photo by SounderBruce / flickr

Link Light Rail continues to knock down milestones rapidly as ridership grows.

  • January-March was the first quarter in which Link had more boardings than all Washington State Ferries combined. However, WSF outpaced Link for the second quarter (April-June) with 6,470,781 boardings to Link’s 5,997,005 for the same period.
  • May was the first month in which Link had over 2 million boardings. Matt managed to bury the lead on that one.
  • In June, Link had more boardings than the rest of Sound Transit services combined, for the first time ever, 2,113,450 to 2,070,377. Given the smaller area from which Link draws, this is a testament to the power of frequent, legible, congestion-free transit.

If Link were its own transit agency, it would have been the fifth-highest ridership agency in the state before UW Station and Capitol Hill Station opened. Now, it is well on its way to becoming the second-highest ridership agency in the state, if counted separately from the rest of ST.

Link has had a clear supermajority of weekend ST boardings since those stations opened. On weekdays, it has also moved well ahead of ST Express on boardings, but has a ways to go before becoming ST’s weekday majority ridership carrier. For June, ST Express had 65,719 average weekday boardings (a slight decrease from 2016). Link had 76,954 average weekday boardings, up a whopping 18.5% since 2016, well beyond whatever bump Angle Lake Station has provided. ST average weekday boardings in June were 163,053.

69 Replies to “Link Boardings Exceed All Other ST Services Combined”

  1. My experience at rush hour is that the 3 car trains are pretty darn full. I understand the line splits in 2023 when east link opens. If this growth continues as central link expands, will we have enough capacity or will Link have a period before the ST3 routes to north seattle open where the trains are just crazy full all the time?

    (I don’t remember a recent post on this – only older posts before we saw exactly how much demand capitol hill and u stadium would add)

    1. By the time East Link opens, two things will happen to improve capacity.

      1) Link will move to 4-car trains
      2) Frequency between Northgate and ID will double. In other words, the East Link trains will run in addition to the current Central Link trains. So adding East Link won’t impact frequency or capacity in the Rainier Valley, but it will double capacity in the northern half of Central Link.

      1) hasn’t happened yet because there are not enough trains. 2) hasn’t happened yet because there are not enough trains and the RV segment can only handle a maximum frequency before causing problems with the street grid. Creating the junction with East Link will allow for ST to boost the frequency north of ID without overburdening the RV.

      So think of East Link as a very good thing for alleviating congestion in north Seattle.

      1. Today: Peak is 6 minute headways with ~26 railcars per hour
        2023: Peak is 4 minute headways with 60 railcars per hour. So each line would be 8 minute headways with 30 railcars per hour. That means frequency in the RV will actually be cutin 2023, but overall capacity on that line will go up by 15%.

        So 2021-2023 presents an interesting dilemma. They’ll have enough railcars to run 4 car trains every 4 minutes all the way from Northgate to Angle Lake, but when the Blue Line comes on line, that frequency would be cut in half. I doubt they’ll do that.

        The smart money is on some sort of hybrid solution, as in short turn trains from Sodo/Stadium-Northgate every 8 minutes, and Angle Lake-Northgate every 8 minutes.

      2. 6-hour peaks was a decision ST made for the transition to ST2, instead of longer trains. Since then it has lengthened trains anyway, but that’s for overcrowding north of Stadium, not south of it. The assumption remains that 7-8 minutes peak and 10-minutes off-peak is sufficient for the south end through at least ST2 (i.e., Federal Way). Some outside people have suggested that south Link might eventually have to go to 6 minutes all day, but how that would impact northern operations I don’t know.

      3. if 10% compounded growth continues from 2017 to 2023 (remember rule of 72), doubling the service to north seattle just barely keeps up. Even if growth slows just slightly the long part of the spine is not going to be enough. Not to mention another posters comment that everything south of the ID gets hosed. The new tunnel will not come soon enough, and ST will continue to have the ugly side of equity arguments as the south end gets shafted once again

      4. It’s not “shafting” if their density and ridership and regional attractions are simply less than the north end. There are long-term reasons for that but that’s not ST’s fault. The point is that Link’s minimum frequency standard is pretty good, and the south end is getting it. The 6-minute peaks as I said was a temporary measure for 2016-2023.

      5. RE: shafted – it all depends on if you think ST’s mandate it to build infrastructure based upon where the demand is, or to built infrastructure based upon where demand ought to be. ST’s “ought to be” is generally determined by the PSRC. According to the PSRC, most of South King’s population growth should be going along the Sounder corridor, not the Link corridor.

        Building transportation infrastructure – be in roads or transit – is always a judgment about ought to be, not simply a judgment of where the demand is.

        And given ST is a government agency, some amount of equity arguments is good (e.g. ORCA lift is generally uncontroversial), so it’s always a question of how much.

      6. There are two dimensions to the issue: service level, which is a values judgment; and crowd accommodation, which is a technical issue. What frequency is acceptable? 15 minutes, 10 minutes, 5 minutes, or 2 minutes are all possible, and each gives a different level of convenience, mobility, and lack of stress. Sound Transit decided 10 minutes is a reasonable minimum, even if the trains are 80% empty. That may or may not be a good threshold but it’s what’s established so it’s our starting point. Then, when you have more than a trainload of passengers at a time, you have to increase frequency or you’ll leave people behind. That’s the technical aspect: how much extra frequency do you have to run to fit everyone? That frequency is not something people can expect or demand, but it’s operationally necessary.

