6:46 am Sounder at Lakewood Station (photo by the author)
6:46 am Sounder at Lakewood Station (photo by the author)

Since its launch back in 2000, Sounder Commuter Rail has had a split personality, with its South Line widely heralded as a smashing success and its North Line as, at best, a series of disappointments. Except for Tacoma and Lakewood, both lines are considerably faster than their bus counterparts in peak-of-peak, and they scale incredibly well when the demand is there, as the marginal cost of adding railcars is almost nothing as long as platform lengths are sufficient.

But beyond the most commonly reported metrics – riders per train and daily ridership – I thought I’d check in on ridership trends between stations and look at things like average load factor. Who rides from where, and how full are the trains on average, etc? Who rides between intermediate, non-Seattle stations? How many people ride the reverse peak trains?  Charts, data, and commentary after the jump.

Appendix D of the 2015 Service Implementation Plan (page 163) has a wealth of data, including boardings by station by time of day, including the two reverse-peak trains between Seattle and Tacoma. The charts below are my own, while the table is from Sound Transit. Looking at the data, several interesting trends stand out:

  • Peak load occurs in Kent. On average, each AM northbound train leaves Kent with 645 passengers, a figure that is likely much higher at peak-of-peak. South Sounder’s current capacity is 1,038 per train. If the earliest and latest trains are relatively lagging, this supports Sound Transit’s goals of adding peak-of-peak frequency instead of increased peak span of service.
  • Lakewood and South Tacoma are badly underperforming. Lakewood and South Tacoma board just 34 and 19 passengers per train each morning, respectively, meaning trains are 95% empty upon inbound arrival in Tacoma. But given peak loads in Kent, this may be a blessing in disguise for Sounder capacity. A well-performing Lakewood and South Tacoma would likely mean either standing-room only for Kent and Tukwila passengers or a move to express or skip-stop Sounder schedules.
  • Even at 2-car trains, North Sounder isn’t quite half full. North Sounder could operate as a 1-car service without capacity issues, but 2 cars are required by safety regulations. The line’s current capacity is 290 per train, but trains top out with an average of 134 passengers when leaving Edmonds inbound.
  • Reverse peak trains carry approximately 50 people per trip, half of which board in Seattle or Tacoma, and half of which board at intermediate stations. Intermediate stations have roughly an even proportion of boardings and alightings, meaning that the trains maintain approximately 50 passengers throughout the trip.
  • 10% of South Sounder boardings are headed for intermediate stations. Every morning, 70% more passengers alight at Tukwila than board, indicating Boeing has a solid number of Sounder riders. Approximately 1,250 daily passengers are headed for intermediate stations, 75% of which at Kent or Tukwila.

Sounder Chart 2.0 Sounder Chart 2.2

Sounder Intermediate Destinations

Sounder Boardings By Station Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 10.05.42 AM Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 10.05.48 AM

97 Replies to “Sounder Ridership By Station”

  1. Thanks for these data!

    Have you looked at mode of access at either end of the trips? I’m particularly curious about the practice of kiss-ride in these days of texting household members for rides.

    1. As to, “Have you looked at mode of access at either end of the trips?”

      I can say one reason Mukilteo is getting a new multimodal terminal is right now there’s a 5-10 minute walk or trot between the Sounder Station and the bus stop. Of course there’s the only free parking on the Mukilteo Waterfront at the Sound Transit Sounder Station.

      1. Same walk/trot from the ferry terminal too. I live in Langley on Whidbey Island, and take occasional trips into Seattle. You really have to hoof it to make the 7:26 train when getting off the 7:20 arriving ferry. If you miss it, that’s the last train and you’re stuck. I often wish the Mukilteo Station had Amtrak stops so there were later trains and reverse commute trips. I think a lot more people from Whidbey would make more non-commute time trips if there were more departure/arrival times at Muk station.

  2. I bet if you took a poll of people getting off buses in places like Tukwila, Kent and Auburn, who began their trip in Seattle at rush hour, why they didn’t take Sounder, instead, many wouldn’t even know that was an option. ST has done a poor job of advertising that Sounder is public transportation and anyone can ride it. Or, maybe that’s what they want the masses to think.

    1. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a volunteer to take a poll of people getting off buses in places like Tukwila, Kent and Auburn, who began their trip in Seattle at rush hour.

      1. Here’s a theory. Some of the people who run ST take Sounder, and they don’t want have their trips overcrowded with the proletariat.

        PS, I like your pics.

    2. Perhaps the most obvious reason for choosing a bus over Sounder is that buses have many more places to board. Getting to King Street Station is not convenient for every rider.

