Atomic Taco (Flickr)
Atomic Taco (Flickr)

The long-awaited mid-day Sounder round-trip will begin a week from Monday, on September 12. Perhaps more accurately described as “shoulder peak” than mid-day, the new trip will leave Lakewood at 10:18am for a 11:31 Seattle arrival, with a 3-hour layover before departing Seattle at 2:32pm for a 3:45 arrival in Lakewood. The service will utilize North Sounder-sized trainsets at first, beginning with just 2 traincars for a few months before new cars arrive in early 2017, after which it will run the full 7-car South Sounder consist.

The new service will open up a host of new opportunities. Non-traditional or part-time shifts will work better with a mid-day option, the trip will facilitate Sounder-Amtrak connections (imagine catching the train in Kent at 11:04 to catch a Portland-bound train from Tukwila at 11:29), etc etc. But the biggest thing it will do is make Lakewood and South Tacoma stations far more useful. 

Currently, the Lakewood trips leave too early and return too late for most riders with an 8-hour workday. Those taking the earliest trains from Lakewood (4 trains arrive before 7:30am) today either have to wait until the first Lakewood train at 4:12pm, take an earlier train to Puyallup and transfer to Route 580, or fight traffic on Route 592. The 2:32pm trip will do much to accommodate those who work early morning shifts.

The new trip also facilitates use for mid-day meetings. Seattleites could take reverse Sounder to Tacoma, arriving at 8am, with 2.5 hours to conduct business before returning. Similarly, I expect to see Sound Transit Boardmembers MacArthy, Strickland, Moss, and Enslow using the new option to get to their 1:30 board meetings. ;)

Two more trips will be added a year from now in September 2017 to provide 15-minute peak service, and that will be the last of new Sounder service without a successful ST3 vote. ST3 proposes an unspecified amount of additional trains (to be negotiated with BNSF), as well as expansion to 10-car platforms.

65 Replies to “Mid-Day Sounder Starts September 12th”

    1. Yeah, slightly disappointing to see STB go for click-bait headlines here. “Mid-Day Sounder” gives the impression of Sounder service similar to mid-day buses, which suggests hourly service in the middle of the day.

  1. “But the biggest thing it will do is make Lakewood and South Tacoma stations far more useful.” – If you don’t start work until almost lunch time. Otherwise, it will get you to work late.

      1. Sometimes a bit faster to Tacoma (certainly not “much faster”)… though less reliable. And the bus isn’t faster to Puyallup, Sumner, Auburn, or Kent.

      2. At 10:18 when the new Sounder departs, I imagine the bus would beat Sounder almost every time. On the schedule, the 594 (which also goes to Lakewood) leaves TDS at 10:22 and arrives at Jackson street at 11:06, beating Sounder by almost a half hour despite leaving later.

        That’s one of the interesting things about Sounder. All things being equal, it probably makes sense to plan on taking Sounder all the time, but with Sounder being $5.25 from Tacoma (and $5.75 from Lakewood), I’m surprised that there isn’t a huge ridership imbalance (maybe there is, I mean, the 590 has trips leaving every 5 minutes).

        For that reason, I find it a bit surprising that they are extending the line even further south (as opposed to focusing more on east Pierce service), since all destinations further south will forever be plagued by the Puyallup detour, which involves going east then west, and going south to go north.

      3. I actually think mid-day service, such as it ever exists, could be truncated to Puyallup where its time advantages are always solid. From SR 167 to downtown Seattle, the train wins no matter the time of day.

      4. Yes, for the new Sounder trip, Tacoma-Seattle is faster by bus (by 15 minutes–44 minutes vs 59 minutes–not “almost a half hour”).

        It’s worth noting that Sounder becomes competitive again when you get to Lakewood Station. 76 minutes by bus and 73 minutes by Sounder.

      5. Bus service from Puyallup, Sumner, and Auburn transit centers on 578 is fairly slow with stops in Sumner, Auburn, and Federal Way.

        I’ve been looking forward to better service on Sounder for a long time because busing to Sumner sucks.

