Last evening, Sound Transit announced that this Monday they would start running “a mix of two and three-car trains during the morning and evening rush hours.” Ridership has been robust early on, and there’s been a minor twitter uprising to push for more capacity.

Moreover, Metro hasn’t even adjusted service to feed UW Station, UW is on spring break, and Seattle Central is coming out of exams. So it’s prudent to lay on a little extra capacity to avoid leaving new customers on the platform.

The preliminary ridership count for Saturday’s operations was 67,000, just short of the Super Bowl parade’s 71,000. Preliminary boarding counts for Monday and Tuesday were 47,000 and 57,000, respectively, well ahead of the 35,000 per weekday Link saw in January.

94 Replies to “3-Car Trains Coming Next Week”

    1. Dori is still around? Does anyone listen to him anymore?

      Ghost train my arss. My admittedly unrigorous observations of U-Link indicate that early adoption has been surprisingly strong. Hopefully that is correct and ridership continues at a high level.

      Kudos to ST. Under budget, ahead of schedule, and heavy use? What’s not to like?

      1. The distance from UW Station is not unusal compared to walking from the Montlake parking lot or half an hour between classes.

    2. I was driven to visit Dori’s wikipedia page, which paints him as relevant in the early 90s but having gone increasingly conservative since 9/11 and desperately attempts to stay relevant by making controversial claims that pander to a shrinking portion of the population. Okay, not all of that was on his wikipedia page.

      1. Serious. So tired of this. ST screwed up the first project. They owned it, never denied it. And, they scrapped it. Then they re-did the whole damn EIS, came up with a new alignment and new station locations, designed it and costed it out. Then the baord adopted it and said, ‘viola, here’s the new project we can build.’ They did this 10 years ago. And THAT project, the U-Link we know today, is in fact early and under budget.

        Is this hiding the ball? Heck no. It’s applying lessons learned and getting it right on the second try. Enough with the bitterness already.

      2. Getting it right on the second try is great, and they deserve credit for that, but it’s irritating to have people act like all those wasted years never happened – especially as the long, slow timetable continues to sprawl out into the future and my hopes of ever getting any use out of the project continue to fade. I still think it’s the right thing to do and I’m glad they’re doing it, but it’s taking a really long time, it’s costing a whole lot of money, and there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that.

      3. @railcan,

        If all you have to beat is a dead horse, then you just keep beating it.

        Everyone knows ST stubbed their toe on the original project. But when the board approved the new U-Link for construction they set a budget and a schedule — and ST beat the budget by $200M and beat the schedule by 6 months. Anyone who whines about that needs to take a chill pill, because that is exactly what we want from our government agencies.

        But hey, with the success of Link so far, and the apparent success of U-Link now, what doe the critics of rail have left to whine about? They certainly can’t complain that U-Link will be a “ghost train” like Dori had been claiming. Packed trains have a way of quieting the nabobs of negativism.

    3. Since after a million years of human existence, the dead far outnumber the living, as usual, Dori will be pretty much the same in every one of his existences, whatever he comes back as. Though I doubt he’ll ever be the cute little Seat-Hog, luggage or not.

      So Dori, you better hope we don’t stick with two car trains!

      Since laws of physics don’t apply to ghosts, you’ll probably be stuffed into the same space as Michael Medved.


  1. How about 3 car trains weekday midday? Students don’t go to school 9 to 5 and weekday midday frequency is only every 10 minutes. Know they have enough train sets for that, since ST ran 3 car trains all day Saturday with 10 minute frequency. Another option is to operate short turn trains between Stadium Station and UW Station with 5 minute frequency with 2 car trains, inbetween trains that operate all the way to the Airport.

      1. can’t boost frequency in any substantial way until the buses come out of the tunnel. But with strong Link ridership, maybe that will happen sooner rather than later….

      2. Off-peak frequency could be increased. I think that would be easier operationally than running 3-car trains all day. That’s just a guess.

      3. But we’re talking about off peak here – shouldn’t be a problem at all, as long as we don’t go more frequent than peak. 6.5 minute headways with 2 car trains is the same capacity as 10 minute headways with 3 car trains, but saves almost two minutes per rider in average wait time.

        I don’t think we’ll know if we need this much capacity off-peak until the UW is back in session, but if we do, we should try to make it happen through frequency rather than longer trains

      4. Increasing frequency increases # of drivers needed, so there’s some extra costs there vs. running 10 minute, 3 car trains

      5. True, it does, but it also increases ridership, and its easier to hire people to work 8 hour days than to have two, two-hour periods where you need lots of employees.

        If the demand is there (we’ll need to see UW in session to know that), we should aim to boost capacity by boosting frequency.

