King Street Station Interior – Photo by Gordon Werner
King Street Station Interior – Photo by Gordon Werner

King Street Station’s much needed $55m restoration did much to heal the decades of architectural and functional neglect that had turned the 1906 landmark into a 60s-era eyesore. The expansive waiting room is now beautiful and grandiose in an austere sort of way, the white and beige palette imposing a coldness nicely balanced by the warmth of yellow light.

But aesthetics alone don’t make a good train station. Its primary function is as a transportation facility, to efficiently facilitate human travel while comfortably providing basic human needs such as restrooms, food, drink, and safety. On these counts, there remains much work to be done.

Here are my Top 6 ways to improve King Street.

1. Provide Retail Services

Traxx Bar at Los Angeles Union Station (Flickr – Vidalia)
Traxx Bar at Los Angeles Union Station (Flickr – Vidalia)

There is currently nothing for sale in King Street other than train tickets and vending machine soda, and this has to change.  Space activation through commerce improves security and passenger flow, provides needed amenities to passengers, and gives private sector partners a stake in the station’s maintenance and upkeep. The other great West Coast Amtrak stations – Portland and Los Angeles come to mind – are much farther ahead than us at activating their stations. Portland’s Union Station has a small convenience store, a full-service restaurant, and upper floor offices. Los Angeles Union Station has a full-service bar (and a second on the way) in addition to more standard fast food offerings.  The Women’s Waiting Room on the western wall of King Street station would likely make an excellent café, and there is a possibility of a larger restaurant on the upper floors.

2. Fill the Upper Floors with Offices or Restaurants

3rd Floor of King Street Station – SDOT Photo
3rd Floor of King Street Station – SDOT Photo

When the Out of Sight art show recently took over the vacant upper floors of the Station for a temporary exhibit, I wondered about the status of securing permanent tenants for those spaces. I checked in with SDOT’s Bill Laborde, who informed me that the City is preparing another big push in early 2016:

We made a big push last year to market the spaces on the 2nd and 3rd Floor to commercial tenants.  However, we have a big challenge in doing so because there are a minimum of about $1.5-2 million total in tenant improvements that would need to made to all the leasable spaces to make them habitable.  The needed improvements include completing the bathrooms on the second floor, finishing the  historic staircase that accesses the 3rd Floor and completing floor and ceiling work on 2nd and 3rd Floor spaces, as well as any walls the tenant would want to install.  There is probably a pathway for the City to take on the cost of completing the bathrooms and historic staircase.  The Women’s Waiting Room on the 1st Floor could also be completed and used as a space for a café.  There are probably challenges to adapting that space or either of the 2nd Floor spaces for the venting necessary for heavy cooking, though not impossible. We’re preparing to make another big push on leasing these spaces, likely kicking off in early 2016.

Though the City’s preference is for a Master tenant to renovate and manage all 4 available spaces, the city is willing to accept an office use on the 3rd floor and other individual uses on the 2nd floor. Here’s hoping that in the near future something as simple as coffee, a sandwich, and a newspaper will be available. Generating general foot traffic at all daytime hours will improve the viability of private businesses, as they’d be less dependent on the peaks and valleys of train passenger traffic.

3. Provide Sounder Access from within the Station

King Street Station Schematic-02-01
How to Provide Sounder Access from King Street Station – Diagram by the Author

Nominally, Sounder serves King Street Station, but any access from Sounder to the station itself involves a minimum 1000′ walk. From the Sounder platform, passengers have a choice of the south pathway (two staircases) or the north pathway (one staircase, two street crossings, and another staircase). But why not provide access to the Sounder platform from the station itself? There is already an at-grade pathway to access the Sounder platform, but it is closed to foot traffic.

Providing access from the station to Sounder would only require allowing passengers to cross Tracks 2 and 3 at the north end of the platform. Such pedestrian crossing of live tracks is very common, for instance at all departures at Portland’s Union Station. Trains on Track 2 never travel to/from the north, so crossing that track is not a safety issue. The pathway across Track 3 would only need to be closed during active train movements, which is roughly 6 times per day:

  • 7:45 am – 510 to Vancouver
  • 10:20am – 7 from Chicago
  • 10:55am – 513 from Vancouver
  • 4:40pm – 8 to Chicago
  • 6:50pm – 516 to Vancouver
  • 10:10pm – 517 from Vancouver

Having a staffer close the crossing for those 6 minutes per day to allow active trains to clear should be a minor safety and administrative matter.

4. DisplayBasic Passenger Information

Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 9.15.22 PMWalking into King Street Station is to walk into an information vacuum. Aside from intermittent, ad hoc audio announcements, there is not a single digital departure and arrivals board, and nothing to differentiate Sounder from Amtrak for the unseasoned traveler. Los Angeles has long had a comprehensive departure board, and Portland’s Union Station has a makeshift digital display alongside their traditional mechanical display, but for some reason we have been content to lack any readily viewable information. But really, how hard could this be? Amtrak already maintains excellent real-time arrival and departure status via its website and app, and displaying it for passengers inside the waiting room should be a basic part of any passenger service.

5. Open Boarding

California’s Pacific Surfliner handles nearly triple the volume of Amtrak Cascades – 2.2m passengers annually compared to our 800k, and it does so with open, unreserved seating. Despite iPhone based ticket scanning and validation, actually boarding a Cascades train still requires standing in a 30-minute line for a seat assignment sticker to be attached to a piece of small sliver of colored paper . As writers such as Matthew Yglesias and the Economist famously bemoaned, there is no reason not to allow open, commuter rail style boarding on Amtrak trains.

Unlike Portland, Amtrak passengers at King Street never have to cross an active track to get to their train, so platform queuing shouldn’t be a safety issue. Though Cascades trains may only open one or two doors at rural stations – necessitating a close grouping of Centralia-bound passengers, for example – this could be accomplished via platform level A-Board signs or by automatic car (but not seat) assignments. Forcing everyone to stand in line airport style makes no sense and worsens the experience for everyone. Imagine if boarding Amtrak were as easy as boarding Link or Sounder? Because it should be!

6. Using ORCA Between Seattle, Tukwila, and Tacoma

photo-34-248x333Back when RailPlus was first offered on Amtrak trains between Seattle and Everett, Sound Transit’s Barbara Gilliland called it “one of the easiest agreements I’ve ever worked on.” So why not down south?

Back in 2010 I asked WSDOT’s Vickie Sheehan about allowing ORCA Passholders to ride Amtrak between Seattle, Tukwila, and Tacoma, and she said that there wasn’t enough capacity:

Current demand for travel on the Seattle to Portland route is much higher than between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. and is growing. Ridership projections do not show sufficient space on trains to make the Rail Plus fare an option to be pursued at this time between Seattle and Tacoma. In fact our projections show that we shall soon be in a position where demand outstrips supply.

Calculating average capacity for a segment is actually difficult, but you can readily get a ballpark idea. In a post a few months ago, I charted Amtrak Cascades ridership by city pair. If you sum the passenger totals for all destinations from a particular city, subtract those deboarding at a particular station, and divide by 4 daily trains, you can get a good sense of how full the train is between any given station:

Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 10.18.03 PM

So each Amtrak Cascades train would be able to accommodate approximately between 35-50 Sounder passengers, instantly providing more de facto mid-day and reverse peak Sounder service without a single easement dollar paid to BNSF. This will make even more sense when Amtrak and Sounder share a platform just a couple years from now. Why not do it?

What else? What would you do to make King Street better?

186 Replies to “Top 6 Ways to Improve King Street Station”

  1. Denver Union Station is probably my favorite recent station renovation, and it’s always packed with people, despite seeing only one train per day.

    There are several restaurants and a hotel, quick food, shops, and very good lighting. The display board displays not only trains but intercity buses. The station is served by light rail and there’s an underground busloop underneath the platform where both local and intercity buses can be boarded. They have allowed the extensive redeveloped the whole space surrounding the station, much of it brownfield.

    The platforms are openly accessible from three directions (easier with a stub-end, I’ll admit), without too many choke points. It’s a really well done railroad station for today

  2. Underground passageway to ID station. Provide access to the Sounder platform, and it will address your #3.

      1. I agree with you.
        I think the vertical geometry make a tunnel pretty challenging and rather expensive. I think improves signage on the surface would make due

      2. Currently someone transferring between Sounder/Amtrak and Link/tunnel buses needs to walk up stairs, cross at least one street, and then walk down some more stairs. A tunnel could make this transfer quite a bit faster, even if there had to be a stairway at one end because of elevation differences between the stations.