        North and East Link are predicated on the fact that Intl Dist – Lynnwood requires double-frequency or it will get overcrowded. The convenience of double-frequency is a kind of secondary promise now that ST has published it so consistently for years, but it really comes down to the fact higher ridership causes economies of scale that make it possible to give more service for less cost.

        So, southeast Seattle and south King County could make themselves denser and higher-ridership if they wanted to. PSRC follows the cities’ lead: it tells them how many people they must accommodate, but the cities decide where and how many urban centers they will have. King County’s growth-center threshold is biased toward jobs, so a large amount of zoned job capacity equals urban center equals Link must serve it. Unfortunately the formula doesn’t count housing enough, which is why Ballard-Fremont and Lake City aren’t growth-centers: a balanced housing-jobs situation doesn’t score as well as mostly jobs. So, Seattle could put an urban center in Mt Baker, and I think it should. But who would oppose it strongly? The Mount Bakerites and Raineir Valleyites. They want only a little more density, not a lot more. They won’t even let Mt Baker reach its hub urban village potential: they got a 65-85′ limit for two blocks, going down from there, with only one or two parcels taller than that. So if they can’t swallow a full hub urban village, how will they swallow an urban center?

        Then you get into south King County. The most fundamental factor of south King County and Pierce County is the long distances without a lot of people. Lynnwood is the distance of north Kent but has a lot more people and businesses and destinations in between. Everett is the distance of Milton or so, but again has a lot more activity. And a 55 mph line just can’t get to Federal Way and Tacoma in an hour like it can to Everett because the distances are longer. So again, south King County could densify. But what did Des Moines say? “No way!”

        When South Link is switched to the Ballard line, it will have the whole track to itself so it won’t have to coordinate with another line. ST could run it at the 10-minute standard, and we have to assume that for now. But probably Ballard and SLU will have too much demand and it will have to run at 6 minutes. In that case the south end would get 6 minute frequency too, lucky for it. And it’s possible that in twenty years it will need that capacity anyway. It can’t go beyond 6 minutes without rebuilding the Rainier Valley segment, so hopefully Ballard and SLU won’t need more than that or they’ll be stuck.

        “most of South King’s population growth should be going along the Sounder corridor”

        What do you mean by that? What has the PSRC done that affects Sounder? Sounder was built because existing tracks were seen as low-hanging fruit, something they couldn’t pass up building quickly and inexpensively. How has the PSRC affected the south Sounder and Link corridors? It’s really the other way in several respects: the population is most dense and physically centered along the Sounder corridor. 99 is the far west, and has less driveshed on the west side. The airport and Highline CC are important in their own right, but perhaps not as important as the center of the population. Federal Way is basically getting express buses and a Link station because it’s on I-5 so that makes it important. That’s real overservice to Federal Way, disproportionate to the rest of south King County. But that has been what Federal Way has gotten for decades, so nothing new.

      7. “Unfortunately the formula doesn’t count housing enough, which is why Ballard-Fremont and Lake City aren’t growth-centers: a balanced housing-jobs situation doesn’t score as well as mostly jobs.”

        I tried to explain that clearly. It’s not that housing is bad, but that jobs are good. So the raw number of jobs is what counts the most. You could increase jobs to the threshold, and increase housing to keep the balance. But that may lead to more total density than the city wants.

      8. To clarify the Sounder comment – I don’t think anyone designed Sounder to serve the PSRC growth regions. I was just pointing out that the PSRC growth centers in South King & East Pierce are, conveniently, mostly aligned with Sounder stations, not Link stations. You are correct in that it is likely the other way around – the Sounder stations are in historical town center, which in turn makes those logical growth areas for the relevant cities.

        My point was simply that if the question is, “how will ST handle transit growth in South King given capacity constraints on Link?, ” my response is that most growth should occur along the Sounder corridor, not the Link corridor. And therefore from a both an equity & a technical prespective (a good framework), I think ST is appropriately investing in South King by expanding Sounder service with additional runs & longer trains. Ergo, the subarea is not getting “shafted”

        I think both Highline (KDM) and Federal Way are going to be solid stations, but I think the real action is going to be in Auburn, Kent, and Puyallup, and whether those cities & Sounder can grow those to make really great places to live & work, with excellent connections to our major job centers in Seattle & Tacoma.

        Does that make more sense, Mike? I think we mostly agree.

      9. Yes, I think Link should have been in the Green River Valley and forget about Sounder. There’s a huge difference between a train coming a few times a day or even up to hourly, vs a train every ten minutes. The latter makes it easy to get around without a car and gives a meaning to “rapid transit”. Sounder’s speed is counteracted by the time waiting for it. So if we build Link anywhere, it should be in the center of the population. There is an alternate vision of half-hourly Sounder. That would be a compromise between the two.

      10. The best vision of Sounder is something like Metra in Chicago or Metro-North in NYC, where at peak trains come <15 minute interval. But given the stop spacing (nothing between Tukwilla and King Station), Sounder is definitely commuter rail.

        I don't think it's an either/or between I5 vs. green river valley. To me, those corridors are distinct enough that they both merit HCT. But let's not relitigate that deep within this comment thread….

