700 will be traveling at reduced speeds through the area.

5:05 PM:

Previous alert: Northline #1700 (4:05 pm Seattle departure) is approx. 15-20 minutes delayed getting into Everett Station due to trespassers on and near the tracks ahead. Sounder #1700 will be traveling at reduced speeds.

Update: All remaining Nothline trains should anticipate reduced speeds through the area as well.

  • 1702 (4:33 pm Seattle departure)
  • 1704 (5:05 pm Seattle departure)
  • 1706 (5:35 pm Seattle departure)

Further updates will be provided as needed.

5:26 PM:

Update: All remaining Northline trains will have approx. dalays of 10 minutes en route to Everett Station. 

  • 1702 (4:33 pm Seattle departure)
  • 1704 (5:05 pm Seattle departure)
  • 1706 (5:35 pm Seattle departure)

I didn’t see the Mukilteo Police Officer until oh about 5:15 or so, a few minutes before the 5:18 #1700 train.  Had that policeman been a bit earlier – and granted he had to go through Mukilteo-Clinton ferry traffic – he would have intercepted one tresspasser and her dog.  Oh well.

I did also call the Sound Transit automated line and got no notification until 5:02 PM when I got lucky and spoke to a live human in Sound Transit Lost & Found who thoughtfully called up the website for me.   +1 to Sound Transit.

Also had that Sounder North been oh two minutes later, I would have bolted to intercept the Everett Transit Route 18 to get back to Everett Station & Skagit Transit 90X which is what I had been doing throughout the perceptibly dangerous slide season.  Especially as I got no real-time notification of Sounder North delays via a human or a scrolling readerboard at the Mukilteo Sounder Station.  At an airport I’d get both.

At least on the Sounder North I got to use the WiFi and connect with Skagit Transit 90X to help get back home.  Problem is, I had an over 40-minute layover at Chuckanut Park & Ride where again, no restroom – compromising again the dignity of the transit dependent to make the Route 300 home as a result.  Oh well.

The Sound Transit Response

I decided to hunker down behind two major PR products for the weekend and e-mail Sound Transit Communications early Monday morning.  Geoff Patrick the Sound Transit Media Relations and Public Information Manager, Communications & External Affairs for Sound Transit kindly apologized to me – a sincere apology I accept – and then let his Sounder spokeswoman Kimberly Reason explain the situation.

Apparently it’s been decided to only provide station agents for the morning commute and special weekend event service trains.  Something I hope changes.

I was also not too happy with learning, “Sound Transit does not integrate restrooms into the cost of building, operating and maintaining its transit facilities.”  It’s a matter I find beneath my dignity as a transit dependent person who can’t just drive to a nearby park or gas station to, er, answer nature’s call.

Now granted yours truly believes there is a license to kill Sounder North as a program – not people, not property but the spending program due to the low number of round-trip commuters and the slide risk.  Problem is Sound Transit has no plan to renegotiate the BNSF lease to get more rides, nor is there a plan to get rid of Sounder North for now.

How to Improve the Ridership Experience?

Okay, we’re stuck with Sounder North for the foreseeable future.  It’s slide prone between the months of October and April.  It’s very expensive to run.  It’s ridership stats are nothing to brag about.

One way is to put a station agent at each Sounder North station in the afternoons for security purposes.  Three reasons: One is to flag fare evaders & trespassers for law enforcement, another is to protect from vandalism and finally to provide customer service.

Another way is if they won’t put a station agent there is to at the least have some security cameras and a scrolling message board or TransitScreen coupled to an audio output announcing when trains are delayed, arriving and departing.  I see no reason why this was not done and this could be cost-effective.

Finally, there is literally no reason “Sound Transit does not integrate restrooms into the cost of building, operating and maintaining its transit facilities.”  None at all.

Concluding Thoughts

My Sounder ride home

Granted high-capacity rail with two cars and WiFi in one of them with great views is enjoyable.  Granted I do compliment Sound Transit for customer service.  But I believe Sound Transit’s Sounder North has room to improve.  For instance, I would like to see Sound Transit advertising specifically for Sounder North to encourage more ridership and encourage folks to make the 5-10 minute healthy walk from Mukilteo Ferry Terminal to the Sounder Station.