    1. I like the integration of Sounder with King but you are still left with problems.

      The overall tone of the underground area of the station is dank and creepy. After seeing the magnificent stadiums in the approach to the city, you’re left disembarking into something that looks like an unkempt part of Carlsbad Caverns, with moldy stalactites growing from the ceiling.

      The other problem is the platform space between the tracks is too narrow. There’s barely enough space to disembark a full train in an orderly fashion. Letting people cross the tracks directly might help to alleviate the flow, but thinking about how things get implemented in this neck of the woods I fear the inevitable missed signals and resultant carnage.

      Wonder about:

      (1) There isn’t that much overall traffic at King. Why can’t you route all the trains to track 1 right next to the station and let people disembark there. It would take care of the stadium crowds. For people who want to get on transit they could exit on the other side to the island with the LINK and bus access.

      (2) How about building an additional, wider, platform downstream from the legacy King station…maybe even remove one of the tracks and route more trains into the remaining. Then build out the rest of the office-mall-entertainment complex around that with Legacy King at the northern end.

    2. Ground under the station area is basically water with a small amount of dirt in it. Look at any map or photograph from around 1900. Jackson Street was the northern shore.

      Everything over the staging area at IDS sits on a concrete platform which in turn is held up by at least a dozen concrete pads, with a plains-Indian “teepee” of hundred-foot timbers driven in at an angle and connected at the top.

      We had to pump cement into the area around the BN tunnel portal to convert the soil into something that would keep a tunneling machine from becoming a submarine.

      However, I think that IDS connection, which is mandatory, will probably start construction when the International District, the Stadiums, Pioneer Square, and the Waterfront get pulled together into a single entity. As I think will inevitably happen as Seattle adds people and money.

      The open space a story or two above the tracks will probably become something more pedestrian street than bridge, itself containing shopping, dining, and park space. With plenty of elevators and escalators to all tracks. And possibly a streetcar spur as well.

      Though no reason this Pioneer Square to IDS structure can’t start with a present-day station-elevator fed walkway, connecting the Square with both train stations and the plaza roofing IDS.
      Remember Seattle’s original name, relocated to West Seattle: ” New York (we should live so long) But You Gotta be Patient.”

      Mark Dublin

    3. Do freight trains use track 3, or can they bypass the station? If they use track 3 it would be a lot more crossings.

      1. Freight trains use additional two tracks to the east of Track 1. AFAIK no freights ever use the passenger tracks.

      2. At night I once saw a garbage train stopped there, waiting to access the tunnel.

        And you thought the Breda buses left a nasty smell in their wake….

    4. Yep. Ped tunnel connecting all the platforms east of the station building and the Link station in the ID. Anyone who has travelled by rail in Europe has seen such things in action and they work very well. Ours would need to be ADD compliant, but so does everything we build.

      1. That’s actually a good way to describe the Seattle Process: “ADD Compliant”!

        (The bigger problem with the ped tunnel would be the almost-liquified soil in the area, though.)

      2. Na. It would basically just be cut and cover. Shouldn’t be that hard from an engineering POV. The harder part is how you logistically work around all the active rail lines and roads without creating pure chaos.

      3. I assume that’s “ADA compliant”
        US: ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)
        UK: DDA (Disability Discrimination Act)
        Ontario: ODA (Ontarians with Disabilities Act)
        I forget the acronyms in other countries….

      4. For all those naysayers about the feasibility of a 10-foot pedestrian tunnel in this area, I simply ask you to think about the much bigger engineering challenges that would face ST if there are two 25-foot tunnels for light rail trains that are introduced into this same area at the south end of the proposed second downtown tunnel.

      5. @William C,

        Ha! Funny. Of course I meant “ADA”, but at least “ADD” is humorous. Guess I should have proof read my post….

        @Al S.,

        A second LR line in this area wouldn’t be anymore challenging than the engineering wise than the bus tunnel that Metro built in the 80’s. The tunnels supporting the new line would actually have their portals north of the station area as all the streets in that are.elevated. Thus the main problem would be logistical — it’s just hard to build around active roads and rail lines..

      6. I disagree with you that it is comparable to building the first DSTT, lazarus.

        If the two systems have any integration, one of those tracks is going to have to go under or over an existing Link track or two in the IDS/King Street area or SODO — (not to mention the threading required for mainline railroad operations). Having a train at-crossing signal system for trains from the two tunnels will reduce the operating capacity of both tunnels to the point that the second tunnel would not be advantageous for only rail. This is one reason why I think the best way to create a second Downtown Seattle Tunnel east of Third Avenue is to have that tunnel serve East Link trains — and have any West Seattle rail use the existing Link tunnels..

        On top of this, some sort of pedestrian connectivity will be required to make station platforms from both tunnels functional at IDS. The key point is that underground connectivity will have functionality for not only King Street and IDS, but for this conceptualized second IDS set of platforms that would feed a second Downtown tunnel.

      7. @Al S,

        The existing ID Station is actually adjacent to 5th Ave, well east of 3rd already. Keeping a new line east of that wouldn’t make any sense, nor would it integrate well.

        Additionally, the existing DSTT actually crosses the old 1905 BNSF railroad tunnel twice — once at about 4th and Prefontaine and again near Benaroya Hall. The first crossing is an undercrossing, the second is an overcrossing.

        So, ya, a DSTT2 under forth would actually be easier from a tunneling POV than building the old DSTT — probably just one overcrossing of Central Link at 4th and Prefontaine and then a second undercrossing at Westlake Station. And no crossings or impacts at all to the BNSF tunnel — which is more difficult to deal with given its construction and vintage.

        The hard part is logistical: How do you work under the elevated part of 4th without totally shutting it down for years on end? Or do you just bite the bullet and shut it down for awhile?

  3. King Street Station definitely needs something for food. As you said, Portland has both a restaurant and small convenience store.

    1. DC’s Union Station has an extensive food court.People go to the food court even when they’re not taking a train (but just the metro to it).

    2. Wilf’s is nice, but to make it work as a restaurant they had to grab all the surface parking near Portland Union Station. Amtrak parking is now two blocks north of the station, or a very selective street slots. King Street Station’s parking garage is actually far closer to its station.

      Making a restaurant work at King Street may require something like that. There isn’t enough passenger traffic right now for something to survive on just that alone.

      1. Both a cafe and a really good espresso stand in the Sound Transit Headquarters station went out of business inside of a year, if memory serves.

        I miss them, but having run an espresso cart at Atlantic Base for a few months, I know that even a sidewalk stand needs a flow of traffic a lot wider than its own clientele to stay in business.

        In addition, while the ST office staff went out for coffee, their greatest need was to get out of the building. Even if that meant seriously lower quality espresso, which would be an understatement so British it doesn’t need to start with: “I say…”

        But while in theory the beautiful lobby should have hosted some commerce, the Agency itself doubtless wasn’t comfortable with the heavy traffic of unassociated people needed for survival, let alone profit.

        Also, much larger restrooms would be needed, and neither maintenance nor security can really handle present level of bathroom off-schedule flushing and cleaning.

        But again, I think the next twenty years will bring the whole area back to life, as part of a much larger and busier Downtown Seattle. And as witness the excellent condition of both train station buildings-as well of thousands of similar things in Europe-buildings with good “bones” can last through multiple uses. And centuries.

        Mark Dublin

      2. But my sense is that Wilf’s is only a railroad station restaurant in that it is located in the station building. They walled off any access to the restaurant from inside the station. They don’t give the impression of actually wanting any train travelers to drop in for a bite to eat.

  4. Wow, look at all that vacant space on the upper floors. What do those windows look out on? I can see the likes of a Storyville coffee, a wine bar or other restaurants, etc being a real draw to travelers and locals alike. I hope they sign some good tenants soon.

    I also think it would be great if there was a tunnel to the International District Link station, but I doubt it will ever happen — i suspect it would have to go under Jackson street due to existing building foundations. The pedestrian overpass isn’t bad.

