Four days out from launch, yesterday Sound Transit invited local media to take a preview ride on ULink. The hourlong event included station tours at UW and Capitol Hill, and a roundtrip ride between UW and Capitol Hill. Like clockwork, the southbound trip took 3 minutes and 56 seconds, with smooth acceleration and great ride quality after the initial jostle of switching from the northbound to the southbound track upon departure. I heard a couple gasps from TV crews as we arrived at Capitol Hill, with an exclamation of “Already?!” and wide smiles all around.
On the return trip, the train was 2 minutes late (likely due to bus interference northbound at Westlake) and took 4 minutes and 30 seconds to reach UW. Sound Transit is looking for ways to improve northbound tunnel operations, including surfacing westbound Route 550 during the PM peak beginning March 28. Route 550 trips leaving Bellevue Transit Center from 2:35-5:25pm will drop off on 4th Avenue.
Immediately north of the UW platform, we were also given a look at the retrieval shaft where tunnel boring machine (TBM) Brenda will arrive in a couple weeks. Sound Transit’s Executive Director for Construction Management Ahmad Fazel said that damaged TBM Pamela has been running well under reduced load, and is now just ~150′ from breaking through at UDistrict Station.
According to Link Transportation Manager Marie Olson, during peak periods when 6-minute headways are in effect (and likely also during special events), trains departing UW will alternate platforms, just as is done at SeaTac/Airport today. During base 10-minute headways, most trains will depart from the southbound platform, meaning northbound trips will cross over just prior to arrival.
Though not much new was learned, it was still a great experience to ride the train and get a gut feel for its transformative power. For maximum contrast, after the ride I rode my bike to Montlake Freeway Station to catch a 255. 29 minutes after boarding, my bus arrived at Westlake, immediately behind a train that left UW 20 minutes after my bus. Bring on Saturday.