23rd Avenue under Construction
23rd Avenue under Construction


The Seattle Department of Transportation, which is handling funding and construction for the King County Metro line, estimates the project will cost $14.6 – $17.5 million, with $9.4 million already secured through federal grants. Construction will include installing trolley poles, overhead wires, and traction power sub stations. The second phase of the project is expected to get underway next year, setting up the 48 to go electric in 2018.

Now that the 48 has been split from the northern half, electrification is much easier than it would have been for the 48 that ran to Loyal Heights. There are just two segments of 23rd Avenue, totaling 1.7 miles, in need of electrification.  We first wrote about the possibility of an electrified 48S back in 2011.  It looks like all the funding is coming together.  Happy times.

The 48 runs along SDOT’s RapidRide+ Corridor 4, which exends south to Rainier Beach, setting up a potential restructure that combines the 48 with the already-electrified 7.  That’s a long way off, however.  SDOT’s Bill Bryant told me that the “key for both the Rainier and 23rd corridor services is that they will become RapidRide lines.”  Combining them into a single route, Bryant said, would only happen after a good deal of analysis and public outreach.  As we’ve learned, messing with the northern half of the 7, from Mount Baker to the ID, could be difficult.

An electric, RapidRide+ 48 with BAT lanes and signal priority running on a newly-repaved 23rd Ave will be a big boost for the CD.  It’ll be even better once frequent connections to Madison BRT (2019) and East Link at Judkins Park (2023) open.

46 Replies to “The New 48 is Ready to Go Electric”

  1. So this electrification that will serve thousands of people per day costs the same as the new Sounder North platform that will serve dozens?

    How have we not electrified all the frequent routes yet?

    1. The 10-minute all-day routes include Link Light Rail, route 7 (trollies), route 36 (trollies), route 48 (NEWLY 10-MINUTE HEADWAY!!! except on Sundays – soon to be electrified!), and the E Line.

      While electrification is most welcome, the frequency bump on this historically high-ridership route is long overdue. It was one of the few improvements that survived turning the Capitol Hill restructure into sausage.

      1. Next step, we need to work on preserving the 48’s 15-minute frequency past 10 PM. The 48 drops to 30-minute frequency, even while the 45 and 62 are still doing 15-minute frequency.

    2. There actually aren’t a whole lot of frequent diesel routes that don’t have any freeway or freeway-like stretches (C, D, E, 5, 21, 41, 120, 150, 255, 271, 372-ish), haven’t just become frequent recently (5-ish, 11, 65, 67, 75, 372), haven’t just changed significantly (8, 38, 40, 45, 62), aren’t up for significant changes pretty soon (38, 67?), and could be easily operated from a trolley base (A, B, F, 245). Is anything left after that?

      We still have a lot of routes that overlap for frequent service, too (26/28, 31/32, 50/128, 71/73, 131/132, 164/168, 234/235, 345/346, 347/348). All of Metro’s routes (and most ST ones) with some freeway sections have significant non-freeway sections. We’re going to have diesel buses on important arterial corridors for a long time for those reasons.

      So, anyway, going forward, you’d be looking for:
      – Madison BRT
      – Roosevelt BRT
      – The 8
      – The 40, assuming its route stops changing… and the streetcar proposals are dead… and there aren’t major infrastructure conflicts
      – The 45
      – The 62, assuming it sticks around unchanged

      Even that might take some time… beyond those routes I think we’d have to establish trolley bases farther from downtown.

    3. For projects the size of a transit system, Eric, some things, like an intercity train station, the future benefit have a good chance of to repay many times over some short-term expense.

      Comments on earlier post list current reason why Mukilteo is underperforming-mainly present-time things that require no expense to adjust. And having seen these vessels in Europe, it really is only a matter of time before we’ll have passenger ferries both large and fast.

      Not to say this calculation will inevitably proven right. But it’s not good accounting to write such things off this early in the game,.


  2. Except where can the BAT lanes go on 23rd now that it is reduced to two lanes. Also, the new design includes bus pull-outs for all of the stops so that buses don’t slow down traffic. I will be laughing if a few years from now the pullouts are removed. Electrfied 48 is a great thing and makes up somewhat for the loss of the 43

    1. Here is what Frank wrote previously about this corridor:

      “The total number of stops would be reduced, and BAT lanes would speed up travel through Judkins Park, Montlake, and UW. Much-needed (and welcome!) road diets on 23rd and Rainier will make transit lanes unworkable, so buses will run with traffic in the Rainier Valley and CD, though they will have bus bulbs and signal priority to stay speedy. For $8.8m/mi, we’ll see a 24% travel time savings.”

      1. thanks, so the BAT lanes will go in on the non-rebuilt parts?
        They would really add bus bulbs after completely redesigning the street with pullouts. classic
        New pavement will definitely speed up travel times!