    1. A tunnel to the Link station could go under the plaza in front of Union Station, or maybe partition off a corridor in the basement Union Station.

      1. That’s a good idea if the engineering could work. I’m not sure.

        This pedestrian tunnel could also go under the Link tracks to provide the missing transfer capability between the two Link lines.

      2. Isn’t one level under the tracks in the mud?

        I think, like we seem to do all the time, is that we look past what is the OBVIOUS PROBLEM…

        4th Avenue !!

        I say, CLOSE 4th Avenue, and make it a pedestrian plaza.

      3. It already is closed for parades. :) But 4th Avenue is the main northbound automobile street through downtown, so you can’t pedestrianize it without replacing that function.

      4. I agree that the problem is the 4th Avenue segment there. There’s got to be some way to rearrange the street so that you can close that section.

        There are a number of straightforward ways to reroute the 4th Avenue automobile traffic, including lowering 4th Avenue for cars to track level (under Jackson St.)

        The problem actually arises from the *2nd Avenue* automobile traffic which is currently funnelled, expressway-style, onto 4th Avenue right between King St. and International District stations.

        The core problem here comes from the “highway-ization” of 2nd and 4th as one-way streets.

        Restoring two-way street traffic throughout downtown Seattle would have a lot of positive benefits for urban form and pedestrian safety. It would also make it a lot more obvious how to deal with the 4th Avenue / 2nd Avenue problem near King St. Station.

        Here’s a simple idea: reroute all its traffic along Jackson St., 5th Avenue, and Seattle Blvd.

        Here’s a wild idea: drop the automobile route to track level, underneath Weller St. Jackson St., Main St., and Washington St. If I remember correctly, those bridges over the tracks need to be rebuilt anyway… make ’em longer….

        Then you can pedestrianize the surface level as a platform over the road. You’d have to demolish the “shortcut” from 2nd Avenue Extension, but that shortcut was a terrible idea anyway.

      5. @Nathanael: Wait, wait. You’re talking about sending all through-traffic down 5th Ave S and a block of Jackson, overrunning all their other functions with streams of swerving through-traffic, cutting right between International District Station and the International District… to build a giant empty elevated plaza next to such a minor station as King Street Station?

      6. I can appreciate Nathanael’s perspective.

        Another step away from ‘The Car is King’ perspective so prevalent in the PNW.

        Of course, this is a slightly impractical solution, maybe…
        especially because 4th Ave is one of the last, and major off-ramps for the termination of I-90.

        Hey, maybe we can have another major tractor-trailer breakdown there this time, and see how traffic ‘organically’ copes with it !!

        It would be nice, however, to see some more pedestrian comfort improvements around there, such as more protected walkways.

        Yessiree… don’t want to give too much attention to KSS and the ID station areas.
        Nobody goes there, it’s too crowded.

      7. I don’t think I’ve got the best proposals here, but there’s *got* to be a better way to do things than the current pseudo-expressway created by 2nd Avenue and 4th Avenue. The one-way pairs are bad things, and two-way traffic should be restored in downtown.

        South of Jackson St, there’s a lack of street grid, but shoving traffic between King St. and International District stations is crazy. The entrance and exit ramps from I-90 can be redone to land elsewhere, whether 5th or 1st.

  5. Thanks, Zach. Better directional signs all round, all the way to ID station and along Jackson plus a train board are my top priorities, A restaurant upstairs (or possibly a verrry boutiquey hotel/bed and breakfast) and newskiosk/snack vendor are a necessity as is eventual access from the waiting room directly to trains and eventually to ID station. AND something must be done about train announcement acoustics!

  6. With regards to #6, the problem is Amtrak’s broken reservation system. It treats a passenger traveling from Tacoma to Portland as occupying a seat for the entirety of the Seattle->Portland run.

    That said, it is actually possible to buy a King St->Tukwila ticket for not that much more than Sounder fare, provided you buy the ticket more than a few weeks in advance (granted, no commuter is actually going to go through the trouble to do that, but still…).

    With regards to #5, I’ve occasionally taken the 512 to Everett Station and boarded the Amtrak there, rather than at King St. Station (traveling through downtown takes so long, that, coming from the U-district, 512 to Everett is actually faster than 512 to downtown + Amtrak to Everett). I haven’t do it, but one could do the same in Tacoma with the 594 to go to Portland.

    1. “With regards to #6, the problem is Amtrak’s broken reservation system. It treats a passenger traveling from Tacoma to Portland as occupying a seat for the entirety of the Seattle->Portland run.”

      It does? I’ve never run into that.

      How do you figure… just by looking at, or do you have some inside info from an Amtrak IT person? I’d be interested.

    2. Does Amtrak use a different reservation system for Cascades than it does for the Northeast Corridor?

      I’ve seen a similar, but slightly different situation in the Northeast Corridor. I’ve boarded trains at Penn Station in New York (heading to Boston) that are completely full. But then many people board the trains in Connecticut and Rhode Island, which wouldn’t be possible if the trains were “full” all the way to Boston.

      Now, in your specific example, the system can’t match an intermediate–>end trip with an origin–>intermediate trip, so it blocks the seat ex-origin. That would lose Amtrak a lot of revenue on the Northeast Corridor. Philly-DC passengers would block NYC-Philly seats, for example.

      1. “Does Amtrak use a different reservation system for Cascades than it does for the Northeast Corridor?”


      2. My parents had a horrible experience taking amtrak from tacoma to portland. They were confused with the seat assignments and being told conflicting information from various amtrak employees as to where to board the train. Parents were super frustrated and couldn’t believe how embarrassingly outdated the whole system felt. I agree with them. Why can’t amtrak have a reservation system where you can reserve your seats online, or have them automatically assigned like an airline or the TGV?

      3. Maybe Amtrak is still waiting for the Glenn’s Samoans to finish copying code.

        Did congress appropriate enough funds this year? They might be conducting a work-stoppage.

      4. @JK:

        At least they didn’t have to stand.

        That’s what happens quite a lot with open seating. I can understand how that might work with the Pacific Surfliner trains that are the suggested example here, but I don’t think people would find it very satisfactory on the Cascades corridor.

        It’s a system that definitely needs an update. However, consider that the new sleepers and diners are just now going into service in the east, and many of those should have been replaced decades ago.

        Don’t hold your breath on congress approving funding for a better reservation system any time soon. It took them long enough to get cell phone ticketing.

    3. Isn’t the Empire Builder is the same way, that a reservation in any segment blocks the seat for the entire line?

      1. “Isn’t the Empire Builder is the same way, that a reservation in any segment blocks the seat for the entire line?


      2. Although, if you are the guy who wants a seat the whole way, then YES.. one person taking a seat in an intermediate segment removes a seat from the inventory.

    4. I wish Amtrak would make it possible to reserve a seat when booking a trip, especially for long overnight trips on the Coast Starlight, rather than having the conductor give out seat assignments at the last minute, ridiculously slowing up the boarding process. That would also prevent having to stand in long lines to board, which is especially hard for families with small children and the elderly.
      Compared to most European trains, sleeping accommodations om Amtrak are ridiculously expensive so not many people can afford them.
      Although the great Zeitgeist is just around the corner for coffee and food, it is not open early Sunday mornings. A concession stand selling coffee, magazines, train hats for children, etc. etc like Portland’s Union Station does, would be welcome.

      1. The first several sleeping compartments are actually quite reasonable. Someone I work with got one to the LA area cheaper than the airline ticket.

        The problem you wind up with is the demand based ticket prices, which makes the price vastly increase as segments of the trip sell out.

        Short of adding sleeping cars there is no good way to solve that issue, thanks to mandates from Congess about Amtrak having to run in a way that minimizes the losses (which means maximum ticket prices when demand dictates that).

      2. There will probably be some sleeping cars added in a couple of years… but only on the East Coast routes which use “single-level” railroad cars. (On the East Coast, by the way, the sleeping car prices currently can be twice as high as on the West Coast.)

    5. Boarding the train at Tacoma is effectively done commuter style. You just get on the train and find a seat. The conductors do try to cluster people travelling to other intermediate stations in one car and to give priority to groups for the tables.

      I don’t think I’ve ever seen a passenger disembark at Tacoma on a southbound train or embark on a northbound train. I find Tacoma a much easier station to use than Seattle so even if my final destination is closer to Seattle I’ll usually opt for the free parking and easy access of Tacoma.