      1. Exactly. Working near Westlake, taking the bus from Everett to Seattle (and back) ends up being around 20 mins quicker each way. The location of King Street Station simply makes it a longer and more expensive trip.

      2. The one infill station that makes the most sense is one in the Bell/Broad St. area.

        I believe Brian Bundridge had a suggestion for one at Bell, given the ROW configuration and the pedestrian access (via the overpass). I trust his judgement.

        Given the ~1/2 hr dash from the Westlake/SLU area to Kings St. Sta.(assuming the buses are getting through the traffic mess), is a dissuation for a number of people.

      3. “Perhaps the most obvious reason for choosing a bus over Sounder is that buses have many more places to board. Getting to King Street Station is not convenient for every rider.”

        Certainly true for the north line, but for the south line, not really – after all, every bus headed south from downtown goes right by King St. Station anyway. There is, however, the schedule issue. If you get delayed getting to King St. Station and just miss a train, then the bus, for sure, becomes faster.

    3. “many wouldn’t even know that was an option. ST has done a poor job of advertising that Sounder is public transportation and anyone can ride it.”

      Completely unfounded speculation and obvious troll. Sounder has been running for almost twenty years, and was mentioned repeatedly in the ST1 and ST2 campaigns. I’m sure everybody whose trip is in the same direction as Sounder knows it exists, except brand-new residents. How did these Boeing employees find out about Sounder, hmm?

      My speculation on why people still take the Kent express buses is one, they stop at the Kent-Des Moines P&R along the way, and two they’re a one-seat ride from east Kent. The Tacoma and Everett buses are probably because of greater frequency (less time to wait if you don’t want to wait for a half-hourly train) and lower fares (can’t afford the train or want to save money).

      “Or, maybe that’s what they want the masses to think.”

      Ooh, watch out, masses, Soviet mind control propaganda has made a comeback…

      1. “Sounder has been running for almost twenty years, and was mentioned repeatedly in the ST1 and ST2 campaigns. ”

        Political campaigns aren’t the only time to remind folks of Sounder… either market Sounder North or do away with it Sound Transit. ;-)

      2. I don’t believe Sounder North’s problem is marketing. Do that many Snohomans really not know it exists? Perhaps Sam can do a poll to find out for sure.

        RESIDENT: Hello.
        SAM: I am the Great Sam doing a poll on residents’ attutudes on Sounder’s North Line.
        RESIDENT: Sound what?
        SAM: Sounder.
        RESIDENT: I love soccer, go Sounders! Hey, did you say you’re the Great Sam? Is there any chance I could get your autograph on a postcard?

      3. Ah, the old “Lost Sales Report” data that used to drive my bosses nuts when I was in retail years ago.

        How can you tell why people aren’t buying what you sell when they … well aren’t coming in to buy what you sell?

        That’s why businesses fail. Not everyone gets the analysis right. (Nordstrom did, at least back when the last generation was running things.)

        In my retail experience my supervisors were always trying to get us sales people to record the item (in my case car part) numbers that the customer couldn’t buy because we didn’t stock it. In other words, any conversation with a customer when the answer was “Sorry, we don’t carry that.” should have performed the subsequent action of recording what it was they were looking for.

        How do you know why Sounder North non-riders don’t ride Sounder North if they aren’t there … riding Sounder North?

        Two things do come to mind:

        1) Not as much the number of trips, as to the time spread. Now it all happens within an hour and 1/2. Tweak the times a bit earlier and later and you’d get a slight uptick. Northbound trips could stand to leave a bit later. The Amtrak Rail Plus program helps for later departures from downtown in the evening, though.

        2) Leaving/arriving from King St. Station is more of a hassle especially when Community Transit is running express bus service that makes all the downtown stops when they get off the freeway at Stewart. Hence why a Bell St. station would, in my opinion, probably have a major positive effect on Sounder North ridership.

    4. “ST has done a poor job of advertising that Sounder is public transportation and anyone can ride it. Or, maybe that’s what they want the masses to think.”

      Good point. Most transit agencies have no idea how to advertise and although Sound Transit gets the highest grade in my book, there’s a lot of room for improvement.

      1. Most of the people I know don’t know the sounder goes to games and don’t know how to evern ride it. A lot don’t know it exists.

        I’d love to ride it but I work in SLU but the Sounder takes me to the other end of town. Also the connection with the CT buses in Mukilteo is impossible. If they fixed the connection time I might be willing to take longer to go to work for the better ride.

  3. It’s interesting that Boeing Field has a solid Sounder ridership since Metro was going to eliminate route 154 (which connects sounder at Tukwila to Boeing Field) when it was doing the cuts, presumably due to low ridership.