      6. It takes half an hour to go from Lakewood to Tacoma on the bus. Sounder is a big improvement there.

        It takes about an hour to get from South Tacoma to Tacoma on the bus. Sounder will be a huge improvement there.

      7. What Drew said (his first comment). South Sounder is easily seen as mainly a way to get to Tacoma, but ridership numbers suggest otherwise. Way more people ride it to the other stops, probably for the reason mentioned (it is faster and more convenient to take the bus most of the time). This is a big win for those communities in between as well as Lakewood (as mentioned).

      8. There’s trips between Tacoma and South King Stations. Doing those trips on a bus when Sounder isn’t running is quite painful, with an untimed connection between two not-super-reliable bus routes, with 30-minute headways each.

        Ideally, Metro would adjust the schedules of the local buses that service Kent and Auburn Stations to align with this new trip, but my pessimistic guess is that, in practice, that won’t happen.

    1. The Puyallup detour? I mean come on, the Northern Pacific layed the tracks in the Puyallup and Kent valley well over 100 years ago as it was the best route at the time. The route sounder uses today isn’t even the original alignment as the original line went from stampede pass through emunclaw, looped down to prying and connected back in at Puyallup. The line through auburn and connections north and south did not come until later. Even the Milwaukee road used the same valley when they built their line much later. Travel times at peak and increasingly as i5 comes to a crawl outside the peak are comparable, and the service reliability is still very high. Is what I want to know, will sound transit run 580 and 596 bus service, plus the 497 service for the mid day train since the park and ride lots will most certainly be full by the time the mid day train calls at the station.

      1. But still, it is a bit of a detour. Lots of cities (especially in the Midwest) have straight shot runs from their suburbs to the big city (e. g. Naperville to Chicago). Many northeast suburbs are similar, or if they make turns, the freeways do, too. But for us the freeway takes a much straighter route to Seattle than the train, and the result is that even if you ran an express train from Tacoma, it would take a significant amount more time to get there over a bus even if they both ran at the same speed.

      2. The Original line went through Orting that is. I think it was the 1890s that the NP built up to Auburn, and connected south to Puyallup and north to Seattle. In any event, the alignment Sounder runs on is very old and while not the most direct path it still serves communities that are otherwise under-served by transit, and have just as bad, if not worse traffic than their neighbors on I-5. As a disclaimer, I live in Puyallup, and I avoid 167 if I can, i’d rather go out of my way to I-5 which I think moves better. This is why we need more sounder service, all day and peak because 167 is a total mess, and if the tracks were still in place to Bellevue, a 2nd sounder line from Tacoma to Bellevue I think would be just as successful, if not more so than the existing Sounder line. A oft forgotten tidbit, was that the Puyallup Station parking lot was suppose to have enough capacity for riders on the original 6 (or was it 9?) trains a day. It filled up when there were only 2 round trips a day, and fills up after the 2nd train (sometimes the first) of the morning. We need more sounder, we need more parking, and we need more transit connections ASAP.

      3. It isn’t the most direct path but it is the only path that is flat. Otherwise, you’re looking at a 35 mile tunnel.

      4. It really isn’t any less direct than I-5.

        The line through Orting and Enumclaw went up to Palmer, I think. That would be a scenic, but very long trip to Seattle!

      5. Not too long ago (geologically speaking) Federal Way, Burien and West Seattle were part of an island. Mount Rainier erupted, and filled it all in. For much of the way, the railroad tracks follow that eruption flow (what was once seawater). This is why it is relatively flat. Glenn is correct — if it followed along the freeway it would require extensive tunneling.

        By my estimation (using Google Maps) the railroad route is 8 miles longer than the freeway route. That is a significant detour in my book.

      6. Actually, the original alignment up the valley was in service before the Stampede line was built.

      7. Oh, geez, let me check my historical railroad atlas.

        …darn, the PacNW atlas isn’t up to the standards of the other ones in the series. More research… the Puyallup-Tacoma line is the oldest. I’m not clear on when the Puyallup-Auburn line was built.

  2. Implementation-wise, it looks like they’re operating this trip with a brand new trainset, rather than running an existing trainset one more round trip. I was hoping that adding an extra round trip in both directions would prove cheaper than buying a whole new train to operate just one direction, but if the fees to BNSF for an extra reverse trip would cost more than a whole extra train, I can totally see why they chose to do it the way they did.