      11. Yes, south King County is arguably wide enough and populous enough [1] that it needs more than one north-south HCT corridors. I’m just saying if we could only do one, it should be in the middle.

        [1] South King County’s population is over 800,000, so larger than Seattle. It’s also larger than Snohomish or East King, and close to Pierce.

    2. I think you meant to say ST2 routes to the north end. 2021 is the target year for finally getting the original UW station promised to voters in 1996 as part of Sound Move (ST1) when the Northgate segment is supposed to be online and revenue-generating. Lynnwood Link is targeted for 2023. ST2 was a 15-year plan at some $17.5 billion combined passed by voters in the district in Nov 2008.

  2. That’s nice and all (high ridership) but what is the cost in rider/dollar in both capital and operations? My suspicion is that had we spent billions on ST Express it’s ridership would be up too, no?

    1. If we spent billions on congestion-free bus lanes for ST Express, then yeah sure ST express ridership would be up. Extending the bus tunnel from Convention Place to Husky Stadium would probably have been the same ballpark cost as the Link tunnel, but then you’d have to run 3 or 4 buses for every 3-car Link train.

      I’m pretty sure Link has a much lower operating cost than ST express, both because the trains are more full and you can run a much bigger train set with one driver than you can with a bus.

    2. The report has charts for farebox recovery, on a 12-month moving average, if that helps.

      ST Express is hovering around 30%. Sounder is trending a little above 30%. Link is sticking close to 40%.

      1. Link has been underperforming on meeting the agency’s 40% mark for some time. ST has stated that they expect to meet the threshold in 2018 Q2.

      2. A 40% farebox recovery sounds better than 30% but when the operational cost is considerably higher it still pencils out to a lot more money per boarding. Last I checked, which was before U-Link, the trains were running about $200 per car (i.e. a two car train was costing $400/hr to run. An ST Express bus was around $125/hr.

        The agency is spending Billions on trains while trying curtail ST Express service. I know the cost structure is improved with U-Link but I fear the rest of ST2, at least past Northgate is going to be a state of diminishing returns. Certainly trains to the hinterlands in ST3 is going to be a financial boondoggle.

      3. It’s $194 vs $426.

        To get the capacity using buses you’d spend more. Due to capacity limits of buses on public streets (big double articulated buses used elsewhere exceed USA regulations for a passenger vehicle operating on public streets) you’d have to run more than double the number of buses.

        Cost of trips in the hinterlands depends entirely on development patterns around the stations 20 years from now. That’s not easy to predict.

      4. To get the capacity using buses you’d spend more.

        Not really. According to good ‘ol Wikipedia an articulated Link car has standing capacity of ~200 and an artic is 150+. So full, it’s $2.13 a head on Link and only $1.29 on the bus. I believe things tip even more in favor of the bus when comparing seated capacity which is much more important on long runs like Tacoma or Everett into DT Seattle. Trains have their place in high capacity dense urban areas. The low floors, open space and panache make them ideal for airport connections. And these numbers ignore the huge capital cost of light rail which are impossible to justify for far flung destinations that are going to be primarily commuter routes.

        The sad part is everyone, both dense urban areas within Seattle and the suburbs end up getting short changed.

      5. The maximum realistic capacity of an artic is 100-110. 150 would be a load factor of nearly 3; not happening with suburban-style seating.

    3. People are voting with their feet. This is the first high-quality transit we have had, so people are flocking to it. A lot of people didn’t believe it would be better but they’re gradually becoming convinced. Something that comes every 5-10 minutes all day and evening, runs at highway speeds throughout without traffic or stoplights, and stops on am urban villages along the way, makes more kinds of trips readable and makes existing trips more convenient and less stressful. It breaks some one-seat rides but it creates new ones. The benefit increases for trips that don’t involve downtown, which previously involved transferring between two long slow infrequent routes. Asfd2 of Ravenna said he goes to Capitol Hill a lot more often because Link makes it more accessible.

      The biggest need is new ROW to get through the traffic. This could be rails or roads, but either way it costs billions of dollars and is the majority of Link’s cost. If you’re spending that kind of money you might as well use rail because it has higher capacity, which you may need later if not now. Link’s operating cost per rider falls as ridership increases, and for inner-city trips it has been below Metro’s for some time now. That’s why fares for trips up to the distance of Westlake to Beacon Hill can be below Metro’s, and peak trips as far as Rainier Beach are equal to Metro’ the extensions open this cost will fall further and it Wil simultaneously give more mobility value to people.

    4. Forced to build in stages what other systems could build whole,we deliberately started a regional rail system with a subway capable of handling buses, and then buses and trains, while the rest of the railroad got built out.

      Might be good practice if ST-3 presents same conditions. Though we’d hopefully get, or build, corridors with less traffic in the way of buses than we ever had. Best would be to lay out whole right of way graded, curved, and grooved-railed so we wouldn’t have to shut down service for two years to convert.

      But fastest busway will always be temporary because buses can’t be coupled. Meaning that for safety, a line of buses expands like an accordion the faster it goes. While a coupled train carrying same passenger load needs a fraction of the space, no matter how fast it’s going.

      Our approach to the DSTT and its evolving railroad is a good example of the response to unusual conditions I’d like us to be known for. Lucky we thought of it. Because if Forward Thrust had faced the last 45 years’ business cycles, could have left as a shorter-length BART fed by slower buses.