    1. There are Boeing plants near *many* of the stations. I’ve wondered whether Boeing could be a great Sounder destination if only (1) there was a real effort to serve the last mile with VanShare and an outreach program, (2) the reverse-peak services were timed to serve Boeing shifts and (3) there was a place for P&R access in Seattle, probably at Interbay (since 45 minute by bus from a Seattle neighborhood to catch a train at King St. Station is a deal killer). The F line providing that last mile service might show some of that potential.

      There was a time when Boeing was a major bus transit destination, including a whole series of subscription buses, and Boeing’s (local) management was engaged in commute trip management. Back then service Boing by commuter rail might have been a real interest, but the fact that every Boeing plant is along the rail line (for obvious reasons) hasn’t really ever come up in the planning for Sounder as far as I know.

  4. Interesting disappointment about Lakewood. I assumed it might become a mini-express for downtown Tacoma workers. Is Lakewood to Tacoma Station and downtown on Tacoma link faster than buses?

    1. Tacoma Dome Station are very much similar to King Street’s location; it is outside of the downtown core. So if Lakewood riders alight at the Tacoma Dome, they have to hop the Tacoma Link and ride for 10 – 15 minutes into downtown. Buses from Lakewood are still considerably slower. But what’s the point of a Lakewood rider to drive to the Sounder station, take the train and then have to take another train? The benefit, I believe, is only for riders who live close to Lakewood Station.

    2. Lakewood is disappointing for the same reason that Tacoma will be disappointing on Link. The longer a rail line is, the more station spacing affects the comparative travel time to outlying stations. By the time you get to Lakewood Sounder isn’t competitive from a frequency and travel time basis. Some people take transit just because they get a train and a nicer seat, but for most people the service benefit is what matters. That’s why rail systems not designed by politicians have a hierarchy of rail, with different lines for local, regional and intercity services. Here we try to do all three with every mode and service. And sometimes bad performance is the result.

      1. While everything djw and Quasimodal says is true, it’s also worth noting that Lakewood and South Tacoma stations are only 3 years old and were located in places I can only call desolate. They were pretty reliant for ridership on development patterns changing and (as a result) commuting patterns changing, and this may still happen.

  5. Rt. 2: 45-51m scheduled from Lakewood to 10th/Commerce
    Rt. 3: 49-52m scheduled from Lakewood to 10th/Commerce

    Sounder: 14m scheduled from Lakewood to Tacoma Dome
    Tacoma Link: 10m scheduled from Tacoma Dome to 9th/Commerce; 24m frequency through 6:36, 12m frequency after
    Transfers:
    – 4:55 Sounder arrival to 5:00 Link departure: 29m total
    – 5:30 Sounder arrival to 5:48 Link departure: 42m total
    – 6:00 Sounder arrival to 6:12 Link departure: 36m total
    – 6:20 Sounder arrival to 6:36 Link departure: 40m total
    – 6:40 Sounder arrival to 6:48 Link departure: 32m total
    – 7:00 Sounder arrival to 7:12 Link departure (there’s one at 7:00, seems like a tough transfer): 36m total

    1. Without looking up the timetables, are you saying a one seat bus ride of 50 minutes compares to a 2 seat ride on trains taking 29-42 minutes for a comparable trip?
      It seems like a no brainer to take the train and get there much quicker, with a transfer at Tacoma Dome, NO?
      What am I missing here? Any thoughts on ridership for each station pair by mode? Costs for each?
      More data needed to extinguish brain cramps.
      Any thoughts on the subsidy per rider for each trip – bus or rail?

      1. Can Pierce Transit buses be relied upon for these timely transfers? If they are unreliable I think I would rather count on the one-seat ride.

      2. Right, those were end-to-end times. Actually, those buses don’t start at the train station, they start at Lakewood Mall TC. People sort of live near there.

        It’s sort of hard to say whether we should be disappointed or not without knowing how common this commute pattern is and how many riders the buses attract.

        Also, I missed a couple things:

        – ST 574 does a Lakewood TC-Tacoma Dome run in 21-24m, slower than Sounder, but starting from a different location and with more frequency and span.

        – ST 594 goes to downtown Tacoma first and hits Tacoma Dome on the way out, so it actually does Lakewood TC-10th/Commerce in 20m (scheduled). But it doesn’t run during peak hours (no service before 8:30am northbound or between 4:00pm and 8:00pm southbound). Unless I’m missing something no route does this during peak hours.

      3. “Nobody lives next to Lakewood Station.”

        11412 Kendrick St SW. :-)

        But I see your point, not very many people live next to Lakewood Station.