      1. Even vending machines in the Westlake mezzanine would be an improvement on what is currently there.

      2. I’d like to see a TVM on the Weller St. overpass. It would save those who do use the Amtrak Rail Plus option a few steps.

    1. For sure! Especially Federal Way Transit Center, which could not have been better designed to make sure that nobody goes between the transit center and the shopping mall, including at least one decent restaurant, distance of exactly one hedge.

      Where human passenger assistance and information should be, there’s a security office that looks exactly like a police station. The parking garage looks like architect worked for the Department of Corrections, but got fired for making the place look too punitive.

      Worst insult of all: in addition to being brighter and more cheerful, there was an espresso stand- which most of us more than expected would become part of an even more passenger-friendly complex at the new center.

      First step toward finishing King Street Station: paint the walls a shade more tan or cream colored. Right now there’s a sense a beef carcass hanging from the ceiling would stay frozen if the air conditioning failed in 103 degree heat.


  7. “But why not provide access to the Sounder platform from the station itself?”


    Track 3, next to KSS is the one that the Coast Starlight, the Empire Builder, and trains #513, and #516 use for boarding/detraining.

    It’s an active thru track.

    In Portland, the tracks that people walk across are considered stub tracks operationally, and the track that the Coast Starlight is on is the last track to access from the platform.

    1. But again, it’s only 6 brief train movements per day. That could be handled either with a security guard temporarily closing the walkway, or even having crossing arms if you wanted to get fancy. But it’d be safe.

      1. easier said than done. Not a problem most of the day, but when trains #510 (7:40am) and #8 (4:45pm) are on track #3. they are not just there for just 5 minutes there, but longer to load passengers and luggage, Those times are also the peak period of Sounder, so during certain times of peak period, the at-grade crossing is not usable, even with a guard watching.

      2. Would be good to have a BN engineer or two, and somebody in train control, even if they have to e-mail from Texas, talk realistically about idea of a pedestrian area in front a number of mile-long freight trains.

        I’d also bet that trans-continental schedule coordination would have trouble grasping the concept of a through track becoming Westlake plaza

        Passenger trains are fair game for abuse, since every delay and screw-up is officially called an “issue”. I doubt that hundred car oil trains ever have that term applied to things in their way.


      3. Warren: the baggage carts have to cross those tracks at grade. There’s definitely a way to allow passengers to do so at track level as well. I’d probably set up an actual gated, signal-interlocked pedestrian crossing.

        This is only possible because track 3 is never used by freight trains, of course. That makes the train movements much more predictable and controllable.

      4. When does Amtrak have to cross track #3 ?

        I know #2 and #3 are paved so it’s possible, but Amtrak hasn’t ever needed to use track #2.

        The other thing to remember is KSS isn’t a stop-and-go station. It’s a crew change point, along with a major on-off passenger interchange. Trains are schedule there for at least a 20 minute layover.

  8. Improve the sound quality of audio announcements, and accompany them with visual displays. My hearing is fine, but I sometimes have difficulty understanding what’s being said, particularly when the station is moderately full of chatty people. Some accommodation for the hard of hearing and deaf would be great.

    In terms of space activation, I wonder what the possibility is of re-tooling the facade of the lower-level entrance (where the cabs line up). Could the baggage claim and customer service spaces be moved somewhere else to allow shops, convenience stores, etc. to move in? Also, providing a more direct pedestrian access to the lower street level from S Jackson would help connect that space to the grid, instead of having it feel like the dead-end nothingness it feels like now (perhaps a staircase along the north wall?). Foot traffic to and from Century Link could flow right past whatever went in there, instead of bypassing via the staircase wrapping around King Street Center.

    Great post!

    Also, I agree that short-haul Amtrak trains (like the Cascades) ought to be open boarding. But it might be a trick to do it with long-haul trains. Empire Builder and Coast Starlight cross some threshold that makes them too different from commuter rail. If you’re a family, I think it’s ok to be assured you’ll be able to sit together without having to bug someone else to move.

    1. Don’t forget, that the area where baggage services (the area where the garage door for shipping is), and where the buses park is also the entrance to the driveway for The Lofts condos.

    2. The Coast Starlight and Empire Builder are also slower than Cascades and cost more, so regional travelers avoid them if their schedule allows it.

    3. The Coast Starlight and Empire Builder *are* open boarding, of course, at nearly every station on their entire route. I’ve walked straight onto the platform at LA, because *that’s how you board a train*.

      There’s weirdness at Chicago too, but Seattle is the real oddball here.

      1. Chicago has semi-restricted access to the platforms. :eyeroll:. If the platform is shared with Metra, like 3/4 of the platforms, they’re open-access, but a few of the platforms are restricted access. Because no good reason.

      2. Their answer is “security”, which is the same as “no good reason”.

        Remember that the majority of the platforms are shared with Metra and have open-access. There is nothing special about the platforms which are not shared with Metra.

    4. I totally agree about the sound system – it’s pretty much impossible to understand announcements in the station.

    1. This is an issue that All Aboard Washington has been working on in recent times, The actual owners for the issues lay with the City of Seattle, WSDOT, and the state. Its my understanding that Amtrak does not have a actual lease agreement for KSS yet, which precludes them from installing any visual signage other tenant improvements in the facility, the “relaxed” boarding procedure is WSDOT’s brain child, the lack of other tenants is also something the City of Seattle has not pursued. As for Sounder access, I agree with a previous poster that it would probably be a liability issue, and it may not be that heavily used, although I wonder if a new entrance could be built from the Jackson street level of the station to the Amtrak platform. Sound Transit would probably have to pay for this. And Using ORCA with Rail Plus, and Rail Plus from Tacoma to Seattle is something that Sound Transit, WSDOT, and Amtrak would all have to work out.

      1. BNSF too. They are the ones that require so many dang guards at the Sounder platforms.

        Amtrak to Sounder transfers would not be popular now as there is only once a day it is possible. If the schedules ever get decent that would change.

    2. Issue #5 is strictly a WSDOT problem. WSDOT is the one who requires the crazy “line for seat assignment” stuff, which isn’t done anywhere else no Amtrak.

  9. Technically, Amtrak is in violation of the ADA by NOT providing visual signage inside the station. This was confirmed by a case happening in Richmond, VA where closed captioning was not provided at the station for a hearing impaired individual. Personally, in noisy train or airport spaces I prefer visual signage as its much easer to comprehend than trying to figure out what is being said over the PA system. One other point that I’d like to make, is there is little short-term parking around the station for arrivals/departures, and what is there is either used by neighboring businesses (bars), or blocked by taxi cabs. This issue came up as recently I had the misfortune of picking a couple of friends up at the station after coming in late on train 517 from Vancouver. I had arrived early to find a 20 cab long line blocking the few open spaces on King Street, and than a frustrating attempt to find parking circling around the neighborhood in constantly larger arcs, getting yelled at by some jay walking rent-a-cop, until I finally found parking on 1st. While airports are not a walk in the park themselves, they do set some standard of expectations with todays travelers. This includes retail amenities and travelers services inside the facility, visual and audio announcements for all arrivals and departures, sometimes decent arrivals/departures areas, and the availability of short and long-term parking. All features King Street Station does not have. As an interesting side about parking, in the coming years Tacoma will loose its short and long term parking as well when the station gets relocated to freight house square. Tukwila will still have some Amtrak parking available, however I understand that it is often used by Sounder riders, plus I’m not sure how long you can park there. The first opportunity Riders of the Coast Starlight will have to park their automobile for a long duration trip will be all the way in Olympia, which can be 1.5-2+ hour drive just to get to the train. Even for the Amtrak Cascades this is unacceptable. And Yes, I know that you shouldn’t be driving to the train, but taking transit. Personally I wouldn’t leave my car unattended at any of those locations either but for some people that is their choice for whatever reason and should Amtrak and the state wish to remain competitive with other modes in this corridor its something that needs to be considered as well.

      1. Also, I just Googled and there seems to be a private lot which allows long-term parking one stop down Tacoma Link.

      1. I’ve parked in the garage for long term (more than a day). Short term? That is an interesting question, I cannot remember what their rates were. Long term cost about $15 a day.