    Ridership-wise, I think the new afternoon trip is going to fare better than the new morning trip, mostly due to parking issues. The south-end station parking is already completely full from the existing trips, so people riding the new trip will have to get to the station some other way. The skeletal nature of the bus system around there, plus the lack of will for Piece Transit to coordinate the schedules of their hourly bus routes with Sounder trains is going to be a big issue. And, of top of that, many of the bus routes that do connect to the Sounder stations are peak-only, so they won’t be running at the time when they’re most needed. The afternoon trip, however, is not affected by these issues – in fact, an 8-hour workday means the people who would be using it would be traveling relatively early in the other direction – early enough to have no trouble driving to the station and finding a parking spot.

    1. They probably need a new trainset for the new trips in 2017.

      ST operated P&R utilization is at 91%. While Tacoma Dome, Puyallup and Sumner are probably mostly full, I expect there will be spaces at Lakewood and South Tacoma.

      1. Sour Tacoma is nearly totally empty, I think Lakewood station fills most of the way up, with bus riders no less.

    2. I agree about the poor sounder connections in pierce county, and would like to see buses connect with trains, however I can see the question come up asking, which is more important, using the limited resources to connect routes to sounder, breaking connections with the rest of the network, or keeping those timed transfers in tact? Which is going to get you the most bang for your buck with as limited resources that you have. Although I’d personally like to see service restructured around the sounder stations in areas that have them like Puyallup and Lakewood and closing some of the duplicate transit hubs and facilities to save money.

  3. The Seattle Times reported that next year’s additional trips will be peak time trains. Big disappointment…

    I have been hoping for a night train (10 or 11pm). Transit should not just be for work commuters. Cities do other things… People want to go out to dinner, see music, a play or a sports event. If we can make it easier for our suburbs to reach Seattle then we can expand the events that makes a city fun. More people means more options to create an enjoyable city. And the more people that go to Mariners games, mean we might be able to afford a real bullpen.

    1. Today’s schedule also has 20-30 minute headways during the peak period, so there probably is a fair amount of latent demand in improving it. For instance, more frequent peak service would make riding a bus to the train a lot more palatable, with the amount of delay resulting from a late bus being less.

      The best chance for an evening train to ever happen is ST 3. Even then, I’m expecting it to be along the lines of a 7 PM or 9 PM departure from Seattle, rather than 10 PM or 11 PM. In the meantime, there are still buses – the 578 and 594 each run into the evening (and run more frequently than Sounder would during those times, even with ST 3).

      1. Buses might be a better option at night, anyway — there’s (usually) no traffic to avoid and ST doesn’t have to sell their soul to BNSF.

      2. We are trying to encourage non transit users to use transit and that is easier with trains. Normally suburban drivers are very hesitant to figure out schedules and try a bus.

        Also, from Seattle to Kent Station by Sounder is only 19 minutes. It is 48 minutes by bus 150….even after traffic is gone.
        I think a late train would be full- especially on Fridays and Saturdays. The late 150’s are usually nearly empty.

      3. One of the problems sounder has on the south end is lack of P&R capacity at nearly all stations. You can add peak trains, and ridership will shift, however when your parking lots fill up after the 1st or 2nd train you won’t get many new riders. Shuttling commuters from satalite lots works, but is expensive to operate. Not to mention the cost of leasing or building off site P&R space. While on the subject, one P&R shuttle I though would make sense is from the 700+ Kent P&R not far from the Kent Station, that goes largely unused these days. But all it takes is $$&.

      4. As mentioned above, the people who get the most of out South Sounder don’t live in Tacoma. They live in places far from the freeway, and thus not as well served by buses. Those are the folks that miss out if they don’t run evening trains.

        But parking is an issue, especially when it comes to folks that work somewhere else (or have the day off) and want to head into town for an event. But even for people who managed to grab a spot in the morning and stay in Seattle it means losing out.