  6. In the 600 or so people who take Sounder North daily, are there some important politicians or something? A king? Why are we spending $10 million a year on transporting 600 people?

    Yes, I know. It is a sacred cow. But how do we fix this? This is spending good money after bad money everyday this continues. For comparison, running the 550 (ST’s busiest bus line costs a comparable $13 million).

    1. Unfortunately, the only way to fix Sounder North is with more money, not less. The best way to improve ridership would probably be increase the utility of the system with infill stations at Point Wells (assuming that development finds financing), Ballard, and Broad Street, along with an extension to Marysville and Stanwood. None of these projects would be cheap (except maybe the infill stations), and they would have to compete for funding with light rail projects that would probably have better ridership/dollar.

      And, politically, none of this is going to happen in ST3. Snohomish County would be on the hook for any infrastructure improvements, and they’ll need all the money they can spare to get light rail to Everett.

      But, riders need reliability, so we might see some growth if the ongoing mudslide stabilization projects reduce the number of cancelled trips each winter. If the numbers improve, perhaps there would be some interest in infrastructure improvements in ST4.

      1. More frequency and reverse-peak direction trips on Sounder North might help. PM congestion is worse southbound than northbound and reliability by bus is atrocious. I don’t know how many successful commuter rail lines are out there that run only 4 daily trips each direction.

      2. The cheapest station would be reopening Bond St. in Everett. Platform is there (it was the depot for 100+ years) and only fare payment / signage is needed. There’s good redevelopment happening and potential. Also it has better travel time competitiveness for many people than the existing Everett Station, which would remain because it’s way better for transit connections and anyone N or E of Everett. It certainly made sense to close it when ST did, but now it makes sense to reopen it.

      3. Snohomish County would be on the hook for any infrastructure improvements, and they’ll need all the money they can spare to get light rail to zig over to somewhere around Paine Field, then back over to I-5, then finally on to Everett.

        Fixed.

      4. Unfortunately, the only way to fix Sounder North is with more money, not less. The best way to improve ridership would probably be increase the utility of the system with infill stations at Point Wells (assuming that development finds financing), Ballard, and Broad Street

        Spend more money, yes.

        On infill stations? I’m not sure that would work well.

        I’m thinking more along the lines of making it a state or regional run and extend it to Bellingham. Give it an actual population center at each end and it would probably do much better.

        I came back to Portland through Seattle from Vancouver BC on an Amtrak thruway bus. Even on a Sunday afternoon there was an awful lot of traffic slowdowns between Everett and Seattle. There’s a fair amount of transportation demand. It just isn’t being met that well by only going as far as Everett Station.

      5. Glenn,

        As to, “I’m thinking more along the lines of making it a state or regional run and extend it to Bellingham. Give it an actual population center at each end and it would probably do much better.”

        I would like the state government to take over Sounder North and see about making it work from Seattle to Bellingham. IF AND ONLY IF – which I doubt seriously – there’s enough to get decent farebox recovery.

      6. Bellingham has a population center. Everett is sprawled out over such a large area. There’s not much around Everett station for people to commute from or to.

        Right now, you are paying for four crews to run four trains for an hour each way. An Amttrak crew between Portland and Seattle puts in a full 8 hour day.

        Crews have to be paid for the full days work they are occupied with, even though you are only getting two hours out of each crew.

        You probably could get to Bellingham for cheaper than you think.

      1. Except that in return for wasting UA corp dollars, the Port had to waste public money to satisfy the airlines improvement wish list at the airport.
        Quid Pro Quo = losers =higher taxes and higher fares for customers.
        I’d start with an investigation of ST Board member (Dave Erling) who continues to champion the money pit Sounder North line, which for 15 years now has operated in violation of state law,requiring it to be more cost effective than competing bus service. How does ST and Dave square that one with the public trust?
        https://seattletransitblog.com/2012/10/05/sounder-north-oversight-panel-report/

      2. To Sam Republican corruption is not really corruption because it results in Smaller Government when the voters are enraged. Ergo, let’s have more corruption!

    2. Good questions. I ride the Sounder North during the dry season and am one of those few northbound outta Mukilteo riders, plus one of those Everett to Mukilteo riders. Grade separation matters.

      But yeah, it’s time to see if we can help Dow Constantine repeal and replace this route with better bus service. The money could be better spent extending Sounder from Seattle to Olympia for blatantly obvious reasons…

      1. The main reason to shut it down in my opinion would be if the easements acquired at great expense from BNSF could be leveraged towards additional ones on the south corridor. The old valley downtowns have a lot of redevelopment potential if you can get 3-6 trains an hour running through all day.

