Sounder loco 910 at TDS
This Sounder train will have positive train control operating next year. Photo by Bruce Englehardt.

On Wednesday, Sound Transit quietly released a draft of its Annual Report and 2017-2022 Transit Development Plan.  The TDP, which state law requires ST to complete each year, operates at a higher level than the Service Implementation Plans released in the fall.  While the TDP offers less granular detail about the agency’s plans than the SIP, it gives us a glimpse farther into the future.

This year’s plan doesn’t break any major news, but underscores how much work planners at ST and its partner agencies must do as the system expands.  During 2017 alone, ST is working on four separate planning processes, almost totally centered on bus service:

  1. the ongoing SR 520 bus service restructure effort;
  2. a plan to keep routes 550 and 554 moving once the dedicated bus roadway parallel to I-90 closes for East Link construction;
  3. a plan to help ST Express buses navigate increased surface bus traffic once all buses leave the downtown tunnel in 2019; and
  4. the start of the planning effort for the ST Express network that will operate once Lynnwood Link, East Link, and Federal Way Link open.

2017 TDP listed items

The last of these is a long-term effort that will continue from now until 2022, and will take place in cooperation with similar planning efforts by Metro and Community Transit.  We likely won’t see too much about it in this year’s SIP, but it will be major news as the early 2020s draw closer.

The TDP delivered a couple of other minor news items.  First, ST and BNSF remain on track to complete Positive Train Control hardware installation on the South Sounder line this year, with the technology becoming fully operational next year. PTC is a safety technology designed to prevent trains from entering already-occupied track segments even if an operator fails to observe a red light, and likely could have prevented several of the USA’s worst train accidents.  Second, ST continues to eschew fleet standardization for ST Express, with double-decker buses, commuter motor coaches, and articulated hybrid buses all slated to come on property within the next few years.  Buses that entered service in 2005 or earlier, including ST’s original order of hybrid buses, should be replaced in 2018-2019.

35 Replies to “Sound Transit’s Full Plate”

  1. We (BNSF) are already actively using PTC on all Subdivisions in the Northwest. My understanding was September/October to start PTC on Union Pacific, Sounder and Amtrak but that may have been pushed back again due to technical issues.

      1. PTC is an overlay for whatever signaling system is currently in place. It can overlay TWC (Track Warrant Control), ABS (Automatic Block Signals), CTC (Centralized Traffic Control), etc. So its still TWC with PTC overlaid.

  2. 1. “PTC is a safety technology designed to prevent trains from entering already-occupied track segments even if an operator fails to observe a red light, and likely could have prevented several of the USA’s worst train accidents. ”

    If terrorists ever killed as many people inside our borders in a year as plain criminal decrepitude, we’d be on lockdown 24-7-365. Bhopal chemical leak killed 4,000 very swiftly outright, with final toll 15,000 more. 9/11 x 6 . 600,000 more poisoned. This country’ major defense funding priority is to stage a 300 million person Dunkirk-level escape into the First World.

    2. Sounder cab-car is a beauty. But before we take delivery, we’d better check the lavatory to be sure we’re not getting one more mis-designed toilet we (sniff, shrug) can’t afford to fix. Since average passenger’s budgets don’t cover testing gear, just have to assume that if it smells like a sewage spill, cholera will soon cut ridership worse than freight delays. And, word to the phone-answering guilty: Stop telling complainants to ask the conductor about it.

    3. Window “Wraps”are bad enough, though first responder-casualty from going on-Wrap-blocked-scene will fix problem in one shift, sooner or later. But since passenger unanimity accepts sills at eyebrow level on all new ST buses, why waste public money on windows? Milk-tanker shells cheaper and safer. Meantime, waiting for my $35.00 WWI trench periscope to arrive from e-Bay. Maybe ST can leave cheaper ones in the schedule rack.