  10. #1 Not too sure I agree with this completely. King Street Station has 6 great places to eat a block or two away, plus a convenience store, two coffee shops (technically 3), which is why King Street hasn’t had any retail added.

    #2 Commercial space should be leased out asap. I thought it was the original plan when they rebuilt the station and added support to allow a modern office building into the location. It does have its limitations in terms of growth.

    #3 Even myself wouldn’t be comfortable would the notion of people using KSS 3 as a pedestrian crossing. I get what you are saying but the overall jest, the current setup works very well. There isn’t enough visibility without adding lights/gates, etc.. Don’t forget to add the Saturday arrival/departures of the Rocky Mountaineer in the summer months.

    #4 Yes and no. If station access was open to all and able to cross, I could see the schedule being displayed for all trains arriving/departing, however, due to the limited space in the station especially during the commuter/Amtrak times, the station would be far, far too crowded in the afternoon.

    #5 It works on the Pacific Surfliner and Amtrak California because of the option to open all doors. The Cascades does not have the luxury and thus why the seating is reserved as such. This also helps during light load days by reducing the amount of cleaning needed to do in other cars. Having the passengers in a designated area (Car 3 for Olympia for example) allows them to have the Conductor between 3/4 and the AC taking care of anything else or business class.

    As it usually goes, if only half the train is used, the coach cars nearest the bistro car is filled, working outward.

    #6 It isn’t so much that there isn’t space but you are adding additional people to de-board the train, increasing the dwell time at the station that doesn’t need to be introduced, especially with 3 more trains coming by 2017 and an unknown amount to be added for ST3. As we continue to seek increasing train speeds, passenger train dwell times are crucial to keep to a minimum. The faster they can unload and load, especially at a station that typically does NOT see unloading, you add a complexity to the equation that doesn’t need to be there.

    The RailPlus option was the compromise in order to assist with the lack of Sounder trains between Seattle and Everett. It honestly isn’t used all that much (from what I have heard and seen from Sounder and Amtrak crews) but the South line certainly does not need it.

    #7 The biggest thing missing and what others have said, a tunnel between IDS and King Street Station. IDS and King Street platforms are the same level (it was a former train station afterall) however the cost and complexity would be huge because of 4th Avenue bridge piers being 70+ feet underground. Better signage would help a ton.

    1. “King Street Station has 6 great places to eat a block or two away”

      How would visitors know this? Sounds like there needs to be a good sign with a map.

      “plus a convenience store”

      Not the slummy Saveway…

      “The RailPlus option … isn’t used all that much”

      Only passes with the entire Everett-Seattle Sounder fare are eligible. I have a smaller pass and would top off the fare with e-purse, but that makes me ineligible for the RailPlus fare.

      1. Yeah my point was to make RailPlus useful, whereas its usage in the North is predictably anemic. Last time I pulled the statistic it was used by 126 riders per month.

        For Tacoma, sure there’s the 594, but for Tukwila there is no direct off-peak service. Your best option is Link + Rapid Ride F, a combo that will take at least 45 minutes, compared to Amtrak’s 11-13 minutes. If you’re a Tukwila rider and need to quickly get home mid-day you should be able to tap your card and catch Train 513 at 11:15. Or if you work a 6am-2pm shift and currently take Sounder one way and a bus the other? You should be able to take the 2:10pm Train 507. Etc etc.

      2. Also, if you’re traveling between Tukwila and Tacoma, Amtrak is literally the only midday (or weekend) option that doesn’t take close to 2 hours.

      3. ??

        Southcenter to Tacoma: 156 to Seatac + 574.
        TIBS to Tacoma: Link/A to Seatac + 574.
        Renton TC to Tacoma: 560 to Seatac+ 574.
        Tukwila Sounder Station to Tacoma: Who comes from there, seriously? But still, F to TIBS + Link/A to Seatac + 574, which should take just over one hour.

      1. Not in Kelso, Centralia or Olympia, especially if the train has to deboard on the track furthest from the station. If the train is on the opposing track they have enough space for two doors at best at those stations.

        It hasn’t happened to me recently, but in 2012 that happened on almost all of the Cascades trips I took.

      2. Cascades can open all the doors at Seattle.

        As for passengers for Kelso, Centralia, and Olympia, they can be told to board the car in the front (or in the back) through signs and announcements. This is done elsewhere and it’s really, really straightforward to implement.

    2. My proposal is to sink 4th St. You can reuse the same piers, just drop 4th St. to track level…. Then you can run a pedestrian bridge over all the tracks and the road all at once.

      1. Avenue, Nathanael. It’s an Avenue :)

        I think it’s an interesting (and expensive) idea. I do know that SDOT keeps talking about the piers holding up all the streets through there, and there will be some serious money needing to be spent…probably not too long from now.

  11. Regarding access to the Sounder platform, you have to cross not only the tracks, but the Amtrak platform. I don’t think people are allowed to just hang out on the Amtrak platform, so access would have to be controlled for that purpose as well. Currently the most straightforward way to the Sounder platform from KSS is the Weller Street bridge. The things it would be nice to facilitate that the current arrangement is not quite ideal for:

    – Waiting inside the KSS building for Sounder trains
    – KSS-IDS transfers

    One relatively cheap improvement for the first would be a covered walkway from the station building to the Weller Street bridge; along with better signage, this would at least give people a consistent way to the platform. I don’t know what all is possible for routes to and from IDS, either on the surface (street crossings will always be necessary, some of it is through a plaza that I think is private property) or below (there are building foundations between the platforms). Certainly at least the signage could be better. I’ve had to make transfers across surface streets in a couple cities; in Chicago you really have to know your way around, while in London I had no problem blindly following signs. The KSS-IDS transfer is somewhere between the two; with better signage it would be more like the London transfer.

    1. My use case for direct access is future employment growth in Pioneer Square, and additional Sounder runs, necessitating a 3rd egress from the Sounder platform. I imagine Weyerhaeuser employees would love to go straight through the station on their way to work rather than queueing to climb the stairs.

    2. Crossing the tracks and platform wouldn’t be any worse than is currently done at Portland. The BNSF would probably make them put a guard on the pedestrian crossing to keep people from doing something stupid, but considering there already are platform guards for Sounder at each platform that shouldn’t be an issue.

    3. ” I don’t think people are allowed to just hang out on the Amtrak platform,”

      They should be. They are allowed to hang out on nearly all Amtrak platforms nationwide, with a few weird exceptions (Chicago, NY, Pennsylvania, DC, Boston, Minneapolis).

      1. Except they wander onto the tracks.

        (or in NY Penn Station, it’s probably more a security issue)

      2. In NY Penn, which has dangerously narrow platforms with very little space between the stairs and the platform edge, it’s an overcrowding issue. If you let people onto the platforms without doing some “crowd control”, there would be so many people that people might be accidentally shoved onto the tracks.

        This is not an issue in Seattle, or in most of the rest of the country.

        And no, people do not “wander onto the tracks”.

      3. I’ve never seen anyone wander onto the tracks at a high-platform station with 5 foot high platforms (like NY Penn, Boston, Washington DC, Philadelphia, etc.) Never.

        At low-platform stations… well, frankly, it’s still extremely rare for people to “wander onto the tracks”. People don’t do it at Chicago, people don’t do it at Los Angeles.

        If you have a layout like San Diego or Portland which encourages and requires people to cross the tracks, they will do so. That’s not “wandering”.

      4. Low level platforms come in different ‘flavors’.

        If you look at the places where people are discouraged from being on the platforms it is usually where the surface of the platform is roughly level with the ties, or in some cases, at the railhead.

        The more modern platforms are built higher so that level boarding, or a minimal step is all that is needed, and… as important, the height difference between the platform and the ballast discourages using that area as a shortcut.

        Hang out at a station where the platform area is not controlled.
        Trust me, they wander onto the tracks. Especially out west.
        Back east, not so much, since trains are more ubiquitous there, but
        People out west did not grow up with trains, and get their ideas from watching too many old movies.

        California’s stations were all upgraded from funding when voters approved Propositions 108 and 116 in 1990

        As far as Portland goes, the tracks people cross are not active thru tracks.
        Tracks 2(Sounder), and 3(Amtrak) are active thru tracks.
        Trains can be, and have been dispatched via those tracks for movements to the yard.