      1. Forward Thrust was back by Federal funds, so I think it would have been fully built out. But yeah, it probably would have been more car centric than the ST2/3 system, plus it might be falling apart like BART, DC Metro, and others are.

      2. What makes you think Forward Thrust would’ve been more car-centric? It wouldn’t go out as far into suburbia as ST2, let alone ST3, and would have more stations in built-up areas like Capitol Hill. We would’ve had forty years of development around a rail trunk instead of around freeways. Yes, it would probably be falling apart by now – but that’s still a better problem than being largely nonexistent.

      3. We know what Forward Thrust would have been. It was focused on the area between downtown, Lake City, Renton, Ballard, West Seattle, the Central District, Bellevue, Redmond, and Issaquah. Beyond that area was still mostly farmland. Commuting beyond that area barely existed, except to Boeing plants. King County had 90% of the region’s population; Snohomish and Pierce had barely any of it.

        King County’s growth strategy at the time was: the Eastside. Ten years later in the 1980s it deliberated the next growth strategy, and deliberated between “metro towns” (satellite cities), central (concentrating growth in Seattle), and linear (parallel north-south concentrations). The renderings suggested bucolic greenland around these islands. The “metro town” model won out, and that’s supposedly what we have now. The bucolic greenland didn’t quite happen: it was replaced by house sprawl and office parks everywhere.

        So Forward Thrust could have given motivation to a more compact design, with walkable mixed-use neighborhoods around stations, and less pressure to sprawl into south King County, Pierce County, and Snohomish County. Or, just as likely, they could have been typical mid-centuryites and completely ignored the train in terms of station area and housing and parking minimums. Then the few people who could live or work near stations would be lucky, and everybody else would be unlucky. But the point is that it at least had the chance of encouraging a more compact development than what we have, and we threw it all way.

        On the other hand, we can see from MARTA and BART what it would have been like. Big heavy rail, ugly plain stations, maybe lots of P&Rs including places we wouldn’t build them now, and a sunk network alighment that might not meet our needs now. So there are tradeoffs both ways. I do believe Link is much better in some ways than Forward Thrust would have been. Although its alignment would have met the urban need better. But would the urb have grown along it or grown ignoring it?

      4. I do believe Link is much better in some ways than Forward Thrust would have been.

        Which ways? Yes, there’re some current urban centers (Northgate, Lynnwood, Roosevelt) served by Link but not Forward Thrust. However, they developed since Forward Thrust; if the plan had been built, they probably would’ve been put elsewhere. Even if not, there’re more places on Forward Thrust that won’t even be on ST3 Link (Georgetown, Renton, Central District, Ravenna, etc.)

        The one big advantage I see to Link is the airport – and as Jerrett Walker would say, that’s not much of one.

        The one advantage

      5. “What makes you think Forward Thrust would’ve been more car-centric?”

        The context of the 1970s and 80s. BART was built at the same time. and outside the already-dense areas there was no attempt to make the surrounding areas walkable and build a lot of housing units there because that was so old-fashioned — decentralization and 1-2 story buildings with large surface parking lots were the thing. Development like that is essentially ignoring the train like. “Yeah, it exists, and we use it sometimes, but we’re not going to build a lot of housing and offices within walking distance because nobody wants that except a few hippies.” If Southcenter were built now it would have been different, see U Village and downtown Bellevue. But because Southcenter doesn’t have the upscale profits the other two do, its redevelopment is stagnated and it’s stuck in a time warp, and because it was built in the 1960s sprawl style, that’s what it is. Renton is the same way, for much the same reason. And if Forward Thrust had been built, maybe Renton would still have been built the way it is, ignoring the line. Or maybe there would have been more emerging density along the corridor, we don’t know. But it’s more likely that density will emerge in the Spring District and Issaquah now than in Renton then, because the public attitude has changed, and people are more concerned about housing cost and long commutes and gas cost and global warming than they were then.

      6. “there’re some current urban centers (Northgate, Lynnwood, Roosevelt) served by Link but not Forward Thrust.”

        Northgate existed at the time of Forward Thrust, and those office towers look like they’re from the 70s. What changed is people’s attitudes toward malls. Malls were unimportant in the late 60s, so much that there was no attempt to route Forward Thrust to Northgate or Southcenter, or to bring them to it. Southcenter was originally going to be in Burien, but when the freeways were approved they moved their plan to the intersection of I-5 and 405. Forward Thrust could have been routed to there, or the mall could have been built in Renton, but neither side considered it a priority.

        Malls were probably too new then for people to predict how they’d use them. And the big-box stores that surround them just didn’t exist then. When I-5 first opened it was pretty empty because people didn’t commute that direction and they didn’t know what to do with it. But after the freeway came Southcenter and subdivisions and office parks along it, and that created new commuting patterns. The malls likewise became very important by the late 70s and 80s: adults shopped there for the best prices, and kids went there every week as entertainment and to buy the coolest duds. Then in the 90s or 00s mall shopping started to wane, and now malls are seen as targets for urban center development.

      7. “I do believe Link is much better in some ways than Forward Thrust would have been. —Which ways?”