        This level of service would probably require the oft discussed BNSF UP consolidation down there. Uncle Warren might look more kindly on that plan if he gets his waterfront tracks back to himself.

    3. Is ST obligated to run Sounder North indefinitely, or is there a sunset for that requirement? I think an ST Express that went Mukilteo->Edmonds->Seattle would be a much more cost effective way to spend Sounder North funds.

      1. Due to the road configuration, you’d need two sets of buses: one Mukilteo-Seattle and another Edmonds – Aurora Village – Seattle. That’d still be far cheaper, but it’d be somewhat slower… and far slower during heavy traffic.

        At least we can shut it down when Link gets to Lynnwood. I hope.

      2. AlexKven, I agree. We need to discuss cost-effective solutions here. Throwmoremoneyatit when we have to go to voters for every single tax increase is not a solution.

        It’s time to either make Sounder North work or do away with it. One of the two.

      3. ST has clearly fulfilled its ST1 obligation to run Sounder North for several years. There’s no requirement that it has to continue forever, but ST is very reluctant to cancel a service that was approved by voters in ST1 and confirmed in ST2. The best way would be to put canceling it into ST3 so that there’s a clear voter mandate to do so. I have been suggesting this for a long time, to cancel Sounder North and put the money into replacement buses and accelerating Link to Everett. The bulk of the population is centered around Link, not Sounder North, so that’s where the growth is.

      4. William C, CT already runs the 417 and 416 during the same times so ST doesn’t need to replace the routes with bus service, it is already there which will likely connect with Lynnwood Link in 2023.

      5. I think that ST is doing a horrible job advertising the route, rail line improvements (rebuilding walls to mitigate slide issues) and travel time savings vice the slog on even the 510,512, and 511. Per ST’s website, scheduled travel time is just shy of one hour. …but those southbound trips stop at 7:15 am. (While ST shows an Amtrak route, I believe the trip via Amtrak is fairly high in comparison than with Sounder). Consider this, the peak trip time from Everett to Seattle occurs from 7:30 – 8:30 am. A lot of folks want to kill Sounder North, but as a user of the service, I enjoy the relaxing trip along the waterfront in lieu of that awful slog down I-5. ST needs to work with BNSF to dump one of the far early trips in favor of a later trip (i.e. 7:45 am / 8:15 am departure from Everett).

    4. Haha – my thoughts exactly, Jason. As an Edmonds resident who just recently started taking the Sounder, I can attest that it should be axed altogether. Unlike the previous commenters, I do no support investing more money into the North Line or in-fill stations. The North Line operates primarily along the coastline, which is far away from the bulk of Snohomish County’s density. There are so many other options that CT, ST & MT offer for people in their own neighborhoods. The 510, 511 & 512 are consistently running at standing room only. I suspect the only thing that is keeping the Sounder alive are few elite stakeholders (i.e. politicians) here up north.

  7. What’s the date range on capacity / load numbers? Whenever I’m on the North Line it’s ~75% full leaving Edmonds. Would be nice to see #’s for each trip. I suspect ridership on the later trips would benefit from running 3 or 4 car trains. Is anything available on equipment use / deadheading costs…
    Thanks for sharing.

    I’ve heard that SNAC (Sounder North Advocacy Coalition) will be pushing for some obvious and strategic improvements on the North Line in ST 3. Some of them from the original Sound Move plan. Probably will be some press on that soon…

    1. What’re these obvious improvements? The only ones I’ve heard of are through-routing (a good idea), a Broad Street station (maybe okay), and a Ballard station (horrible idea, since it’ll give an excuse for North King to get billed).

      1. ~ Shilshole would be a good station, not great, and will not impact the need or funding for Link to Ballard. Snohomish would likely chip in for that and Broad St. We could use the Edmonds Station $ set aside since they just built a nice station in Edmonds and spending any more there is unwise. It will be many years before the Ferry Terminal moves, and it may not move far enough to make a new station necessary. Ballard would need good cycle parking and E-W bus connections. Luckily, it would be fairly cheap – Platforms on one or both sides (better operationally) near one of the existing underpasses, plus fare collection and signage.

      2. I don’t trust them.

        I would need a promise written in blood that not a single dollar of North King funds would go to North Sounder before a single iota is changed south of the county line. Look at all the millions of North King dollars that are already going to subsidize Snohomish thanks to suboptimal Link routing and atrocious station spacing.

      3. Actually, a case can be made that N. Sub Area should pay for 50% of all Sounder North costs.
        Half of all those boardings begin at King St. Stn, and accounts for less congestion on surface streets from all the cars it is taking off the road. That’s good for Seattle and good for employers of the CBD.
        So let’s all pitch in and share the pain of Sounder North.