    4. Bob Hasegawa being free from Mayoral duties, there’s no more ST Express leeway for false branding, real or fake. So word to -DOT’s regionwide: if it can’t have enough reserved lanes and signal-pre-empt to be Express, call somebody besides ST to run it.

    5. DSTT? Wrong passenger misses an international flight tomorrow and joint ops will be gone in two hours, not years. But without a lot of bus-only lanes and preempted signals, a Tunnelfull of buses on the streets will have Seattle Fire Department buying enough WWII-flying boat air tankers to fill Lake Washington.

    So best plan for worst two years’ pre-planning? If 41 and 550 can’t be combined and through-routed, let them keep their route numbers and terminals, but paint the 41’s blue and white. And give ST, LINK and Express, all 1.3 miles of grooved concrete. Same radio channel. Same fare arrangement, starting with Proof of Payment. And finally, rail and bus operators trained together.

    After which….LINK-only tunnel should spare enough money for a half dozen Bredas with their diesels reattached to let the Historic Vehicle Association put a “Joint Ops Park” somewhere on Seattle Streetcar Network. Maybe Ballard Station to Golden Gardens. Add a couple Benson cars and a used PCC. Name museum and Ballard Station after Streetcar Operator Motorman Eldo Kannikeberg.

    Mark Dublin

    1. The double deckers are 42 feet long… so yes… it’s a confusing way to say “double deck” coach.

  3. Good to hear from you, Brian. But I think you can be of a lot of help to me if I’m right, or save me a lot of effort otherwise.

    When I moved to Olympia in 2014, Intercity Transit leaving transit center at 6:10 am would get me into Tacoma in time for coffee before catching the streetcar to Tacoma Dome to get the 8:10 Sounder into Seattle.

    Three years of Seattle Real Estate Market has blocked I-5 solid from Centralia to Everett. If I’m not across the Nisqually by five, which is pushing it, I lose a half hour between Nisqually exit and Dupont. Fastest Diamond Lane program on Earth would only make the misery worse next four or five years.

    Need a “Freeway Free” route at least to Tacoma. So idea: When Amtrak and Sounder switch to Lakewood alignment next year, any chance we could have Sounder terminate at Lacey? Only a few minutes past Dupont, and if new stretch can handle Amtrak, why not same for Sounder.

    Ready to get started on Thurston County politics about this. I’m not the only refugee with ties to the Old Country here now. Not your Grandpa’s Olympia. So please, at least tell me if my idea is technically possible. And if not- how much to “Make It So?” Many thanks.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Off topic but holy guacamole you commute from Oly to Seattle? That’s seems a little extreme. I get it if you don’t want to share, and yeah housing is tough, but even Tacoma is too much for your budget?

    2. Mark lived in Ballard for a long time but was priced out a few years ago. The only place he could afford was Olympia, which I don’t understand but when you’re in your senior years sometimes the options available are limited, and he found a place right near the Capitol in a walkable area and I imagine prewar construction. I gather he doesn’t commute five days a week but comes here semi-regularly on business for clients located all around. It sounds like he’s spending more time in Tacoma now because… it takes a long time to get to Seattle.

  4. I think that one big missing element is a reassessment of station capacity and flow as part of.the Facilities category. ST has been hammered this year about escalator and elevator issues, and there are places that need to be rethought now that demand is already much higher. I realize that ST does not own the DSTT stations but these are particularly in need of some assessment and additional down escalators, for example. By the end of this plan, the IDC Station will also be just a year away from a heavy new transfer volume to East Link. Without a deliberate task included here, these issues will not be systematically assessed so that station improvements will lack any sort of motivation other than complaints and elected official pressure.

    1. Look at UDistrict Station. It takes 3 minutes just to get out of the damn thing. Escalators were a stupid choice for accessing a platform that’s essentially 10 stories underground. It should have been like Beacon Hill STN with the elevator bay.