    2. Sean, I think that this project will make it a lot more likely that whatever the route number, there will once again be trolleybus service along the 43’s route.

      Thomas Street and Broadway will be a good “Base Route” between 23rd and Atlantic Base. And as 48 service gets more frequent, maybe every third bus could switch onto Thomas for Group Health Hospital and Capitol Hill Station.

      But just to be sure, might be a good idea to download the great old Ohio Brass trolleywire catalog and forward it to you King County Councilmember. Like much else about our trolley system, most of the products are as obsolete as they look.


      Though modern hardware works pretty much the same way. This incredibly tough technology dates to 1882. But point of the attachment is that average elected official will be so “flabbergasted” (like same officials would have been in 1882 unless their brother got the contract) by the etchings that they’ll pay attention.

      Piece of history I wish had happened: shortly after DSTT opened, project engineers were serious enough to make construction drawings for wiring the E-2 ramp from IDS to I-90, put the 7 in the tunnel, and ramp the line into the Rainier Avenue wire where Dearborn comes in. 43 was also theorized to come through CPS and turnaround at IDS.

      So thanks for this posting. For me, greatest thing for me will be getting to ride both the new 48 and my other artic trolley routes from the old days, and not get off smelling like I got lost in the storm water system. Doubt my ORCA card works on that part of KC Metro.

      Mark Dublin

  3. In 2023, the combined 7/48 could have the transfers done at Judkins Park LINK station instead of trying to do the transfers at the Mt. Baker Station for those going between downtown and Rainier Ave S (south of Mt. Baker). As for the 7 north of Mt. Baker. It could still exist.

    1. Conceptually, Judkins Park is probably a better place for a transit center than Mt. Baker is. It would be at least as good. That’s because a major east-west rail line would interface with north-south lines so it’s a logical place to begin or end a route.. Mt. Baker is serving parallel north-south routes only, and not an east-west route, unless you want to count the Link segment under Beacon Hill.

      Ultimately, the usefulness of an urban transit center is more related to design for bus operations and rider use around each station. Mt. Baker is admittedly horrible. Unfortunately, no one with any power has appeared to be very interested in a better Judkins Park transfer environment, like installing a short, parallel busway between Rainier and 23rd to create a place for either the 7 or 48 buses to use so that there could be a common transfer point.

      1. Have route 7 turn up 23rd Ave S, when it is split from the Corridor 3 RapidRide. Route 48 could either terminate at Judkins Park or continue on to Mt. Baker TC. The overlapping hyperfrequency could serve riders not wanting to make the Link transfer at ID Station.

  4. So, I’m a fan of electric buses, but maybe not for super-good reasons. They’re quieter through neighborhoods, have better pickup on hills, and the 3-door thing is better for loading & unloading, but presumably that can be done on diesel buses, too. Having the capital cost of putting the wires in presumably means that you can count on that bus route sticking around for a while.

    However, are there more tangible benefits (capital cost, fuel vs electricity cost, maintenance costs, route efficiency) that support electric buses?

    1. We already have 3-door non-trollies: the RapidRide fleet.

      Metro did an evaluation of trollies’ costs vs. benefits in a study that was published in 2011.

    2. The FTA data for King County Metro shows the trolley buses as being cheaper to operate per hour of service than the diesel buses, but more expensive per mile.

      The higher cost per mile is likely due to the trolley buses being stuck in traffic and thus very few miles for the amount of hours they put in.

      There’s only so much energy storage you can put on a bus. Using line-side capacitor storage systems some tests in Korea provided a 20% power savings, and trolley buses could achieve similar savings if such systems were installed at the substations providing the DC power for the trolley wire.

      No matter what energy storage method is used, if it is mounted on a vehicle of some sort its size and capacity will always be limited by the vehicle size, and its weight will always work against energy savings by increasing the weight of the vehicle on which it is installed. Line side energy storage is much less limited.

    3. Electricity is a lot cheaper than fuel. Unfortunately electricity/fuel is a small part of bus operations costs; most of it is the driver’s salary. The slower the bus runs (due to being caught in traffic) the more hours the drivers have to be paid for.

  5. …setting up a potential restructure that combines the 48 with the already-electrified 7. That’s a long way off, however.

    Thank heavens. I’m going to go berserk if they chopped the 48 in half (north of the main bottleneck, which is the Montlake Bridge, so CD riders still get to sit in traffic) because it is too long and unwieldy then come back a couple of years later and combine it with a route that is also long and unwieldy. Electrification is fine and grand–sadly, there’s nowhere to put transit-only lanes on the newly-redone 23rd Ave–but connecting it to the 7 seems silly (if one takes the arguments about why the old 48 needed to be split at face value).

    At least Metro runs the new 48 later in the night; I greatly appreciate that.