      4. If “Broad Street” (I think it would be preferable to put it closer to Elliott so that you can transfer to the Ballard light rail line or RapidRide or whatever) is built, it needs to be served with Sounder South trains.

        A “Ballard” station would be difficult with Sounder North trains, but Sounder South could come at such a station from the track serving the sand towers near Fisherman’s Terminal.

        Not everyone from Kent or Tacoma works near King Street Station.

        I’m not sure how sub-area equity works out if those stations wind up being on the South line, but they would be just as useful for those coming from the south as those from the north, and unlike Sounder North there are reverse-peak trains that could be useful for Ballard to King Street or similar.

      5. eric says: “Shilshole would be a good station, not great….”

        Shilshole could be a “great” station– IF it were also the terminus/connection to an E-W Link line Aligned (aprox) to North 45th.

        UW riders (and others) from the north could connect into Link without going all the way to King St.

      6. @Andy — Interesting idea, but I’m not sure it is worth it. The biggest problem I see with the commuter rail to Everett is that it isn’t especially fast and it is very inconsistent. If you fix the slide problems, then you solve the second problem. But I think the first problem is intractable. Right now the numbers are very low. despite the fact that it serves the highest generating connection. King Street Station may not be where everyone is headed, but it certainly is where a lot of people are headed (downtown). If an express train to downtown isn’t that popular, then I don’t see why a train connected to a lower employment area will get that many riders. I think it is just too slow. It takes about an hour to get to downtown via the train. So getting to Ballard would take about 45 minutes. Getting to the U-District from Everett would take about 50 minutes, if I’m not mistaken (28 minute bus from Everett to Lynnwood*, 22 minutes via Link from Lynnwood to the UW). Add on another ten minutes for Link from Ballard to the UW and simply going to Lynnwood first makes more sense. You have greater frequency (assuming a lot of buses headed to Lynnwood, which is a pretty safe bet) and it is actually faster. So now you are talking about saving maybe five minutes for those who work in Ballard. There are some people working there, but not a huge number. Likewise with Fremont. There are plenty of people who work along that corridor (UW to Ballard) but not like the number of people who work downtown. If the numbers are really low for downtown, then I think they will be really low for Ballard.

        It would mainly benefit those from Edmonds. But again, I don’t see big numbers there.

        The logical end to a UW Ballard line is 24th NW. From there it is still around a mile to the water, which means another billion or so (I’m guessing). It is a nice idea, and by all means we should future proof the UW to Ballard line (by allowing expansion to the west) but my guess is that it will never pencil out.

        The big thing we should do if we want to increase the popularity of Sounder North is solve the slide problem. I’m sure a lot of people tried taking the train, but got tired of it being cancelled all the time. After, experiment by running it more often. If that still doesn’t increase ridership, kill it.

        * Based on travel times for the 510. This is fairly high, and the result (I assume of some zig-zagging in Everett (I assume). If attempts were made to make this a real express, I think you could shave off several minutes, meaning that a Sounder Train would get to Ballard at roughly the same time that you could get to the UW (via an express bus followed by Link).

      1. Talk about eating someone else’s lunch!

        (Sounder North Advocacy Coalition = SNAC[k]).

        I would suspect an evil practical joke if it weren’t for the fact that really, you can’t make stuff up that is half as good as reality.

  8. ST needs to either go all in with Sounder service or dump it entirely otherwise it will always be heavily subsidized. And seeing how they are running on private tracks I don’t see how they can go all in. I know their track co-user, Amtrak/Cascades, once had more flexibility to dictate usage for themselves but given the restructuring (I’m not sure of the latest) done by Republicans, I’m assuming ST has their hands tied and can’t make it viable.

  9. If Lakewood ridership on Sounder is so low, it’s weird then that ST created an entirely new route to better facilitate Sounder trips to Lakewood (Route 580).

    1. It’s to serve Lakewood when Sounder terminates at Tacoma Dome. I assume somebody is filling the buses or ST thinks they will over time.

  10. Time to re-read and re-visit my piece last year:

    North by Northwest View 007: License to Kill Sounder North?
    https://seattletransitblog.com/2014/12/17/north-by-northwest-view-007/

    Give it some thought guys. It’s time to help King County Exec Dow Constantine force the conversation to put Sounder North on probation.

    We need more Bus Rapid Transit, we need more light rail faster and we need better bus service for Paine Field. All in the Snohomish County subarea.

  11. Well, for afternoon peak of peak, it is definitely faster to take the train from Seattle to Tacoma or Lakewood.

  12. I commute daily from Tacoma to Seattle on either Sounder or the 590 Express bus. A couple of observations:

    I don’t know when the data reported here was collected but there has been a noticeable increase in Sounder Southline ridership in just the last few months. So if the data reported here is older than that, it is out of date.