  5. Major Important. ST joint operations were always a temporary measure. Whose temp is up. Even if the controls and coordination designed into the DSTT were finally instituted, best bus-loading time would still make following trains late.

    Right now, if the wrong person misses an international flight due to Tunnel delays, or the delays they cause on MLK, tomorrow morning the Streets of Seattle will be more full of stuck buses than Downtown Laredo with dead cowboy wrong-doers.

    Given normal course of transit development in Seattle, two years could easily leave us with worse traffic to suddenly dump the Tunnel buses into unprepared. So meantime, I think ST Express could be a lot of help. If Route 41 and ST 550 become the DSTT division of ST Express. Their routes area already truly North and East LINK Stage One.

    Leaving DSTT with a lot less in the way of trains. And best of all, as much intended as the rest of still unrealized integration, finally under control of one agency. Sharing operations control. And fare system, adding buses to existing train Proof of Payment. And operators of both modes training together, in constant communication, and otherwise sharing Same Page of the Brain.

    Any interagency trouble, and every non-cooperating entity gets warned one time before receiving a $124 ticket and having their whole company ORCA card issue go blank.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Downtown Seattle did not melt down when the DSTT was closed to buses ten years ago for conversion, I doubt it would melt down completely today. Now, travel times through downtown may be an issue, and it would be worth studying if/when in 2021 when Northgate LINK opens, and all trains are 4 cars if truncation of routes at downtown LINK stations is feasible, and how much service could be added back in by doing so.

  6. I haven’t read the TDP yet (weekend reading on tap) but I wonder if it addresses the financial risks for this five-year period. Many economists expect a recession to hit the US economy in the next few years, per our history for the last 30-40 years.

    If someone on this blog has already read the report, perhaps they could speak to this point in reply. We know full well how unprepared ST was for the Great Recession of 2007-2009.

    1. ST wasn’t particularly unprepared. Since its 2000-ish reform it has budgeted very conservatively. It keeps a low debt-to-asset ratio so that even if another recession like 2008 occurs it will still be able to make bond payments and avoid having to ask taxpayers for additional funds. However, it will have to defer or cancel projects as revenue goes below target. That’s what happened n 2008: South King lost a lot of its sales-tax base. So North and East Link were delayed a year but South Link was truncated at 200th.In that it made a deal with Federal Way to accelerate planning to 320th Street so that it would be shovel-ready for any federal stimulus grants that might appear. Later revenue recovered enough to re-extend it to 240th.

      Metro had devastating cuts, and widespread pass-ups and reliability loss. But why was that? It’s not so much that Metro did anything or could have prevented it, but that the tax structure that funds Metro is vulnerable to shocks. Sales tax revenue goes way up in booms and way down in recessions, whereas transit needs are more stready. But to fix that we need state-approved tax reform, and that’s not coming. What we do know is that if a recession occurs, Metro will have to reverse the Prop 1 increases, make other cuts in the suburbs, and downscale or defer its long-term plan.

      2008 was not a “recession”, it was a depression (a large/longstanding recession) and a financial crisis (large-scale debt defaults that destabilized the core financial system). Several of the factors that led to such a huge downtown no longer exist: liar loans, dodgy real-estate securities marketed as safe, and the general belief that the boom was lasting longer than previous ones and a depression hadn’t occurred for seventy years and the tech-information economy was leading us to a permanent boom. The most likely points for the next recession I’ve heard are:

      1. It’s been an unusually long time since the last recession.

      2. Car loans are starting to look dodgy. Now that the car market has matured, automakers have found they can make more profit on financing deals than on the car itself. Car-dealer loans are less regulated than mortgage loans, so many of them are risky and may default. Plus if people are tight on cash they’ll pay their mortgage/rent first and everything else second — including car loans. And cars don’t appreciate in value like houses do, so the car is guaranteed to be worth significantly less than the loan (unless it’s a Mercedes maybe).