    1. “sadly, there’s nowhere to put transit-only lanes on the newly-redone 23rd Ave

      Isn’t that asinine? It’s been known that this ought to be a major trolleybus corridor for YEARS, but rampant head-in-the-sandism ignoring this means that 23rd Avenue got rebuilt in a way which precludes transit-only lanes. Oy!

  6. The electric trolley buses last longer than diesels, and when oil prices get high like in 2008, they’re cheaper to operate–financially and environmentally sustainable. They are indeed 11dB quieter than diesel buses, and Gehl told the city several years ago that quiet is better for walkability. Other than their construction and delivery, they have no emissions. We currently have 15 electric routes: the 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 10, 12, 13, 14, 36, 43, 44, 47, 49, and 70. Electrifying the 48 is a great project, and we need to continue with other frequent routes like the 8, 11, and 5. Most of the 40′ coaches have been replaced with new ETBs (4300s), and the new 60′ are coming into service now (4500s). Drivers like them much better than the old ones. I’d suspect riders should too; they have low floors, air conditioning, off-wire capability to circumvent obstacles, and back doors you can open yourself at stops.


    1. Probably best feature of new buses is ability to operate off of the wire. Should fix it so we don’t have to put the whole trolley service to diesel for every parade, or trouble on single base wire between Atlantic Base and Chinatown.


    2. Even if the 5 goes slow enough on most of Aurora that wire isn’t disqualified on that basis, I can’t imagine wire across the north tunnel portal interchange — southbound, buses will have to merge across a few lanes of traffic to get left of the lanes exiting for the tunnel.

      1. If I remember right, pre 1963 there was wire on Aurora to the city limits (86th? at the time). the line was motorized when the city limits were extended to 145th or so.

  7. And by the way: Purpose for terror campaign with catalogs from “Steam Punk” Department of Zeppelins:

    We have to make sure Metro leaves the Thomas Street wire in place, and doesn’t take down the switches to and from 23rd Avenue.

    Extra budget cost to take them down will probably prevent this, but considering the thinking part of which trashed the 43, best to prevent de-wirements.


  8. I don’t see how an electrified 48 could be linked to a 7X to create a RapdRide route unless there are two sets of electrification wires on Rainier to allow an express bus pass a local bus. Throw in the complexity of the latest Mt. Baker street reconfiguration, which requires all Rainier buses make a two-turn jog around the station, and it really looks messy. How is this SDOT vision supposed to work?.

    1. The 7X ceased existing in 2012.

      The vision appears to be to splice the 7 local with the 48, and do a stop diet.

  9. We’re very fortunate truly. In Moscow, the city just announced (with essentially no discussion) that the popular, effective electric bus system is to ripped out over the next couple of years, to be replaced with caveman combustion-powered buses. It’s like GM of the ’40s had been resurrected.

    1. What? Russian cities have long had a somewhat equal mix of metro, streetcars, trolleybuses, and autobuses. The metro lines have the highest-volume routes and and many people rarely use anything else, but there are dozens of streetcar and trolleybus lines that are used by other people. Autobuses are mostly fill-in routes in the outskirts. If they are now going to take over the trolleybuses, I assume that’s likely due to Russia’s status as an oil-producing country, the low price of oil, the desire for new consumption outlets to keep profits up, and the ownership of the oil companies by Putin’s close circle. However, those same circle of companies and oil fields also produce natural gas, which generates electricity for the trolleybuses, so that’s a bit odd.

      1. Oh, yuck. Corruption run amok — I guess I shouldn’t be surprised in Putin’s Russia.

  10. I’d love to see the Hunter Blvd leg of Route 14 be served by Route 48 instead, even if it is only a part of the total 48 buses. Once Judkins Park station opens with a 23rd entrance, it will be a more popular transfer point for riders to and from the east, and 14 riders can’t get there without making a transfer,

    Frankly, it’s a missed opportunity to have this awesome future connection between 23rd Avenue and East Link and not redesign the bus system to directly tie in more bus routes to reach if from Beacon Hill and other parts of SE Seattle and the CD. I hope that the post-2023 restructure will consider that.

    1. I like the idea of running the 48 to the 14’s current terminus and freeing the 14 from that silly back-and-forth to get to Mt Baker. Instead, terminate the 14 at Mt Baker without servicing McClellan east of 31st and just have the 48 continue past Mt Baker TC.

      I don’t think there would be any issues with 60 foot turnaround and layover space there, but it isn’t a “comfort station” as far as I know, so there may be some union issues.

  11. I wonder how bus and link ridership will be impacted with this week’s introduction of $5 UberPool and $5 Lyft Line now that you can take either service from Ballard to SODO and beyond for $5. I used uberpool from the UVillage to SLU for $5 and it was faster than a link/bus transfer.