        Another advantage of frequency is that you can add capacity more incrementally. Going from a 2 car train to a 3 car train is a 50% capacity increase, which likely overshoots the needed capacity. 8 minute headways would be a 25% capacity increase, saving some money and providing a ridership boost, too.

    1. I agree, UW doesn’t really fit into traditional peak hours. I’ve seen several crush-loaded 372s skip U Village in a row at 10:30am, which isn’t really part of rush hour. And crush-loaded buses leaving campus as late as 6:30 pm, which again is after rush hour. At the very least, I hope ST is paying attention to ridership and if they’re seeing packed trains they’re willing to add more cars at any point during the day.

  2. I’m waiting to hear what the plan is for Mr. Sander’s rally at Safeco Field Friday evening. Friday gridlock for people to get out of town on one of the first sunny weekends of the year is going to be making lots of drivers feel the Burn. Lucky for him, they won’t be in town to “vote” at the caucuses. (Parties still chose their presidential candidates by making people show up at a neighborhood meeting? How quaint.)

    I’m raising my bat and pointing it at left field. Thanks to his decision to hold the rally at Safeco Field and not the Clink, Link’s one-day ridership record from the Super Bowl Parade is about to be broken. And then Friday’s record will get broken sometime really, really soon. Breaking the record will become a frequent event.

    Granted, the ridership *demand* on Super Bowl Parade day was at least twice those lucky enough to get on the train, so this will be a test of Sound Transit’s ability to meet ridership demand for peak-hour spikes well beyond the normal new peak-hour spike.

    If Mr. Sanders’ supporters want to get to the rally on time, it is up to them to convince Sound Transit to plan accordingly. Or just head there early, if they are able.

    1. though I have not attended any political rallies, I heard the biggest problem is security and it takes a while to be screened. Though the last two locally rallies (Key Arena and Rainier Beach HS) were smaller venues and limited seating, attendees came in much earlier to get a seat. Safeco Field of course, is a much bigger venue and some many be lax in coming early, knowing that the venue is much bigger. The loyal ones will get early anyway, mainly because they want a good seat.

      1. The stadia know security screening. You have to pass through a two-step process to get into a Sounders match. Three, if you include presenting your ticket.

        There is no security screening that will keep Trump supporters or Black Lives Matter from trying to vocally disrupt the rally.

        When I went to a couple Ralph Nader rallies in 2000, their screening process was more clever: You had to pay $10-$20 to get in. Lo and behold,25,000 Nader supporters paid $20 a head to get into and see Ralph Nader sell out Madison Square Garden. Well, okay, I think a few dozen volunteers got in free, as their low-income option. But there were no disruptions.

  3. Wow. Saturday says nothing about long term ridership, but if Monday and Tuesday are an indicator… Wow. 20,000 new riders without the UW in session or the buses restructured. I have a feeling we’re going to be reaching ridership goals a little early.

    1. Not a surprise, given how much traffic congestion there is in the neighborhoods being served by the new stations.

      When a trip from the UW to Downtown goes from taking 20 to 50 minutes (or more) to a fixed 8 minutes, you’re going to start seeing that “induced demand” is not strictly a phenomenon that applies to freeways and automobiles. People are now making trips they wouldn’t have considered making before, such as going from the UW to Capitol Hill and back for lunch.

      1. For sure. I bet a bunch of induced demand will come from people moving to the rainier valley. Rainier Valley lacks a lot of the amenities and appeal someone with a high paying downtown job is looking for, but the UW has piles of employees who aren’t earning that much (grad students, new profs, researchers). A reliable 30 min commute and the ability to get to cap hill for fun starts to look very appealing. I predict a lot of people who live in northgate or bitter lake or shoreline now will take a good look at rainier valley

      2. Yeah I agree – adding the 2nd big Seattle job center (UW) is going to make Rainier Valley way more appealing as a low cost living option. It will be interesting to see if that drives gentrification in areas like Columbia City, or if the growth will be more mixed-income as all the Luxury housing constructions continues to be directed to more desirable/hip/fancy neighborhoods on the north side of Seattle? Either way, we should finally see construction start it pick up in the urban villages on Beacon Hill & in the Rainier valley

      3. Construction has already started to pick up near the Beacon Hill Station. Besides the 110 units of affordable housing at Plaza Roberto Maestas currently under construction immediatly to the north of the station there are now 3 buildings in for design review within a quarter-mile of the station:
        2902 Beacon Ave 46 units
        2912 Beacon Ave 72 units
        3309 Beacon Ave 18 units

        It may not seem like much compared to neighborhoods like Ballard, but after the last 7-years of nothing, this is a huge improvement.