        Oh, and since I haven’t been to DC in years, I wasn’t aware they had high-level platforms now.

      5. The tracks in Portland can be active through tracks. I’ve been there when the UP sent freight through there much too close to the station.

        Amtrak does, however, have people on the platform to make sure nobody gets in the way of that type of thing, and they also do not allow people on the platform unless all rquipment has stopped moving and they are actively boarding or detraining a train – just like King Street.

  12. Boarding a Cascades train does not require standing in a half hour line. I’ve shown up 3 minutes before departure and gotten on just fine. That’s a bit too tight (thanks King County Metro 8) but it worked. At worst you could show up yen minutes before departure and still get on.

    People choose to stand in line for half an hour so they can be seated together, or otherwise get a better seat.

    How does the Pacific Surfliner handle places like Centralia and Kelso, where only two or thee doors can be opened due to a short platform? You pretty much have to assign at least a car number for that.

    1. I’m pretty sure all doors open automatically on Surfliner, whereas on Cascades it’s a manual operation necessitated by the Talgo’s high door height.

      1. Pacific Surfliner does not have stations with short platforms so all doors open automatically, except the long-distance Superliner car(s) they add for extra capacity. Conductors remind people in those cars to exit by the adjacent cars. The height of the Surfliner car door above the platform is similar to a commuter rail car’s.

    2. The Cascades will fit the entire trainset onto all platforms. The limited door opening is purely to save time.

      It is a shame passengers aren’t allowed to open the doors like our international friends…

      1. Not all, Brian.

        Edmonds, and even at King St. Station, track 3 is only good for level boarding at half that platform.

      2. I don’t see how that can be the case in Kelso or Oregon City, both of which I have used. I really can’t see how they can possibly get a full train at the platform in Centralia.

        This is especially a problem when the train winds up having to board on the opposite track at Kelso, Centralia or Olympia. The opposing track platforms are very short at those stations.

      3. I thought the Talgos had the ability to open all doors at once like sounder. Part of that issue may be Amtrak’s insistence on foot stools.

      4. They do have the ability to do that, but they can’t use it reliably because some stations can’t make use of it. I’ve seen the feature used twice.

        Kelso and Olympia are prime offenders as there are only short sections of ground level platform that can reach the train if it winds up on the track furthest from the station. They don’t know until the dispatcher puts them there that this is where they will be.

        You need step boxes at the low station platforms. Sadly, the busiest station on the corridor is Portland, and it has ground level platforms. Furthermore, the Portland Development Commission has shown little interest in station improvements, so someone is going to have to yell loud to get that solved.

    3. OK, here’s how it’s done on the Empire Service in upstate NY:

      “The doors of the first car in front of the cafe will open. If you are leaving the train at Amsterdam, please walk backwards until you reach the car in front of the cafe”.

      When you get on, they point you towards the correct car to sit in.

      Signs on the platform saying “BOARD HERE FOR KELSO, CENTRALIA, OLYMPIA” or “BOARD HERE FOR PORTLAND PASSENGERS ONLY” do the trick even better. Denver has signs like this on the platform for the sleeping cars so people get into the correct sleeping car.

      1. They do this in Salem and Eugene. People spend the rest of the trip wandering through the train with their luggage to be in the right car.

        It should work fine once enough people have taken the train so they know they have to be in the right car.

        What really needs to happen is a decent reservation and seat assignment system that gives all this beforehand. It means an expensive retrofit of the existing system, but it is past time.

      2. After my 25+ years in IT, I’m always amused by those who just say “Just write a new program!”

        IT is A BLACK HOLE for revenue to disappear into.

        Designating cars is a good compromise, which I have see conductors do at KSS, however this wasn’t on a busy day.

        Creating premium seating options, such as groups at a table would solve some of the other issues, and give another way to obtain more ticket revenue.

        Would work like a Business Class upgrade, which the system can handle easily enough.

      3. I would agree with that sentiment, but several systems in Europe already have really good ticketing systems.

        Congress would probably have a conniption fit about it not being made in the USA, but maybe they could send a copy to the American Samoa and have someone hand copy the code into a US product or something.

      4. I’ll point out that on Empire Service, they will do things like opening only car #2 at Amsterdam and only car #6 at Utica, so if you’re going from Amsterdam to Utica, you HAVE to walk down the length of the train from one car to another. That practice is one which I do NOT recommend. There should be one or two coaches dedicated to everyone coming or going from all the “short platform” stations.

      5. That’s what typically cars 2 and 3 are for on the Cascades.

        In some cases that changes. For example, if there are a bunch of people going from Albany to Seattle, the crew adjusts the Salem to Portland passengers to be in car 5.

      6. So, it sounds like they have everything in place for letting people freely onto the platforms and directing them to the right cars using signs.

        So WTF is with the insane “boarding pass seat assignment” system?

  13. Along with many of the above fixes mentioned above, Amtrak Cascades also needs to start thinking about 110 to 150 mph service. With SeaTac maxing out and desperately needing space for international flights and with 100+ daily domestic flights to Portland and Vancouver the time is approaching to make Cascades a serious alternative to flight.

    1. WSDOT would more or less have to build its own ROW in order to do that. BNSF will not allow anything above 90mph on the Seattle Subdivision.

    2. WSDOT has a long-term plan for 110 mph service with separate passenger tracks from Seattle to Portland, but the legislature is spotty about funding the needed improvements. Currently it’s working on the 90 mph level. Each speed level costs exponentially more; WSDOT decided that 125 mph wasn’t worth it. 110 mph is fast enough to get to Portland in less than two hours, and for coast-long trips it’s almost twice as fast as cars on the freeway.California HSR is only medium speed until it gets out of the LA and Caltrain metro areas.

    3. This gets a bit off topic for King Street Station improvements, but the seat assignment thing is a coorrider issue rather than a station issue, so this should be fair game:

      The lowest hanging fruit for speed increases is actually the locomotives. They are too heavy for BNSF to allow them to operate at speeds that actually take advantage of the Talgo tilting ability.

      Between the locomotive and dead F40PH cab car, the non-revenue equipment outweighs the entire Talgo train.

      Knoxville Locomotive Works has started rebuilding locomotives wih an engine package from MTU that provides freight railroads with Tier 4 emissions. However, the engine is a European locomotive design and it is so much lighter than USA designs they have to add a huge amount of ballast weight to get the same tractive effort.

      The Cascades locomotives are getting old anyway. Send them in for rebuilding with this same MTU package and you get another 15 to 20 years out of them, less emissions, less energy spent moving their immense dead weight, and probably BNSF approval to increase the speed around curves a bit as the locomotives will not cause as much damage on curves due to the reduced weight.

      1. Speed Merchants were 200,000 lb, and the Chargers will be 264,000 lb.

        Current F59PHI locomotives are 268,000 lb.

        The RENFE class 350 locomotives used in Talgo service were 132,000 lb. Probably too light for the FRA, but every little bit helps.

        Plop an MTU engine package into the FRA compliant frame made by Nippon Sharyo for their DMU and you’re down in the range needed.

        At the very least, get Nippon Sharyo to build a couple of empty DMUs for use as cab cars so less fuel is wasted hauling around a dead F40.

    4. Most of the people flying between Seattle and Portland are simply passing through SeaTac airport to change planes, for example, someone who lives in Portland and wants to fly to Europe or Asia.

      While faster train travel would make a big difference in getting people out of their cars, for those actually traveling between Seattle and Portland, those that are changing planes will still fly, as they would have to go through security once anyway, whether they do it on the Seattle side or the Portland side.

      1. I do not have the numbers to disprove that assessment, but I disagree. I suspect that, much like Spokane, there are tons of business travelers who are not changing plans at either end but just going for business purposes. I understand your point, and there’s no doubt you would not get 100% of folks switching to the train, but I think there is a good market of people who would love to avoid airport and airplane hassles if rail service were faster and more frequent.

      2. It isn’t just a matter of trying to compete with air service, but trying to compete with driving.

        You can be somewhat faster than driving and still loose the time battle because the local transit connection on each end will be slow (especially in Portland). Then, there is the time spent at the station at each end.

        To really attract passengers, you want local transit + intercity train + local transit to be faster than driving, or at least time competitive.

      3. That’s true, but then you’ve added auto traffic to the streets. In general, increasing auto traffic on the streets isn’t something promoted by STB.