I do concur with Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson that the walkshed in Mukilteo isn’t so great.  The new Multimodal Terminal in 2020 that may have TransitScreen to provide real-time announcements will greatly improve parking capacity & transit linkage to Mukilteo Station.  That’ll help rustle up ridership to/from Mukilteo!

Of course my ridership experience improvements should be considered.  They’re sincerely in the spirit of acute expenditures to improve transit dependent riders’ dignity.

The thing is, whether we like it or not, we’re stuck with Sounder North.  So unless King County Executive Dow Constantine can build a big enough coalition to stop Sounder North on the Sound Transit Board; we transit advocates have to make a noble attempt of improving Sounder North ridership & the rider experience.

10 Replies to “North by Northwest View 17: A Rider’s Suboptimum Experience on Sounder North…”

  1. Here’s an estimate of how much it costs to build a public restroom. I’d figure about $250,000 to build a restroom at Mukilteo if the water and sewer lines are available at the site–considerably more if plumbing has to be installed. Daily servicing would likely cost a minimum of $50/day.

    Electronic messaging should be available at the station. I can’t estimate how much that would cost.

      1. Glenn, I think it’s well worth the investment. It’s pocket change for an improved ridership experience.

    1. GuyOnBeaconHill, I figured a full blown public restroom for only a few passengers a day would be a bit much. Hence my view a Porta-Potty was best.

  2. Any large facility that caters to the travelling public should have a toilet. Don’t have to be free, necessarily. The old phrases ‘spend a penny’ (in England) and ‘spend a dime’ (US) indicate that such used to be the case.

    1. Thanks, much appreciate

      It’s about sanity, being sanitary and consideration of Mukilteo residents!

  3. Was scrolling though STB and this caught my eye.

    As an Edmonds resident (and one that is fairly close to the Edmonds “bowl”), the Sounder is an interest of mine.

    Staffing agents at each station,is unnecessary. Sounder service is no different than other ST service. So if there’s not a security or customer service agent staffed full-time at Othello Station or the Mountlake Terrace T.C. or most facilities, then Sounder North’s facilities ought not to be exempt. Besides, the majority of riders probably spend no more than 7-10 minutes at each station: 5-8 minutes waiting in the morning and 1-2 minutes leaving the station.

    I absolutely agree that display boards disseminating real time information is needed. But the problem lies in ST’s lack of initiative in improving communication with its riders. Electronic boards are displayed throughout Link station and Sounder South stations. But as we all know, they’re pretty useless.

    Restrooms for Sounder North, I believe, are unnecessary because Edmonds & Mukilteo are adjacent to ferry terminals, which are fully restroom-equipped. Everett Station, of course, has one as well.

    Finally, as a Snohomish County resident, I believe ST should axe Sounder North. I remember how thrilled I was in 2003 when they announced the beginning of service, and remember when they rolled out 7 car trains. But as the years progressed, ridership never caught up with those 7 cars and now, today, the North line is a dismal 2 cars. The North line is a great idea for special event service, which should be kept. But the remaining resources ought to be diverted to alleviate overcrowding on the 510/11/12/13 series – a corridor that garners way more riders than its locomotive counterpart.

    1. Reyes;

      Thanks for the support, re: “display boards disseminating real time information is needed”. The info needs to be made available at minimal cost and be accurate.

      The Mukilteo ferry terminal has no restroom. A simple porta-potty is all I’m asking for until the Mukilteo Multimodal Terminal arrives in 2020 – especially due to the walkshed and delayed trains.

      I agree ST should “axe Sounder North” or at the least put it on a performance contract. With only two cars of about 110 passenger capacity a piece at great operating cost per rider, it makes sense to “alleviate overcrowding on the 510/11/12/13 series – a corridor that garners way more riders than its locomotive counterpart.” Now if only the King County Executive could lead a political coalition to do just that on the Sound Transit Board – especially since Mukilteo has Community Transit Double Tall service to the University of Washington & Downtown Seattle… until then, we’re stuck with this thing.

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