    The increase in ridership has corresponded with an increasing frequency of severe I-5 congestion between Tacoma and Seattle. There are ST express buses directly between Lakewood and Seattle, and Tacoma and Seattle. On a day with low to moderate I-5 congestion, the express buses are faster because they make no stops whereas the Sounder stops several times, and does not take nearly as direct of a route as the buses.

    However, now that I-5 severe I-5 congestion between Tacoma and Seattle is becoming more routine, both am and pm, the bus is not usually faster than the train. Therefore, not surprisingly, Sounder ridership has definitely increased significantly over the past few months. The afternoon trains leaving Seattle at the peak commute times are leaving with few if any empty seats. Trains leaving Seattle at earlier pm commute times are leaving much fuller than just a few months ago.

    The service extension to South Tacoma and Lakewood is relatively new. I suspect over time, particularly if I-5 congestion continues to increase, there will be more ridership at those stops as well.

      1. King County unemployment sits under 4%. Pierce County unemployment around 6%. In other words, King County has fully recovered (and then some). Pierce County may continue to improve, or it may not. Much of the area is dependent on the military, and it isn’t clear what role they will play in the coming years. My guess is a much smaller one than they played a few years ago (when we ramped up for a couple major wars and then supported them).

      2. % unemployment only counts those that haven’t fallen off the books due to expiration of unemployment benefits. Not saying you haven’t arrived there yet, but the possibility is certainly there.

        Also, with such huge numbers of people going between counties for work as what the Puget Sound region has I’m not sure how much just the number for one county really work.

        Only the next few months will tell, but I am pretty sure that Puget Sound is in for some pretty awful traffic increases in the next few months.

  13. Zach, newer data was just released in ST’s draft of the 2016 SIP. Any interest in comparing the station totals for Lakewood and South Tacoma to see if we’ve had any improvement since the service was introduced?

  14. Most that get off/on at Tukwila van pool to Microsoft, downtown Bellevue, etc. Boeing in Tukwila has a very small play in the riders.

    It is quite evident when watching people and how empty the parking lot is after the Sounder rush in the morning and how full it is after the evening commute, suggests more people van/carpool further beyond.

    That would take into looking at van pool stats, which I believe Metro keeps data on. That would give you the wider picture :)

    It may also restart the talks of commuter rail into Bellevue via the Eastside Rail Corridor and East Link with DEMU’s

    1. Interesting. I was going to ask where those people are going from the Tukwila station — thanks for helping to answer that.

  15. Excellent presentation. This is very interesting. I think it would be great if we had similar information on Link. Likewise, although it is a lot more difficult to gather, I think it would be useful to have information like this with the buses. For example, how many people ride the bus from the U-District to downtown? For a lot of buses, this would be fairly easy information to gather, since a lot of them are expresses (it gets tricky, if not impossible for the local buses).

    1. Someone a while back was pulling stop by stop data from metro to discuss stop consolidation and restructures. I haven’t seen the data in a while so I don’t know if this was due to the writer moving on to other projects or metro making recent data harder to get.

    2. A couple days ago, I had something going on in Tukwila, which, by luck, was a short walk from the Sounder Station, which should have made for a very easy trip. However, getting downtown from the U-district during the PM peak, when the express lanes are running the wrong direction and eastlake is clogged with drivers following the instructions of their phone apps to avoid the parking lot on I-5 is never easy. Because the travel time from U-district to downtown on a bus is so unpredictable, knowing when to leave to catch a half-hourly Sounder train is virtually impossible.

      In this case, I was indeed able to guess correctly this one time, and made it to King St. Station with about 5 minutes to spare. This was leaving 50th and the Ave. at 5:40 for a 6:20 Sounder train, lucking out with zero wait time for a 72 express and getting though each of the notorious lights at Stewart/Denny and 9th/Olive in just one cycle. Throw in a little bit more traffic and a little bit more bus bunching, and I guess I’d have to allow a full hour to go 6 miles on a so-called “express” bus.

      Link to the U-district cannot come soon enough.

  16. I still fail to see why they can’t have through trains from Everett to Lakewood. Why do all trains have to originate or terminate at King Street?

    1. Time. Short trains in Everett are fine, and could do the reverse commute to Lakewood, so time involved in switching in more cars at Lakewood for the AM NB trip might not be worth all the fuss for just a few trips per day that work out on the schedule. Just my guess.