    2. Angel Lake and Northgate are going to overwhelm the system. Bellevue coming in from the south of IH will cause major constipation. Visions of Mexico City come to mind with trains being bumper to bumper and line load pressure pushing riders into the last occupiable crevices while trains begin to proceed. Please tell me i’m exaggerating.

      1. You’re exaggerating. Once we get buses out of the tunnel we can greatly increase speed and frequency of trains.

        Besides, will anyone use the Angel Lake station?

      2. Well, almost nobody lives near Angle Lake – it’s kinda the Seatac runway, I-5, and amazingly, 99 squeezed in between. Which also doesn’t make it particularly walkable. And the park and ride going to be 1,680 stalls, so… no capacity issue there. And we don’t have nearly enough money to build a park and ride that would push capacity limits on link.

      3. Is there going to be a Metro restructuring around Angle lake opening, similar to UW? As the terminus station I’d imagine a number of ST & Metro route on the south side will adjust to incorporate Angle Lake, which will drive users.

        Also, remember Angle Lake is a bit of a destination, both with a few hotels clustered around the Airport & Alaska Airline’s HQ is there.

      4. The Angle Lake station is mostly surrounded by surface parking lots. There’s a big airport parking facility directly to the west of the station. There’s also a couple of restaurants, an office building or two, a mini storage facility, and a federal detention center.

        There are a few blocks of single-family homes east of 99 and south of the lake. South of those homes are some apartments and a mobile home park, so there’s definitely potential for some riders to arrive on foot. Still, I hope the city of SeaTac has some plans for TOD in the station area.

        Maybe they can push some of the airport parking out into the giant green belt south of the airport runways that presumably hasn’t been built up because of the noise?

      5. @AJ, which routes do you think should adjust to serve Angle Lake? I suppose the 574 could maybe stop there on the way to the airport, but I don’t see any other possibilities. Well, maybe the 121/122, but that’d be a significant rerouting.

      6. ST continues to contemplate re-routing the 574 to serve Angle Lake Station in its annual Service Implementation Plans. Hopefully all-day 20-minute headway would have ridership to justify it.

        There isn’t much on 200th to serve.

      7. I live near Angle Lake and it will be closer than driving to either Burien TC or Tukwila Intl Blvd Station. Even with bus service on 1st Ave S, it is a mile walk to the nearest stop and a bus only every 30 minutes so there’s really no alternative to driving to a park-and-ride. I used to talk light rail from TIBS but when parking got tight and I shifted to dropping my son off at school in the morning, I now take the 121/122/123 from Burien TC instead.

        I would much rather see bus service expanded rather than building park-and-rides, but there are many places where a park-and-ride is still more effective.

        I do think there will be more development around Angle Lake Station in the future.

      8. Northgate will overtax the system the most. The heaviest loads are DSTT tunnel and points north. It’s entirely possible that train cars will be so crowded coming from Northgate that Capitol Hill riders in 2021 may not be able to even get on a southbound train.

        One major factor will be how express buses from ST and CT operate. Will they feed into Northgate or not?

      9. Angle Lake Station will have at least one rider, a person from Kent who has been very vocal about it, although he hasn’t been seen on STB the past couple months.

      10. @William C. – honestly, no idea! I’m not familiar at all with the Metro routing in that area. I just assumed there would be some opportunity, which is why I asked the question.

        However, it looks like I might be on to something about hotels around Angel Lake, woohoo!

    3. Concur. Really good numbers considering the UW is not in session and the Metro restructure hasn’t happened yet.

      It is exciting to see numbers like this so early. And with Pamela now broken out into U-Dist Station, the excitement just keeps building.

      It will be interesting to see the ridership numbers for March and April.

      1. I missed the announcement that Pamela made it into the U-Dist Station. Excellent news! And Brenda is getting very close to UW Station, so hoping to hear something on that break-through soon.

    4. Waaaaay back when, the original projections for Link were done assuming that UW-Downtown would be built first, with SeaTac as an extension. When they just built the extension without the core, they used… questionable projections based largely on extracting the extension ridership from the original projection. Those projections were not immediately met…

      I’ve been saying that when U-Link opens, the *original* projections for the full UW-SeaTac route will be met, and very quickly, and exceeded. Someone should dig those projections out. I believe it’s happening.

  4. Moreover, Metro hasn’t even adjusted service to feed UW Station, UW is on spring break, and Seattle Central is coming out of exams. So it’s prudent to lay on a little extra capacity to avoid leaving new customers on the platform.

    In 1986, MAX had far more weekend ridership than they initially expected based on the bus service that it replaced. Even months afterward TriMet was still running single car trains every 30 minutes on Saturday and making people’s first light rail experience thoroughly awful.