        Mostly aesthetics I guess. The trains and footprint are smaller and blend into the neighborhood more; they don’t look like a row of big silver trucks on a freight rail line. 1970s construction had a lot of concrete and large footprints, and the station interiors look like identical plain slabs from the cheapest furniture store (not even IKEA) — an inhuman place for robots. Take BART’s transfer stations: a large concrete or brick rectangle with a large flat rectangle or disc in the middle as a bench. Not a pleasant place to spend 10-20 lonely minutes in. (The minimum frequency is now 15 minutes last I checked but at times in the past it has been 20-30 minutes on some weekend services.) MARTA I’ve only used on one trip so I don’t remember it as well, but it’s maybe just a bit a bit less bad. The Forward Thrust dollars went to MARTA as everybody knows, so it’s reasonable to assume Forward Thrust would have been designed similarly.

        I agree that Forward Thrust would have made a more convenient inner-core network, and hopefully channeled growth along it in the Eastside and Renton, and either way non-drivers/urbanists could have tried to live and work near it regardless of what the rest of society did.

        But if later growth ignored it and went to Snohomish County, Federal Way, Kent, and Pierce County anyway, then we would still have 2.5 million people off the network that we would have to serve somehow, both for them and for those of us who go to those areas and to minimize car use for the environment. Of course it could have been extended, and a Northgate/Lynnwood line built later. But if later lines were the same style as the original system, that would have been not as nice as Link, and may involve more surface P&Rs and things.

  3. Still concerned about the train car style chosen. Why (WHY??) not utilize open-gangway? That would help alleviate congested cars while other cars remain under capacity – people can just move down from car to car. The train cars in use now have so much wasted space, with the stairs and higher seats and such. I love the new light rail, and use it as often as possible – but after seeing how much more room you have in a car with seats only against the walls and open gangways (such as in Shanghai or Beijing), I’m pretty bummed on the train car style. Too much like a bus.

    1. I agree, but to play ST engineers’ advocate:

      1) The cost of repairing a heavily-damaged 360′ supertram would be much more than the $1 million estimated to repair the 90-foot light rail vehicle that got t-boned earlier this year. ST had to ship the trashed LRV elsewhere to do a lot of work to make it usable again. Indeed, any time a supertram is forced out of service, it makes a much larger hole in fleet availability than just bringing a 90-foot LRV out of service.

      2) Just because something is used widely in Asia doesn’t necessarily mean it will work here. Remember those floor arrows in Westlake Station? Enough riders didn’t get that the out arrows meant “Don’t stand here” and stood on the arrows, to cause more damage than good. A few of the riders I saw haplessly standing on the outward arrows happened to be of Asian decent. Go figure. I’d also have to draw a line in the sand between our labor standards and the labor standards of countries like Singapore.

      1. We don’t need 360′ trains. We need 2 180′. That makes the most sense for fleet compatibility.

      2. What does Asia have to do with it, other than the fact that Kevin’s two examples both happened to be in China? Open gangway trains are used on most of the world’s metros now (save notably in the US, and NYC is getting them) I’ve ridden open gangway cars in places from Santiago (Chile) to Singapore, and they are unquestionably better rider experiences. I love getting one on the London Tube when I’m riding one of the lines that can use them. It’s simply a more comfortable experience when riders can disperse throughout the length of the train as necessary or desired. The train’s capacity increases by at least 10% (probably more compared to our crap cars where nobody can or will stand in the center section). I can understand the reticence to take an entire train out of service – although one would assume as now there would be backups, and certainly other systems all over the world seem to manage this – but even 2×180′ cars per train would be a great improvement.

        Despite ST’s achievements in many areas, it is frustrating to see them constantly re-inventing the wheel here, or coming up with reasons why we can’t do something that many other cities have managed to do. In this regards they seem very much like the airlines, who care very little for passenger comfort when considering their fleet and operations. That’s a bar set very low.

      3. “Just because something is used widely in Asia doesn’t necessarily mean it will work here. Remember those floor arrows in Westlake Station? Enough riders didn’t get that the out arrows meant “Don’t stand here” and stood on the arrows,”

        That’s an issue of passenger behavior. Open gangways are physical infrastructure. Floor arrows become useless if people don’t understand them or don’t follow them. Open gangways remain there regardless of how people feel about them. Even if most people don’t, some people will walk through the cars or stand near the ends, and thus make the gangways useful. They won’t “misunderstand” that they can walk through the gangways or stand near them.

      4. “Despite ST’s achievements in many areas, it is frustrating to see them constantly re-inventing the wheel here, or coming up with reasons why we can’t do something that many other cities have managed to do.”

        I still don’t understand that. Why won’t ST even acknowledge other cities’ practices and try them? We ask and beg but get no answer. Can’t we at least have a study of these things, and a list of what it would take to make it happen?

    2. Does anybody know minimum curve radius an open-gangway care can negotiate? Have a feeling that a railcar that will do any street running at all will have trouble with this configuration.

      And raised car ends will go away when we’ve got 60 mph motors small enough to fit under a low-floor light rail (still necessary for local feeders) car.

      The phased approach our region has required different equipment for different periods- we’re 27 years in, and still only starting to grow the population necessary to fill the trains and pay the taxes.

      Remember that LINK (where in that term does it say it’s even got to run on rails, or not be a hot dog?) started with dual-power buses. Driver starting work this morning could retire in thirty years stepping out of the cab of something with no wheels.