    1. Most bus trips are outside those locations or hours, so not much. If there was a wholesale switch on those routes, then Uber and Lyft will need full-sized buses or their vehicles will take up congestion-causing space and they’ll need a lot of drivers. Plus if they’re more expensive than Metro and don’t take monthly PugetPasses and transfers, that will be another limit to their ridership.

    2. I tried out UberPool on Thursday just to see what it like. I was not matched with any riders, so the experience was equivalent to UberX, but with a flat $5 fare, instead of the usual distance/time combo. With a sample size of one, I have no idea what percentage of the time this ends up being the case.

      I don’t think this is likely to significantly impact transit ridership because $5 per person per direction is still a huge premium to pay over transit fare (especially if one already a transit pass), and not much cheaper than just driving downtown and paying for parking (depending on how far one is willing to walk to find cheaper parking). And, as Mike said, simple math makes it impossible for Uber’s current fleet of drivers to carry more than a fraction of the passenger load that the Metro transit system carries.

      Also, if a trip is fortunate enough to fall on the frequent network, there is at least a 50/50 chance that a bus will show up before the Uber driver shows up.

      That said, $5/trip does start to get into the range where if OBA is indicating a 15-minute wait for a bus, I might start to consider paying, rather than waiting. Depending on what mood I’m in.

    3. Lyft is doing a similar deal, which I’ve tried twice – the first time was great; no one else on the trip; $5 fare as expected.

      The second time I was matched with someone whose origin and destination were both reasonably along the route, but I think the app had a bug where surge pricing (Prime Time) wasn’t appearing in the flow to book a ride, so the ride ended up costing $23. This behavior was unexpected.

      Gotta hand it to Lyft drivers for being great talkers; of course this means that sometimes I make the conscious decision to use Uber / take the bus when I know I need the time to write to people, etc.

      1. One thing I really like about UberPool is that, even if the $5 discount doesn’t apply, they quote you a price before you commit, and no matter what happens during the trip, you pay the price you’ve been quoted, and nothing more. For instance, when my driver made a wrong turn on Thursday, I was able to just go “whatever, I’m in no hurry”, knowing that whatever extra time/distance resulted in getting back on track, I would not be paying for. I actually think that, even the services where you get the whole car to yourself should still be following the model of quoting you a price in advance. (The price quote can take real-time traffic information into account, so if the trip involves driving on a freeway that the Software knows is congested, you, as a customer, would still pay for it).

        The only time, it should really be necessary to pay a “metered rate” is if you have a specific route you want to take, for example, if you need to make a stop along the way to pick up or drop off a friend. (Based on what I’ve seen, if you are able to form your own carpool, even with just one other person, it is cheaper to form your own carpool with UberX and split the cost amongst yourselves than to ride UberPool).

  12. STB buried the lede on this one: 3.7 mill/year in fuel savings. At metro’s maximum price estimate for the project, investing in trolley wire pays off in less than 5 years. And that’s before you consider that the Feds are paying for more than half of the project.

    These kinds of projects get me really excited. If you can spend some capital now and save money every year in the future, you’ve just found a golden egg laying hen.

  13. Quick question: does anybody know if there are battery buses that use frilly wire for recharging?

    Obviously it is common for a modern trolley bus to have offeire capabilities a good bit beyond “momentum”, the energy storage mechanism of the old ones.

    But there’s a big gap between a block off wire and what real battery buses are doing.

    Proterra does battery buses that come in two flavors – all day batteries and fast charge batteries. The problem with all day batteries is that it’s a heck of a lot of battery to carry around with you, and those batteries cost and weigh a ton (actually, several). The problem with fast charging batteries is that it isn’t what batteries like to do, and so you pay in battery performance and lifespan. And the bigger problem is that you have to rhe bus stop somewhere for a while to charge each time it runs a route.

    Does anybody use trolley wire for charging? That way the bus could run continuously, and the battery could be optimized for slow charging without needing a whole day’s worth of capacity. And the wire would be cheaper, so you wouldn’t have to cover the whole route.

    I’m thinking wire on maybe 1/3 of the route, battery the rest. That third could be the interlined portion, to save money putting up wire, with battery run tails, or it could be the non-highway portion, with a battery run highway section.

    1. Beijing has a whole bunch of such trolley/battery buses, and using this technology Beijing is entering a trolley great leap forward, in the last 2 years, they increased their trolley routes from 15 to 22, and it is still expanding. Those trolleys are capable of long stretches of off-wire operation, followed by recharging on wires.

    1. In Beijing they are converting some diseasel bus line to hybrid-trolley They can power up on the sections using the overhead wires. Most of the overhead is already there being used by other trolleybus lines. I think the same thing is happening in Shanghai.

  14. What is this Judkins Park proposal? I haven’t heard about it.

    What is the 45 that ?zack thinks could be electrified?

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