    2. I read somewhere that there were union rules requiring the north and south lines to be operated with a separate train crew, therefore guaranteeing that the two routes could never be thru-routed.

  17. Sounder is pretty good. Where is falls down is the lack of cooperation with/from bus timetables to get the “last mile”. From the King Street end I dont bother with crossing over into the China Town bus tunnel, I do the 12 minute walk up 2nd ave to where I work. At the Puyallup end of my commute Pierce Transit could do a vastly better job of aligning some of their bus timetables with the Sounder schedule. Express trains for those of us that commute Sumner and beyond would be nice. That aside the advantages far out weigh the disadvantages, its beats the pants off long(er) bus rides, traffic (lol) employer subsidized Orca card and much more bang for your buck with houses prices down here.

  18. North Sounder could operate as a 1-car service without capacity issues, but 2 cars are required by safety regulations.

    I’m not sure about the safety regulations part of that. DMUs on TriMet’s WES service operate as single car trains sometimes, and “The Princeton Dinky” operates as a single car with no locomotive.

    I can think of two causes to trigger this:

    1. There is a fair amount of concern over having enough electrical continuity through the rails to trip some of the train detection systems for the signals.

    2. Requirements for a certain number of braked axles due to the weight of the locomotive vs. the weight of a single car.

    Maybe if Sounder North must be operated much longer, some of Amtrak’s surplus retired baggage cars should be purchased and run as the second car? That way, you aren’t having to pay to maintain doors, seats, restrooms, air conditioning systems, and all the other stuff that is part of an active passenger car.

    1. There is a minimum amount of axles (12) to ensure the crossing is activated. DMU’s have a special device that triggers the crossing from what I have been told. Similar to railroad hyrail vehicles.

      For Sounder North, DMU’s at this point make more sense and would cost FAR less.

      1. That’s interesting, because at one time the thinking was that limitation was unnecessary if you had a locomotive, due to the weight on some of those axles braking down dirt on the track.

        Something must have changed that.

      2. For us freight train guys, we have to be prepared to stop and protect the crossing if we have less than 12 axles. I always thought it was a weight thing myself but it is something electrical that shunts the track.

      3. If you keep your track polished, a single axle will make the electrical connection.

        The 12 axle thing is fundamentally based on irresponsibility; if there’s rust or dirt or other obstructions on the track, they figure maybe some of the axles won’t connect, but they figure if they pick a larger number of axles they have a better chance of one of them connecting. It’s not really the responsible way to do it — the responsible way is to make sure the track is polished.

  19. I live in downtown Seattle and don’t commute or (yay!), so of course I’m not the target market for Sounder, but considering I don’t own a car I really wish I had more opportunities to ride it. My parents live in Puyallup and Gig Harbor, and many friends and family either live or work in Tacoma, so I really do have non-commute reasons to ride.

    When I have the choice, I’ll take the link down to Chinatown/ID and hop over to King Street for the Sounder, considering how much nicer it is than grabbing a (really long and slow) bus even though I need to make that transfer. But the scheduling of trains — and just general lack of trains through midday and late evening — all but kills the chances I have to ride it.

    Being based in Seattle, my main riding is in the opposite direction of peak traffic most of the time, which means it’s really unlikely that the two trains heading in that direction line up with my needs. Even if I was to ride south in the evening (as I sometimes need to) and therefore match the peak ridership, having to take a bus back home at the end takes away some of the advantage of taking Sounder down in the first place.

    Particularly looking at ridership numbers in the North line I understand why people are reluctant to give ST more money for Sounder, but it’s one of those things where if it doesn’t have a consistent offering of trains throughout the day and into the late evening, it drops folks off the threshold of wanting to ride Sounder altogether. I’m already willing to go out of my way to use Sounder over buses, but sometimes it’s just not an option. And that’s frustrating. I’d be willing to make more transit trips overall if Sounder was more readily available for me.

    Of course the expansion of Link service all the way down to Tacoma in the future could cut into Sounder ridership immensely — depending on station placement — but we’re talking about something far into the future there, whereas increased frequency of Sounder trains could be done dramatically sooner (and cheaper).

    1. It will get a little better for you in 2016. According to the 2016 Draft SIP, they plan to add an off-peak round trip.

      “In September 2016, add new off-peak round-trip. A new northbound trip leaves Lakewood for Seattle in the late morning. A new southbound trip leaves Seattle for Lakewood in the early afternoon.”

      They also plan to add another peak-period, reverse-peak train in 2017.

  20. It continues to be hard to justify the pricey existence of Sounder North without either more stations, e.g. Ballard, or more frequency, particularly when express bus service exists from all stations on the route. Plus, the irregularity of service due to the regularity of mudslides.

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