    2. All the places Sounders goes have buses too. And the threat of traffic creating a time penalty for buses at 10:00 PM is low. Peak trains do something buses can’t, timewise. It’s a more urgent priority.

    3. >> And the more people that go to Mariners games, mean we might be able to afford a real bullpen.

      It seems like just the other day Mariner fans were lauding their pitching and saying “if only we could get some guys that can hit”. What a contrast. Oh well, at least they are over .500.

    4. It’s tough to get Commuter Rail to go late into the night. NYC does it, Chicago does not. For something like a 10pm departure from Seattle, I would see more value in a night owl bus that shadows a part of the Sounder line, similar to night owl bus routes that could shadow sections of Link when Link doesn’t run.

      1. It’s not that hard. Boston, Philadelphia, even Miami have late evening commuter rail service.

      2. It’s not that hard for the cities you listed because the tracks are publicly owned/controlled and have little to no freight traffic.

        That’s not the case in Seattle.

      3. Hence the repeated proposals for the government to duplicate the UP (ex-Milwaukee) line as a joint UP-BNSF freight mainline, while allowing the existing BNSF line to become a passenger-primary line.

  4. The service will utilize North Sounder-sized trainsets

    Doesn’t that mean the train will have to head North to Lakewood around 9:00 AM? Why not monetize the deadhead, as they do with two of the S-South trainsets? (and the return trip too) Back when I worked in Tacoma with a variable/flexible schedule, I would have found that very useful–I almost never took the reverse commute trains because they were too early.

    1. Yes, not a North Sounder train, just a new set of similar size as a North Sounder train. Sorry for any confusion.

  5. I’m glad that they are balancing the shoulders – 1 additional ride each way.

    A reminder to ST to do something similar with the extra runs to the Puyallup Fair, instead 3 runs there and 1 run back.

    1. One of the 2 new trips added a year from now will add a 3rd reverse trip, but that’s it for the foreseeable future.

  6. When I drive Tacoma to Seattle for meetings, mid-day, I must always budget 1 hour 15 minutes, as I never know when there is going to be an unexpected accident on I-5, and being late to a meeting is generally unacceptable. Working on a bus is nearly impossible, while driving completely impossible. A mid-day train trip actually does make sense for me from a work standpoint, if it lines up with meeting times. It doesn’t line up with my current recurring meetings, but I know that I’ve had meetings in the past for which this service would have worked quite nicely. Unfortunately, I will be limited to strictly meetings held in the ID, Pioneer Square or CBD neighborhoods, because beyond that there is too much of a bus transfer penalty to be effective. Still, this is exciting.

  7. I think these two new trips will be popular with people that have medical or other appointments close to home either in the morning or late afternoon. They probably drive in those situations currently.

  8. Would it be typical for Pierce Transit to run the 497 up to Lakeland Hills for the midday routes? As referenced earlier, there is no parking by then at stations, so your main option would be a $25 parking ticket (at least in Auburn.)

    1. An all-day 497 Sunday through Monday would be a nice neighborhood connection to actual southeast Auburn (more southeast than the 180’s “southeast Auburn” terminal), especially with a one-seat ride to Seattle both on and off peak with the Sounder/578. It’s also the only local Auburn bus that goes south of the white river (not even the 915 does that). Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be financial feasibility or political will to increase it. 497 has remained the same for a long time (even PT’s 2012 prop 1 had the 497 stay at current service levels for both passing and failing scenarios), which suggests that there’s some sort of partnership with Metro or the city of Auburn (which would make sense since most of the route is in King county; only the southern tip is in Pierce county).

      1. I know the City of Auburn has to kick in for it. Lakeland is Auburn’s largest (8,000+) and probably densest, very walkable neighborhood and we get almost zero transit–just runs up and down to connect to the Sounder.

        Someone posted on Facebook that PT isn’t going to run the 497 for that middle run. Sigh.

    2. Julie, yes, as you know, Auburn kicks in for this. King County Metro has a plan to ultimately serve Lakeland Hills with a bus very similar to the 497, with all-day service – probably replacing the 497, and potentially sharing some routing with the 180. They presented this to council a couple of months ago. My recommendation is to petition your City Council to get good all-day service to Lakeland Hills. You and I both know that neither Metro nor PT will ever give us the service we need, so it will take pressure from council to get this done. Talk to your council members. Most of them are happy to talk to their constituents, and generally, nobody shows up to council meetings.