      3. Collaterized debt obligations and derivatives have apparently gone back up to their pre-2008 levels, so that if the assets under them go bust they’ll go bust too.

      There’s other factors like a Chinese downturn, Brexit, euro meltdown, mideast war, or climate catatrophe. And any unknown problems in the US financial system or tech companies. And the loosening of financial regulations. But when/if any of these will boil over is unknown. Several of them were expected to blow in the past five years but they didn’t. Maybe we’ll keep on muddling along.

      Anyone who owns stocks or real estate should be aware that 10-20% of their value is due to the extraordinarily low interest rates and those could be wiped in a recession. Basically there’s more investment money looking for high returns than there are assets to invest it in, so the money just goes into *something*. On the other hand, a glut of investable money existed before the recession and that looks like a long-term trend, so the money may remain where it is until better assets are invented.

      Germany needs to get over its viewpoint of being a righteous export country with tight money and low inflation. Not everybody can be an exporting nation, just like not everybody in Lake Wobegon can be above average. An export nation needs an import nation to buy their goods, and an import nation needs easy money to do so. Southern Europe is the import nation, and needs looser money to buy imports and be competitive, but the euro and the EUs’ austerity policies block that. That situation can’t continue forever: yin needs yang.

      The US needs to recognize that a nation is built on human capital, and that means investing in its citizens: universal healthcare, education, a social safety net, and the physical infrastructure that commerce relies on. These things allow people to be resilient against shocks and to become productive and entrepreneuring, and that in turn makes the country resilient to any catastrophes or wars or terror attacks that may occur. How long, O Lord, will we have to wait until the leaders get serious about this?

      1. If State Supreme Court’s success on school funding sets any precedent, it’s that if we have to raise our own considerable money without State permission, the State Police and the Guard won’t take us to jail. Same with a lot of rules from places long ago and far away.

        I know somebody who’s so overdue to drive a trolleybus again he’d volunteer for the 7 if funds were needed for ST-whatever. Or figure out how to make the “7” part of it. Wish the Democrats remembered “House Raisings” from history. Excellent solution for housing fast and labor-economical.

        Like I just said to Tlsgwm, Mike, question is what we’re ready to do about all those things? If answer is all the reasons we can’t do anything…well, should be no shortage of vacant seats in the Washington State Legislature when the time comes. Probably a few ST Board seats open too.


      2. Well said, Mike, I agree with every one of your points. You made a lot of them, so that is saying something.

        Personally, I don’t blame governments for being a bit risky when it comes to operations. There is every incentive to do so. Hold a bunch of money in reserve (because there will be a downturn eventually) and someone will raid the surplus. You might as well do what you can to build things when times are good, then deal with the problems when they inevitably happen. I wish it was different, but the same stupid attitudes that lead to financial disasters are the ones that lead to stupid tax cutting measures that are nothing more than spending the rainy day fund. Short term thinking — that’s all it is.

      3. In response to point number 1, I’d add it’s also the first recovery after a recession that hasn’t had over 2% GDP growth in any year. Maybe that’s just because the boom has been happening in certain cities, while everywhere else remains much the same, or maybe there’s some other reason. I’m hopefull it means we’re developing without a huge bubble forming.

        About point number 2, I’ve heard that car dealers are offering longer term loans now, longer than the usual 5-6 year loan. That makes me wonder if there’s a car loan bubble — explains why Ford and GM are such apparently undervalued stocks.

        The overarching problem to all of this is making sure the wealth doesn’t get stuck at the top. People gotta be able to buy stuff — and hopefully they don’t have to use a 10 year loan to buy a truck; that’s when we get in trouble.

    2. Tlsgwm, considering how few of us hold any stocks at all, ridiculously inordinate media attention to the Stock Market (National Public Radio is worst of all) spreads the idea that it’s any more predictable than the next earthquake cycle. Whose effect on the Market ST might be too busy to consider.