    I’m pretty sure it took quite a while for the east side MAX line to recover from that, and perhaps it never really did recover from that initial opening overcrowding.

    Yes, today there continues to be more complaints about the empty trains and what a thorough waste of money empty seats are, and there are certainly situations they could run single car trains. However, it is far better to run too much capacity and not need it than to run too little and piss off an entire generation of potential transit riders.

    1. For some reason the block quote on the first paragraph didn’t work. That is a quote from Martin’s original article.

  5. Does anyone have an idea of what the total incremental cost is of adding a car?
    There’s no extra driver but I guess there’s energy and maintenance and probably other expenses I’m not considering? Do we have any educated guesses about costs?

      1. Wow. Do you know what headways were on evenings and weekends at that time? It’s a pretty good way to calculate cost of 1 train car w/o driver.

      2. 10 minutes until 10 PM, 15 minutes after 10 PM. Exactly the same as now.

        Although, they did have a fair bit of track maintenance work going on that temporarily increased headways to 20-30 minutes on select evenings.

    1. My recollection is that it is on the order of magnitude of $20-$30 per hour for the electricity. I don’t know about marginal maintenance, use of vehicle’s useful lifespan, and hook/de-hook costs. I think induced fare-paying ridership will easily cover that.

      Subtract operations savings from the surrounding buses running faster, and consider that in 30 years, we’ll be glad to be buying more modern vehicles, and it all seems like a bargain.

      Getting ST3 passed? Priceless.

      1. Don’t forget track maintenance. But if the demand is there, we should serve it – otherwise we wasted a pile of money on infrastructure.

  6. On another forum someone questioned whether a mix of 2 and 3 car trains would do enough. It’s great for those that happen to get the 3 car train, but assuming a near constant flow of riders arriving you’ll still get the same crowds and missed trains when the 2 car train comes.

    Does ST have enough vehicles to provide all 3 car trains for peak rides?

    And yes, I know I sound a little ungrateful for the 3 cars we’re getting. Thanks for those, can we have some more?

    1. The algorithm, I’m sure, will be more nuanced than even headway. If the 3-car trains go 7 minutes after the 2-car trains, and the 2-car trains go 5 minutes after the 3-car trains, the 2-car trains will be slightly more roomy than the 3-car trains, but the trains would remain within a minute of scheduled time.

      That said, getting people to board the third car will have a learning curve. At least people can guess the next train length from the previous train length, if someone who saw the previous train can let people know.

      1. It would be nice, if they do stagger two and three car trains, to put that information up on the nice new screens they have (and add it to those otherwise mostly useless scrolling displays they have in the older stations). BART has had this information on their next train arrival screens for years: “6-car train to Richmond 2 min | 8-car train to Daly City 7 min.”

    2. Yes, ST has fleet to operate 3-car trains, even during peak hours. At six-minute headways, it takes 18 train sets to operate the line, or 54 cars. Leaving 8 spares, which exceeds the rule-of-thumb 10 percent spare ratio.

      1. In the 2016 SIP, ST says 19 trains are required for six-minute headway. the round trip running time is estimated at 114 (49+49+8+8). they want four LRV for gap trains.

      2. Those numbers don’t match the published travel times which show 46 minutes end to end during peak. This requires only 18 trains, or 54 cars, which falls within the 10% buffer guidelines, which is 56 of the 62 cars we have.

      3. Ah, I see now that 49 minutes is for when Angle Lake is up and running. 46 for UW to SeaTac. So they at least could do it for the first 6 months and gauge how that goes. If it turns out that it’s needed on an ongoing basis, they may determine that 1 car removed from the 6-car redundancy buffer is worth the risk.

    3. I’m assuming the 3-car trains will be the peak-only runs, so they can conveniently go out of service at the end of peak without decoupling cars and sending them back out again.

  7. The whole premise behind the bus restructure assumes that Link has sufficient capacity to carry all the people who previously took buses between UW->downtown and Capitol Hill->downtown. If it doesn’t, and people are left standing at the platform while multiple trains go by, the restructure is going to look pretty bad.

    Fortunately, those headed downtown from NE Seattle will have no trouble getting on a train in the southbound direction (at the expense of people living in Capitol Hill), but without sufficient capacity northbound could be troublesome.

    From the perspective to ST, a service being more popular than expected is a good problem to have, and an extra $460,000/year is nothing when you’re talking about a multi-billion-dollar line. The $200 million cost savings, alone, is enough to cover this cost for a whopping 434.78 years. If only the cost savings from the Seattle portion of the line could actually be spent in Seattle, rather than earmarked for Everett.