      1. That you can live in as large a neighborhood as Lakeland but not be able to be a student at GRC without a car is baffling to me.

        Does the Auburn City Council influence Metro decisions?

      2. Julie, some of the city council members are on various boards, committees, or other groups that influence transit decisions. So, yes, indirectly.

        Mayor Nancy Backus is on the Sound Transit Board and has direct input on decisions made by ST.

        The lack of transit in Auburn is a bit appalling. We are a city of over 70,000 people, with a growing density. There are few good paying jobs in our community – I would bet that a majority of our population commutes to a different city for work, many of them traveling daily to Seattle or Bellevue. The critical mass is definitely there for better transit service.

  9. Excellent news on the new trains. Really need once an hour, and starting out of Olympia-Lacey. Because between 6AM and 9AM any weekday. I-5 between Olympia and Tacoma is south end of the parking lot beginning in Everett. PM reverse, same risk, this time pre-supper starvation.

    Based on experience, diversion through Puyallup a lot easier to take than a direct stop and go ride between one and five miles an hour. I anybody can tell me a faster way to restore any speed on that corridor than using existing railway, let’s hear it.

    Because got to say, right now I-5 has turned me from a transit passenger to a motorist. Tacoma Dome has excellent free parking, and choice of Sounder and two bus routes- 574 to LINK less chance of getting stuck in traffic than 594- though still risky.

    Also takes away worry of missing last bus back to Olympia. Have had to pay $50 van fare from Airport.

    Freeway-free route? I’ve found one. Where? Finders keepers, losers try my morning commute on a bus, and tell me buses are as good or better than trains.

    As already pointed out, parking problem seriously understated. Though Lacey station is a 20 minute express bus ride- if there was one- from Downtown Olympia. Though given sprawl, some other routes needed too.

    Because I think change Sounder ridership will be on same order as when UW Station opened.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I wish Intercity would add a timed express bus transfer for this sounder departure at least(in my dream world it would skip Lacey, at the very least martin way p&r) right now that 10:18 hit right between a (estimated) 9:47 and 11:17 arrival at lakewood station

  10. Well, the fastest way to restore speed on that corridor would probably be tolls.

    Of course, we know that’s not going to happen.

    1. You’ve got me interested, Glenn. But since I’m pretty sure most of these are work trips, wouldn’t drivers just consider it one more nickle in the 50 pound sack of dimes around their necks and just pay-to-stay. Stuck?

      Or will there be a plan to use the tolls for transit good enough that people will consider it and ST (whatever) and enough of them ride transit so at least somebody is actually moving?


  11. Now I don’t believe this, but many are wondering if the new trip was specifically created for ST board members. They say the timing of the trip is suspicious. Some speculate that the arrival time in Seattle, just before the board meeting starts, is no coincidence. Hmmm.

      1. Hey, don’t shoot the messenger. Your beef isn’t with me, it’s with many, some and they.

    1. Sam, it will really be great if you’re right. But even better if every elected politician responsible for transit has to go to all the meetings aboard some kind of transit service.

      Especially if some of didn’t get to vote on things their constituents demanded because their bus got stuck in traffic.

      Because even if one of their two train cars is a lounge car with crystal chandeliers and a sign saying “No smoking anything not from Havanna and costing less than three hundred dollars per cigar!”…

      At least they’d be on something that was transit. Though would be great to see how those tycoons would look at lounging on the rear platform of a bus in a lane reserved with a diamond and a paint stripe.

      With the countryside going by at zero over a fender-bender fifteen miles ahead. And all those Seattle motorists wagging fingers and yelling about second hand smoke.

      Thanks for the hopeful note.


  12. It looks like Sound Transit has their bus schedules out for the September service change, and the 596 (Sumner->Bonney Lake shuttle) will, in fact, have a new round trip to connect with the midday train run. So, at least people from Bonney Lake will have a way to get there in the morning after the parking has all filled up.

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