      Life’s own sole defense is to be flexibly ready to change approach and direction amid a lot of crashing, shattering, and yelling. Or a lot more ominous silence. And general silence from Sound Transit on this very question is very ominous to me. Anybody from first-line supervisor on up: What’s max sudden sustained emergency response you think your chain of command can handle?

      The less we want to know, the more we need to.


  7. Not to mention their crucial delivery of free car storage, to the tune of $90k per space, in Puyallup for drivers! Not sure if they have bike lockers but assume those will cost money. Way to go, transit.

    1. Nothing some actual connector buses wouldn’t improve..

      Once I managed exactly 1 hour from leaving KSS to my house: KSS > Puyallup > walked around to track 1, an empty 402 to South Hill happened to come by at exactly the right time > no stops until I got off near the 7-11 / Walmart stop > walked around to where I live > looked at my watch and couldn’t believe it, exactly 1 hour had passed.

      Work with several people that drive to P&Rs in Pierce Co because there is no other option, no reliable timed bus connections.

      1. Of course the flip side of things – for every day that the 402 comes by at exactly the right time, how many days does the 402 come by one minute two early, leaving you stuck at the station for an extra hour (maybe during rush hour, only an extra half hour, not sure)?

      2. Adding ST Express feeder service from other parts of the county, especially South Hill/Fredrickson and Spanaway/Parkland (with suitable P&R capacity added) would go a long way to not only helping address the parking issues in Puyallup, but also return some investment to a large section of pierce county that pays ST taxes, but sees little directly returned to their community, and what they do get is full P&R lots in Puyallup and South Hill.

      3. Feeders aren’t really ST’s job though. The Bonney Lake feeder used to be PT but when southeast Pierce voted to get out of Pierce Transit they faced the loss of it and begged ST to take it over. ST did, because Sounder was predicated on that ridership. So it could add feeders there, but that’s not completely fair to the other areas that have a local transit agency and and didn’t get rid of it because they don’t want to pay taxes.

      4. It’s hard to argue fairness, though, when so much of the southern end of the Pierce County portion of the ST district pays taxes but receives no usable services.

      5. If we’re talking fairness by who serves a region, remember that Seattle north of the ship canal, except for Lake City, has only had two off-peak-only freeway stations till U-Link started.

      6. @Mike – No, I think ST views Sounder feeder service very much a part of their service mission. Zach’s post on this is literally called “Frequent Feeder Service,” and you can see Sounder feeder service as corridor #8.

        For Julie’s comment on usability, that’s tricky. ST serves their southern Peirce county service territory via Sounder & Sounder connections. Insofar as Sounder doesn’t get you to your destination, then yeah it’s not useful. But ST’s job is to connect people to major job & population centers, and there simply aren’t any outside of JBLM. If you want useful service that connects you to something other than a job/employment center, that’s really Pierce Transit’s job.

        @William – come on, that’s trolling. ST has been busy pouring billions into a 5 station subway these past few years… you can’t complain about lack of bus service and ignore the subway under construction.

      7. I have to agree with @Julie B. ST 3 does include some capital funds for HCT improvements along Pacific Avenue, a project I think when it’s done will probably look something like a Rapid Ride Line, but without the frequency. Sound Transit’s goals seem to be connecting Cities and employment centers, however this LARGE swath of suburban/rural pierce county was included for reasons unknown. Maybe it was because it was in the PT PTBA at the time, maybe the county had growth ideas out there, who knows. The problem is, with all of it being unincorporated there’s no mandate that Sound Transit actually provide any service out here. In the initial ST design phase there was a route “U” that went from Puyallup Station, along meridian, to 176th, and over, through the Cross-base highway (ha ha ha) to DuPont. This got dropped early on the actual service planning stages of ST 3, but was shown on maps presented to the voters for sometime thereafter as it was a corridor they could service. I think they have done themselves a major disservice by incorporating that area of Pierce County without providing actual branded ST service and facilities out here, since for most people the nearest sounder station is anywhere from 30-60 minutes drive away depending on where you live and where you can park. I think there are ways to correct this, and they should be done, for example extending a 59x route along Pacific Avenue to Roy Y or further, implementing a sounder feeder along 176th and meridian (with appropriate deviations to escape traffic on meridian) along with adding a few P&R lots to the mix. If they really wanted to be creative, they could rebuild the former Tacoma Rail and run DMU’s in some kind of “S train” type service to both Spanaway and Graham. But the problem is all that’s not part of their plan, and if its not part of their plan it does not get done. They have done a great job of controlling costs of their project, at the expense of being adaptable and flexible in response to changing needs and demands of residents who live in their service district. And if they cannot actually provide any service to these areas outside of a P&R lot that’s an hours drive away than there is no need for these areas to be inside the RTA boundaries.