        Also, then you’ve started to run into the price issue.

        Certainly, Uber and the like work. However, the first world countries with the highest percentage of transit passengers have accomplished this high level of ridership by making bus + train + bus time required <= driving time required as much as possible.

  14. Oddly enough, one of the big defects in the current station arrangement isn’t listed: the access for Thruway buses is terrible. At least one of the bus companies (maybe it was Olympic?) won’t send its buses there anymore.

    Before the whole area between the station and the stadiums gets consumed by condo towers, someone n needs to see what can be done to make things work better there. The only station that is worse for large vehicle entrance and egress is Oregon City, and that’s only because the [noun reserved for those who wsnt to get banned] in charge of the city there use the station driveway as special event parking.

    1. Yes. Intermodal connectivity needs to be improved and that includes Thruway buses. LA Union Station and Pacific Central in Vancouver accommodates buses in a more operational and customer friendly way than King Street

    2. I’ve ridden the thruway buses a couple of times. They do stop right in front the station, but the space is so tight, the buses actually have to back up to maneuver their way out of the station at the start of each trip.

      1. Yes, and sometimes there is stuff that gets in the way (eg, taxi cabs) that makes it quite difficult and time consuming for them to extract themselves from the station once they are in there. I’ve not been to Bellingham or Pacific Central yet, but none of the other stations are set up to have thruway buses back out of the station.

      2. Both Bellingham and Pacific Central Station, for Greyhound and others have a loop, with angle bus parking, so the only backing is out of their boarding space.

        The Cantrail bus which Amtrak uses for the KSS to Vancouver BC run actually has its own curbside spot in the taxi/bus loop in front of Pacific Central Station, different from the Greyhound boarding area on the side side of the station.

  15. Glenn, two decades of proliferating private guards outnumbering station staff- one reason I don’t use Greyhound anymore- leave me favoring security measures like hiring more actual policemen and firefighters, and funding Medic One and Harborview Hospital to working levels.

    And also widespread elementary school instruction on tourniquets and cleared airways, to the point where every citizen has some real defense measures by reflex. Like the citizen responders after those pressure-cookers went off in Boston.

    But really would like to literally pull the plug on the TV security show by the bus schedules. They’ve now quit the outright lies about how ID and surveillance measures can stop sex-offenders fleeing across borders. Not that somebody shouldn’t, and doesn’t, but I thought that was criminal division, not NSA. At least I hope not.

    Week before last, watched a lecture on public response to a gunman, in itself a very good set of skills and habits, which should also be inculcated from a very early age. But in repeated examples, passengers were shown swiftly leaving the room- standing up. Along an aisle alongside rows of empty metal card-table caliber seats, which could have provided helpful crawl space.

    Good emergency security info includes widespread posted emergency response phone numbers, Including those puzzle patterns to read, store, and transmit instant information to first responders. Three hundred million of us with reflex to meet trouble with action. Without orders. Give us the civil defense backup we need and we’ve already got the Security of our Homeland covered.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Portland Union Station has decent Thruway connections operated by MTR, including all but two Cascades connections to Eugene. Newport, Corvallis, Bend, Cannon Beach, and places you’ve probably not heard of are connected to Portland Union Station.

      Then, there’s the stuff that isn’t ticketed by Amtrak that goes there anyway, such as Tillamook Transit’s twice daily bus.

      None of the Thruway bus services at Portland Union Station are operated by Greyhound.

      None of them would probably try to send their buses to Union Station if the station driveway were as hostile to access as King Street has become.

      Several years ago, temporary bus access at King Street made use of the vacant land south of the station as the bus turn around. Buses could pull up very close to the station platform tracks and passengers could then directly transfer between buses and the trains. Furthermore, the buses didn’t have to be blockaded into the station by angry swarms of stinging taxi cabs.

      That is something along the lines of what is needed. It worked vastly better.

      1. This is of course the station where platform access was fenced off for shits and giggles, and in order to obstruct passenger flow.

        Honestly, the only thing needed to connect the Sounder platform to King St. Station is elevators dropped from the Weller St Bridge to all the Amtrak platforms, along with open platform access.

        But this has been obstructed as much as the City and Amtrak and WSDOT can contrive to obstruct it. Because of hostility to customers, I guess…

      2. @Glenn: I took a Thruway bus from Portland’s Union Station to Hood River a couple of years ago that was operated by Greyhound, I think it continued all the way to Boise. Does Greyhound no longer provide this service?

      3. That’s Greyhound’s regular run though, and last I knew it didn’t actually stop at Union Station, but at the Greyhound station across the street.

        Which is, naturally, designed for good bus access.

        It works for situations where Greyhound provides the service, but there is a whole set of Thruways funded by State of Oregon funds that connect directly to Union Station as well for improved convenience. It’s stuff Greyhound couldn’t afford to run anymore, as well as stuff like the southern connection for Cascades trains that don’t have a train.

        Mark has had issues with Greyhound, and I merely pointed out that Thruways don’t have to be Greyhound, and in fact the vast majority (if not all) of the ones directly at Union Station in Portland are currently someone else.

  16. I agree with all six of these recommendations. One very small thing I would like to see on the Cascades route, among others, is the addition of Little Free Libraries at each station. I saw one at the Amtrak Downeaster station in Brunswick, ME and thought it was a great idea for train stations especially for those traveling with kids.

    1. The San Juan Island library has a “book store” operated on the honor system at the Friday Harbor ferry terminal. Something like that would be really nice, and could be a benefit to the local libraries.

      RedBox might be popular too.

  17. What about officially renaming King Street Station after MLK, taking the clock out of the clock tower and replacing the giant hole with a picture of his face? And then pay a royalty to the King family every year to use his name and image?

  18. It would be nice to have an ORCA machine of some sort. Just something I could tap my card onto and get a balance readout would be nice without having to trek all the way over to Idaho. It would be good to know if my card purse purchase went through or not.

    1. Idaho = ID.

      Ok, so it’s a bit of a trek to the east if you are trying to catch something but not quite THAT bad.

    2. Can’t you do that at the TVM on the Sounder platform? Use the Weller Street Overpass to access.

      1. When do they lock up the Sounder platforms?

        What is Sound Transit’s policy for those machines in the Downtown area? Do they let them stay available to public access all night long?

        I know Amtrak’s Quick-Trak machines aren’t robust enough for un-attended all-night access.

      2. The problem is that if I am headed for a 33 or a 70, the Sounder platform is in the wrong direction. I could do it at the north end if I wanted to get a 24, but it means going all the way to the ORCA machine at the top of the stairs, then going all the way back around to the bus stop.

        It’s not too far, except if there is a bus that is going to be right there I’d rather not spend any extra time wandering about and getting to an ORCA machine.

  19. The Cascades boarding system is ancient, inefficient, and frustrating. It is the main reason I prefer Bolt. After a lifetime of arriving at stations throughout Northeast corridor with 5 minutes til departure time, imagine my surprise the first time tried to take a Cascades but missed it because I was “late.”

      1. The brains at WSDOT are what’s missing. People have been complaining about the crazy delays induced by Cascades boarding at Seattle for a while now.

        There is literally no other train boarding situation in the world which uses the same system as Cascades does at Seattle — even Cascades at other stations doesn’t do this. It’s inefficient and frustrating… but it isn’t ancient. It was invented by WSDOT quite recently. They may have been copying the archaic “ticket/boarding pass” system used by airlines in the distant past, which is unreasonable.

        It’s one thing when Amtrak retains archaic practices — it’s another when WSDOT invents new practices which are *worse* than the standard worldwide practices. The Seattle boarding for Cascades falls in the latter category, and is frankly bizarre.

      2. Well, that wasn’t really the answer to my question.

        I’m waiting for our new STB investigative reporter to find out from the horse’s mouth what WSDOT’s reasoning is.

        Regardless of how the 20 or so regular transit wonks here feel, WSDOT must have SOME REASON why they do it.
        It will be a little easier to come up with quality suggestions that satisfy everyone’s concerns if we knew what those reason’s were.

      3. While it would be nice to find out their stated reasons, so far their stated reasons have all been gibberish — stuff which doesn’t make any sense.

      4. Where are these stated reasons? I know we all have anecdotal evidence, but I’d rather hear it from someone authorized to speak publicly.