      Because if some mad scientist (if they become chairman of one or both our major parties) has discovered how to make legislative seniority extend life to 500 years, pavement condition could also make this happen with a bus at 15 mph.

      Maybe by then, truth in advertising will also allow motto of every State in theUnion to become: “It’s Alive, Master, It’s Alive It’s Alive!”


    3. Many of us wih ST would use open gangways or at least get rid of the inner driver’s cabs and put seats and windows there as Portland does. ST’s stated reason is that double-ended cabs on every car allow it to split and recombine trains in any combination for flexibility. But since it will never have reason to ever run less than four-car trains (it already has reason to run all three-car trains), the idea that it will split trains is silly. And surely they will have enough spares to replace cars as needed: just as Portland how it does it. Hint: you only need two kinds of cars, single-cab and zero-cab. You can turn a “front cab” car around to make it a “back cab” car.

      1. A few days ago I was on a MAX train that had a combined 400 series with a 500 series car, so they seem to have no problems combining trains.

        The only thing I can think of that requires two cabs are remote car swap-outs.

        For example, one car of a two car train went bad. It was taken out of service and the other car remained in service. A replacement car was sent to a siding halfway down the orange line. When the single car train returned north the replacement car was added at the Clinton Street station.

        With cabs at one end of the car there is a possibility that removing one car in the middle of the line leaves no cab at one end of the train.

    4. My most desired improvement to Link rolling stock is 100% low floor cars. The most obvious difference between Link and typical subway cars is the stairs between low and high platform sections of each car. The stairs reduce standing capacity and ADA accessibility, and visually clutter the car so that it feels “cramped” at lower load levels.

      I understand that switching from low-platform to high-platform stations would be cost-prohibitive, but manufacturers are working towards 100% low-floor cars. Hopefully eventually …

      1. Already been available for some time.

        Alstom cars for Ottawa are about the best example of current state of the art.

      2. All low-floor cars exist but as lower speed trams. There can be no axle with low floor trucks; each wheel must be independently mounted. As a result the vehicles can’t go as fast.

      3. Higher speeds are available these days.

        Alstom’s car for Ottawa is in the 63 mph range – but again that is pretty much state of the art for what is available.

        Bombardier is getting there. At least one design is in the 52 mph range.

  4. Any ideas on how he hypothetical maximum capacity for Link would compare to a heavy rail system with the same coverage?

    Forward Thrust (and earlier proposals) would have built heavy rail, and unlike many other LRT systems in the US, Link more closely emulates heavy rail (e.g., stop spacing, grade separation), but we’re using LRT train era and technology, so how does this decision limit eventual capacity?

    Are we likely to see crowding issues once the system is built out that could have been avoided (or lessened) by opting for heavy rail over LRT?

    1. Train cars are made in different sizes and with different seating arrangements and ends, so there’s no one answer. I don’t have the numbers but I think one Chicago el car holds fewer people than one Link car, or at least it would if Link got rid of the parallel-parking seats, so a 10-car heavy-rail train does not necessarily have 2 1/2 times the capacity of a 4-car Link train; it all depends on the particular train design. Networks are limited by their platform length, and Link’s platforms are 400′. I have not heard of light rails longer than 4 cars but i don’t know the limit. Apparently the technology overlaps a lot because you now see “light raii looking” trains on DMU lines and regional rail lines. The Chicago el extended its platforms recently on some lines to add capacity, and Sounder is doing it too.

      Another limiting factor of Link (but not light rail in general) is the maximum speed. Faster trains require wider curves and maybe gentler slopes and more durable trains, and Link was designed for 55 mph. Never mind that I-5 is 65 mph. Some heavy rails like BART go 85 mph, and maybe light rail could reach that too. ST is in a self-inflicted comundrum because Seattle-Tacoma will be over an hour, and ST is just now thinking about whether it might be able to speed up Link above 55 mph after all. It would require a different train design and more targeted track design. Who knows. They should have thought of this in the 1990s when the goal of Tacoma and Everett was first hatched. It’s not like the distance has mysteriously increased since then.

      1. Rail cars come in various sizes, so total platform length is a better determinant of capacity than number of cars.

        Link stations are designed for 380 feet.

        NYC subway stations range between 480 and 745 feet.
        Boston T stations range from 288 to 390 feet.
        Chicago CTA stations are 388 feet.
        BART stations are 700 feet.
        Toronto & Montreal stations are about 450 feet.

        Link actually isn’t too far behind heavy rail systems.

      2. It’s easy to forget that Link cars are articulated while many of the older systems aren’t. So a “4-car” Link train may actually be equivalent to an 8-car train on another system, and that can explain Chad N’s finding that the platform lengths aren’t that different.

    2. I don’t think heavy vs. light rail is the limiting factor. Our underground stations are all designed for 4-car trains. Even if we built heavy rail, if we stuck with the 4-car length station I don’t think the overall capacity would change much. Mike is right about speed (which is much more about track design & curvature than light vs. heavy), but again I don’t think faster trains means more capacity if we are stuck with the same maximum headways (trainsets/minute/station).

      There are two ways to increase capacity – more cars per set, or more trainset. We’ll max out at 4-car sets, so ST3 is fixing the capacity issue with a 2nd tunnel, which will boost capacity by allowing more train-sets to pass through downtown in a given hour during peak.