    1. It’s possible that if ST2’s 4-car trains are on a trajectory to reach capacity by the medium-term target (2035 or 2040), it could make the Everett and Tacoma extensions non-viable. Then ST would really have to get on with those DSTT improvements to increase frequency, or rethink the extensions.

  8. STB Wednesday: There’s room for more passengers on each train car.

    STB Thursday: We need more cars.


    1. We need both. Getting people to better squeeze into the available space does improve capacity, but only at the margins. If we are already at the point where this is necessary, on the first week service, that means that ST had better start adding more cars quickly, or no matter how well people cram in, people will be left behind.

    2. Wednesday: “…but even if a dozen more riders could be pushed onto each train, a southbound capacity challenge is brewing next week.”


    3. If you’ve ever ridden the 71/72/73X, you’d know that ridership increases four or five times when UW is in session. That’s what people are worrying about. Plus Link will bring students from Capitol Hill and Rainier Valley. Plus the effect of better service bringing new riders (people not currently on transit), whether students or not.

      1. “Plus Link will bring students from Capitol Hill and Rainier Valley.”

        … who were previously on the 48, 43, and 49.

  9. If Link is running a mix of three and two-car trains, people won’t want to wait at the location of the third car in case the next train doesn’t have one. Then they will have to walk forward to the second car, thus overfilling that car compared to the first car. In fact, if you wait at the third car location and there isn’t one, you increase the chances of being left behind due to a fully loaded second car.

    If our train arrival/announcement system was better, I would suggest they change the announcement to add info about the train length.

    “The next train… Northbound… is arriving in… 2 minutes… It is composed of… 3 cars.”

      1. DC lets their riders know too if it’s a 6 or 8 car train coming. Forgot if it was an announcement or a note on the “next train arriving” signs.

    1. If we can’t get the arrival signs to show when the next train is coming I don’t hold out much hope we’ll know how many cars it will have.

      1. Unfortunately, I agree. Which is why I threw in the caveat of “If our train arrival/announcement system was better…”

      2. The train signaling system already knows how many cars are in a train consist. They just need to make that data available.

  10. Although the solution of three-car trains seems an easy and quick action, the fact that ST has adjusted for it so quickly is a good thing. Many operations take more time to add cars to trains. Let’s give some credit to ST for this fast action.

  11. Wow. What a great opening week for ULink. Glad ST is quickly responding with 3-car trains at rush hour. Though I generally have predicted high ridership, I doubt the mid-day demand will be enough to overwhelm 2-car trains. After using the 71/2/3 and 255 in the tunnel to head north to UW mid-day this past year, I can safely say the demand from those riders will not overwhelm 2-car trains. If lots of new riders appear though, who knows.

    I’m gonna take a second to recall this little debate we had here 5 months ago.

    I stand by my prediction, though if I’d known they’d launch during spring break, before the Bus2Link restructure happened, my 80,000 riders “overnight” would be revised to “overnight as soon as UW’s in session and the restructure takes place”. I wish I HAD started a pool with Brett and Nathanael…

    Oddly enough, Google Maps keeps recommending I go from downtown to UW via the 70 next week, in spite of admitting it’s slower than the Link2Bus transfer. It’s also saying the latter is twice the cost, so maybe that’s why. Or it just really pushes for 1-seat rides.

    1. let’s keep in mind that after this weekend, the 71/2/3 are going away. They’re not just comprised of UW students, but mere riders visiting the U-District, Ravenna & points further north. I think people are either going to take the slow 70 or file in on the train. It’s going to be interesting to see how midday ridership pans out on Link and the 70.

    2. and don’t forget Seattle Central College students and staff getting on at Broadway Station, so it is not strictly just U. District riders.

  12. Here’s something to ponder: Although there are more total riders on light rail systems in other US metro areas, Link appears to NOW be the highest ridership single-line system in the country. Further, this line appears to be poised to reach ridership numbers almost as high as the most crowded lines in the US, like LA’s Blue Line and B and D branches of the Green Line in Boston. With Northgate stations added in, it easily could be the highest single line in the country by 2021 (but probably losing that title once East Link opens as a second line).

    1. Link is the most grade-separated light rail line in the US, so that attracts more people, but the flip side is it’s more expensive to build. Some light-rail comparison lists exclude Link because it’s so unusual. At the same time it compares unfavorably with a heavy-rail system since it isn’t one.

  13. Too bad that Link isn’t fully grade separated and automated system like Vancouver bc does. Less cost for having drivers and less headways time. Altho that what we have is better than no rail at all or piss poor rail system like in Austin and other regions.

Comments are closed.