        Beware of employees who are just directed to do something, they are not always privy to the ‘back room’ where it was decided, and the ‘why’.

        And I don’t think anyone of us here is…

        However… Mr Shaner has been directed by Matthew Johnson to work on this, so he just might be seeking this out as we speak… if he isn’t totally lost navigating the labyrinth of governmental decision making.

    1. Jim I arrived too late for the first lineup, to obtain my seating assignment. and with 5 minutes til departure, they would not let board. This was about 4 years ago. I thought I’d just be able to walk onto the train because I had a ticket, as is customary on the NEC trains

      1. Was there a conductor still there? What reason did they give?

        What I’ve witnessed is them give a final boarding call, and then walk out to the train.
        At that point, the station person can’t let you run out to the train.
        Of course, I don’t know what my watch read in comparison to the conductor’s.

        I miss the old days, when we had cars with open vestibules, and it wasn’t a problem hopping on while it was leaving the station.

      2. When that happened to me, they still had the person at the station giving out the seat assignment slips, but nobody was left waiting in line. However, there was only one door left open on the train.

        For what its worth, Amtrak does say that at all stations passengers should be there 10 minutes before departure.

        Even if you did that with BoltBus, you might have your seat sold out from under you. They sell the empty seats for cash once they run through the line standing at the curb.

      3. Jim, there was nobody there to give me a boarding assignment. I walked out onto the platform and the conductor in the doorway of the train yelled at me to go back to the station. Do you have enough information from my personal experience now, or is something still missing?

        Bolt is usually fine within 10 minutes. I usually don’t cut it so close but ya know, things happen.

        Last time I was at Pacific Central station in Vancouver I watched irritated Amtrak passengers wait in a long line for 20 or 30 minutes. I don’t know if it was to board, for customs, or to get seat assignments, but I was happy to not be in it.

      4. Yes, thanks for the information. I’m assuming you sent a written complaint.
        If they had stopped boarding, I’m surprised they let you on the platform in the first place, since I remember they were locking the doors when the conductor told the station people they had stopped boarding.

        With little information, it just sounded made-up and whiney, to be honest.

        Have you taken the train from Vancouver BC?

  20. It was merely an accurate reporting of a thing that happened to me. I don’t appreciate your suspicion of the veracity of my comment, but I apologize if my brevity led you there.

    I just walked out to the platform. The door was not locked, nor was there anyone there to tell me otherwise. When I returned to the station, they were not happy with me. I explained this was my first time riding a train outside of the northeast, to which the Amtrak employee responded “well this isn’t the Northeast.” Touche, Amtrak employee.

    I have used the Cascades to Vancouver, but not from. I’ve used it both ways to Portland.

    1. Remember, if you have something to say publicly, ANONYMOUSLY on a BLOG isn’t going to have the influence it should.

      That’s why I was pressing you for more information. It didn’t sound right, from my experiences. ,

      The reason I asked, and it now is clearer from your answer about Vancouver BC, is that you would know that after Amtrak checks you in, and gives you your seat assignment, that US Customs is right behind them, at the same desks the Canadian officials were at. Well, on the opposite side. The train only stops for 10 minutes at the boarder where they do something last minute…
      I’ve only been able to observe that it’s where they collect the declaration forms, and run the dog through to sniff for contraband.

      1. Jim, I’m going to conclude my conversation with you. I was adding my personal experience of a topic that was specifically mentioned in a blog post. I’m pretty sure that’s why a comments section exists, regardless of whether I submitted a complaint to Amtrak or not. Have an enjoyable day.

      2. I’m not trying to go after you, I’m trying to encourage you to put effort where it makes a difference.

    2. The northeast track and right of way is owned by Amtrak or the commuter railroads.

      The track and right of way outside the northeast are mostly owned by freight railroads, which are very sensitive to who is anywhere near their tracks. The results of this can be extremely annoying but it’s today’s operating environment.

      It’s only going to get worse before it gets any better. These days the Transportation (In)Security Administration is trying to apply airline and airport type rules to railroad rights of way. They’ve been told that it won’t work. In the northeast enough people take the train that they’ve figured it out. Elsewhere, the statements they have issued make it quite clear they are quite clueless about how things need to work on passenger railroads.

      1. They don’t pull this crap in California either (track owned by freight railroad). Or in upstate NY (track owned by freight railroad). Maybe it’s just a matter of sheer number of train riders…

      2. Actually, they do get away with that in the northeast. At least, they get away with some of that in the northeast:

        Critical mass has a lot to play in the situation, but TSA has made a few showings in the past couple of years at northeast corridor stations like the baggage search thing in the above link. Based on the expected reactions posted online in various places, I’m under the impression that the experience was quite unpleasant for Amtrak and its passengers.

        Like I said, expect things to get worse before they get better, especially since the TGV gun attack thing.

        The Amtrak chief of police actually had TSA physically removed from the Savannah, GA station a couple of years back as TSA essentially made a hostile takeover of the entire station building. Nobody has yet attempted to give a satisfactory explanation what that was all about.

        So far, the most I’ve seen of them in the Cascades stations has been the occasional bomb dog at Portland, but every year they try something new.

        Just because they aren’t around much doesn’t mean that the railroads don’t have to play by some of their rules.

        So far, I think the most entertaining incident was one where TSA showed up at a freight yard (I think it might have been one of the big CSX yards back east someplace) and attempted to “secure the perimeter” while almost getting themselves killed by moving equipment.

        However, despite the Keystone Kops way some of this has been handled, the railroads are supposed to start acting more like TSA wants them to act when it comes to “securing their perimeter” and this will likely continue to get worse until they get orders from congress to do otherwise. Yes, this does include the northeast stations, as shown in the Penn Station luggage check article shown above.

      3. What I meant by “this crap” in this case was the attempt to treat train stations like airports.

        The TSA bullshit is going on nationwide, unfortunately. Although the former chief of Amtrak Police has kicked them off the premises at least once.

  21. Re #3 and 4, I’m not really bothered by Sounder being separate. In Russia the train stations just have a sign “Regional Trains” (prigorodnye poezda = suburban trains) pointing to a side section. The Russian trains are used by tens of thousands of people every day, the regional trains run all day and have many unique stations, so it’s more likely that people transfer between a regional and a long-distance train, yet still they have separate sections and I think separate schedule displays and ticket counters. Amtrak is much smaller, Sounder is extremely limited, and Sounder has only a few unique stations. So I doubt hardly anybody transfers from Amtrak to Sounder. I also doubt commuters arrive early enough to make using the main waiting room practical. The problem is more aesthetic: the second-class status of the Sounder facilities. But that can be improved by sprucing up the Sounder facilities, and having better signs to Sounder, and perhaps an elevator to the Sounder platform (I’m not sure if there’s one already, or just the elevator from the bridge to the outside ground).

  22. A tunnel is about elevation, to go over light rail or to main king st sta you climb up 30 feet then walk over though traffic and weather. Then back down 30 feet. For a tunnel go down 14 feet from platform and have 4 feet over 8 foot tunnel under rail bed. Yes it would have to thread between a maze of foundations. Might need to do some ground freezing to have something stable to dig in.

    Thank you
    Mark Sawyer

  23. The frustrating boarding procedure at KSS [of standing in a long winding line to get a seat assignment] is so annoying to me that I simply won’t be a part of it. By that I mean I pay the extra and go Business Class. Now that boarding procedure has its own bizarre ways, namely waiting on line at the ticket counter to get the boarding assignment. But that wait is normally short and I can handle it. And as a plus, since I usually travel solo, the single seat in Business Class is welcomed. If only I don’t get a seat between windows–I like a full view. I ask for it. Sometimes I get it, sometimes I don’t. And yes, a Metropolitan Lounge for First and Business Class pax would be great.

    1. A couple of months after I have taken an Amtrak trip I usually get one of those multi-page surveys in the mail, asking how clean the restrooms were, whether I remember the name of someone who made my trip particularly enjoyable, etc etc etc. I wish there was a Comments section instead where passengers could address their dissatisfaction with policies such as the weird KSS boarding procedure (and how they feel about surveys.)

  24. I have wonderful memories of King Street Station back in the 50’s when my grandmother Ida Hamon worked as a waitress in the coffee shop there. What a busy place it was!

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