      There is certainly room for capacity improvements within a 4-car train, with some tradeoffs:

      1. Fun fact from that article, ” in the case of a breakdown, non-revenue trains can be up to 8 cars in length per Kinkisharyo’s specifications for the current trains”

        So even with Light Rail, we could in theory expand our stations to handle 8-car trains, but I’d imagine that would be prohibitively expensive. This is what ST is doing with Sounder, expanding those stations to handle 10-car trains. It’s much easier to do with Sounder because those are all surface, at-grade stations.

    3. We can see where the long-term bottlenecks might form, and ST staff have been watching that too. The Intl Dist-Northgate corridor has the largest number of its own riders, and everyone going from north to south or north to east will have to go through it. So ST is planning 4-car trains and two lines,with a maximum capacity of trains every two minutes. If that fills up, ST could make some capital improvements to the DSTT to bring it down to every 90 seconds. The Ballard line won’t be relevant to this crowd because it’s so far away, although if the Ballard line turns northeast to Northgate and Bothell it could possibly attract some transferees. If all that isn’t enough, then we’ll have to get moving on that Aurora line. And we’ll have to start preparing a vote 15 years before capacity is reached, or we’ll run into the situation the 71/72/73X had at the end where there were regular pass-ups. Seattle Subway has a new idea, an elevated Aurora-Madison line funded by the monorail authority. We could dust off something like that someday. What we can’t do is have trains longer than 400′, or go through Rainier Valley more than every 6 minutes, or get DSTT frequency down to 30 seconds (but maybe?), or buzz through MLK faster than 35 mph (by city law surface trains can’t go faster than the adjacent road, although they may have to make an exception if Vision Zero lowers the MLK speed limit to 25 mph). Of course they could put the MLK track down in a trench where it should have been in the first place.

      1. Yes, I think we need more lines before we talk about expanding capacity on the existing one. Our existing plans miss a lot of neighborhoods and forces people to do a lot of bus/link transfers.

        An aurora-madison monorail is something I’ve been harping on for quite a while on these forums. Monorail isn’t perfect, but it would let us tackle the hills. A light rail subway could work if we had the money and could solve the engineering challengers.

        That said, I don’t think it’s a huge priority relative to other lines, and considering that we will already have rapidride covering that route. It’s something we could vote on in 2035 or 2040… I’ll probably still be around then.

    4. As I said recently I was stunned at the dizzying number of lines that have grown up in London and Moscow even since 2000. Moscow now has 15 rapid transit lines (including 3 under construction), and London has 23 lines. That includes all subway-like lines: metro, light rail, monorail, underground, overground, and airtram. That’s before you even start counting the extensive commuter rail, streetcar/tram, and bus networks. So that’s what a metropolis of 15 million people needs if it doesn’t have freeways going through it. And they have to keep building new lines or the rising population and ridership will melt down the existing network.

      So we can extrapolate that Pugetopolis is a third that size, and has several highways paralleling each other, and has more low-density neighborhoods and less willingness to take transit. That implies our network should be somewhat less than a third of theirs. That still implies five or six lines, or the order of magnitude of Seattle Subway’s vision.

      If attitudes toward transit reach a tipping point, which they probably will in the next few decades given concerns about traffic and the environment and time and shrinking real wages and retired boomers, there could be a dramatic increase in ridership demand, double the current projections or more. It has happened in larger cities, and it used to be true in Pugetopolis before cars. In that case the need for a maximal network would become more obvious, and it would be good to have some ideas ready to go.

      1. I forgot again about the London branches. That makes the 23 nominal lines equivalent to over 30 lines if counted in a New York manner. I wish cities would use a consistent definition of “line”.

      2. At the (significant) risk of understating the progress in London — it’s been truly transformative for many places outside central London — the line count growth in London is more a matter of rebranding than it is new lines.

        There’s been a tremendous amount of work to increase capacity: higher capacity junctions, extra tracks, bigger stations, longer trains, even a few out of London changes to reduce the need for freight to traverse London. There’ve been a few new stations. But meaningful stretches of new railway: two extensions to the DLR, new track at each end of the East London line, and the new T5 loop at Heathrow are all I can think of [and those didn’t contribute to the higher line count! (I’m fairly certain the ELL was already shown separately rather than as part of the Met. back in 2000)]. (JLE was fully open before in December 1999, and Croydon’s tram system — 8 km of new grade separated railway, 3km of street running, and the rest on recently closed existing rail alignments; originally all bunched together, now treated as 4 lines — opened in May 2000).

        And of course, Crossrail is starting to deliver. That will add a new East-West tunnel through central London. There’s the Northern Line extension and the Croxley-Watford connection in progress. And the Thameslink programme (which I still think of as Thameslink 2000: funding and process issues that make Link look easy) is finally almost done.

      3. I gather the Overground lines are repurposed commuter rail lines. But how much did frequency increase? And do you know about the north end of the Victoria line? Four stations starting at Highbury & Islington are marked as mainline train stations. I thought the entire end of the line was mainline stations, but the last two aren’t. Does this mean that the tube and commuter rail both stop at the same stations and no others in between? If they’re both serving the same stations, then I imagine the reason the tube was extended was to raise the frequency from 30-60 minutes to 3-5 minutes, because the area needed the frequency or was expected to grow into it. Is this accurate?