      8. The ST district is unbalanced. Pierce has a large swath of exurban land (Spanaway. Orting), but the corresponding parts of King and Snohomish are out (Covington, Marysville, Snohomish town, Monroe). It’s murky why. The best guess I’ve heard is that the Pierce delegation was particularly savvy at getting its sprawl in. JBLM is also a factor: it’s a large employer on the far side of the district, and people settle in that area to be close to it. The flip side to southeast Pierce is Marysville, which is growing like crazy, to the point that it’s going to become a major problem if it’s not on regional transit. (The 201/202 currently run every 15 minutes to Everett Station and Lynnwood, and a new Swift line is proposed, so that’s CT’s solution.)

        Southeast Pierce doesn’t have much ST-branded service for the same reason Sammamish doesn’t: there aren’t a lot of people there. That’s the corollary of low density: you need a larger area to support a service. The Pierce delegation says medium density is on the cusp of development; I’m skeptical it won’t be watered down, but I’m hoping it won’t be.

        Yet my impression of southeast Pierce may be dated. I’ve been to Spanaway once in the 80s, and Wilkeson a few times in the 90s. At first the drive to Wilkeson had breathtaking natural views in Bonney Lake, and then through Buckley (the furthest PT route). But by the last trip sprawl had destroyed the Bonney Lake views. What are Bonney Lake, South Hill, and Spanaway like now? Are they like Marysville, north Lynnwood, or the Bothell-Everett highway? Does that level of density run continuously from Lakewood to Puyallup, and is Spanaway like Parkland? That would be the point that more feeders would be in order.

        I’m hoping DMUs come into the picture eventually. They were prohibited on tracks containing freight trains but the rule is finally being relaxed. DMUs would be significantly cheaper than Sounder and would open up commuter rail corridors that haven’t been feasable until now. But ST has a recent fleet and is not buying into them at this point, and it has its plate full with higher-priority projects before it can consider any more corridors.

      9. @Mike Orr Parkland/Spanaway is a growing part of Pierce County. A mix of older homes like mine (mine was 1900 built in a suburban streetcar community), and a lot of newer infill development. Lots of areas lack sewers, but off 176th, a lot of more denser suburban sprawl with sewers. Plans are to change the zoning along pacific avenue to support multi-family and TOD, which I disagree with since there’s virtually no infrastructure to support this (Sewers, sidewalks, etc.). Pierce County’s plan also makes lots of promises about public transportation P&Rs and options which are not shared anywhere by the transit agencies. Should sewers ever come out here this place would be boomtown.

    2. “you can see Sounder feeder service as corridor #8”

      The flyer says “Increased service to meet additional trains.” I took that to mean more runs on existing routes. The 580 (Lakewood – South Hill – Puyallup) is a shadow for the Sounder runs that terminate in Tacoma. However, this was a preliminary study to show how existing routes could be replaced, not necessarily a limit on new routes. ST’s Pierce boardmembers have been very vocal about increasing service in Parkland, Spanaway, and Orting, so they could make it happen.

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