        And was the Overground formed the same way? When the lines were reassigned to the Overground, how much did the frequency change? Did it go from 30 minutes to 5 minutes? Or was it really just a rebranding with no change to the level of service?

        The East London Line was a separate Underground line when I was there in 1998, 2000, and 2002. It ran in a trench, so not really “underground” and no view. It had the same “Y” with branches for New Cross and New Cross Gate.

        So the Croydon Tram is something, that’s good to know. I never saw it in person so I didn’t know what quality it was. I tried to go there once but it too so long to get to Wimbleton I turned around.

  5. “….this is a testament to the power of frequent, legible, congestion-free transit….”

    okay, I’ll bite.


    1. Easy-to-memorize schedules and route maps. Visitors love subway maps because they hit most of the places they go, it’s relatively easy to find the right station to get off at, and if you get on the wrong train it’s relatively easy to figure out how to correct yourself. They’re scared of bus routes because they’re afraid they’ll end up in the middle of nowhere or lost in some indistinct neighborhood and the return bus might not come for an hour or until the next morning. And the schedules are super-easy: every two minutes peak hours and five minutes off-peak, although Link is 6 minutes peak and 10-minutes off-peak which is close enough. So you don’t even need to memorize the exact minute. (Visitors don’t have to get to work on time or transfer to half-hourly routes to residential areas every day.) So in cities with extensive subway networks, many visitors and locals use the subway exclusively. Seattle is not like that yet, you have to take a bus to go to places like Ballard, Fremont, Greenlake, and Alki, but it’s getting better, and some of those places are/will be on RapidRide which is more reassuring to visitors than regular bus routes are.

      1. ahhhh.

        Decipherable, understandable, comprehensible, intuitive even… .

        in short: Clear.

        certainly something any public service should aspire to !

      2. Idk, when I’m in new cities, I just follow gmaps blindly. If it says take subway, I take subway. If it says take bus, I take bus. I don’t think you can get any simpler than following an app around

      3. What’s simpler and more useful than following an app around is intuitively grasping the network so you don’t have to waste your time and attention communicating your intent to your phone.

  6. With higher ridership comes more expectations to operate well. Should ST have a different approach to hiring drivers? What about correcting bad design in the system like lack of working escalators? Should management be done differently?

    If farebox revenue is so far ahead of projections, shouldn’t ST be correcting any design mistakes or running trains later with the extra money?


    Ottawa. Citadis Spirit. 100% low-floor, 65 mph. So this is possible, and being done. Curious, though, about complete comparison with Kinki Sharyo and Siemens trains. Especially on being rugged enough to stand up to the track conditions it’ll run.

    A lot of trouble saved if, like TGV high speed rail in France, trains and tracks are designed together. Think I remember being told in Europe that the Citadis cars had trouble with the very old tracks in places like Helsinki. “Non-steering trucks”, meaning wheel frame that doesn’t follow the track curve” also problem on standard street rail.

    So good outlook for future equipment. But here’s my thinking on Forward Thrust. No nostalgic regrets or gratitude, but pointers. Being subject to both the economy and politics, wouldn’t be first time that Federal funds either fell short or got shortened.

    With necessary amount of subway and elevated, Seattle is a high-maintenance (date) of a place to build transit. Meaning not only that the work would be expensive, but that service area was still some years away from the population necessary to provide the tax revenue, and more important the compressed impatience that a major urban transit project needs.

    New York 1904: Four in the afternoon on, nobody could even walk up Broadway. And freight and passenger propulsion left worse pollution than cars. No emissions controls either. Point being that if Seattle had not already had passengers ready to eliminate seating Day One, Federal money might not have had either the political support or the local taxes to start a BART.

    Recall reading that first New York subway (not counting the wheeled barrel pushed and pulled through a tube by a giant fan- hope you got a good patent attorney, Elon!) was packed solid first day. System also discovered fact that adding cars and improving service only meant more people who couldn’t find a seat in an ever-lengthening train.

    But: Historic precedent long overdue for Seattle. On a lot of scores.

    This Election Day, hesitate a second and think whose hand you want on the controller when EastLINK rolls out of IDS carrying inauguration celebrants straight for Kemper’s lawn.

    Class Prejudice, I know, but I don’t think Cary ever did anything in her intelligent civilized life to deserve even one run in a transit driver’s seat, let alone a whole term pelted with Hell’s most passive aggression. Jenny definitely deserves it, for which reason she’ll be good field commander for Fare Inspection.

    Don’t worry. Bob belongs, and deserves, exactly where he works. Block from me. Notice he didn’t stay driving. But too bad so much of the Valley is now ruled by the espresso-affording. Because Nikki really should have been able to step off the inauguration platform and into the seat of a Flyer signed Prentiss Street 7. Well, at least she won’t de-wire or get stuck on a dead spot turning off Jackson.

    But: New York Alki Time Culture Warp problem here: Mayors getting picked by seniority, and drivers having to spend their KC Metro paychecks for liquor and bribes when they run for election ever shake-up. This being Seattle, however: Pardon me if I have given you a problem wit’ dat!


  8. Clean, quiet, new cars. No bums. Cheap. So much better than the BART train in San Fran.

  9. I’m still waiting for the 105,000 average weekday boardings projected by ST to be hit from the initial segment approved by voters in 1996.

    1. You’ll have to wait until the initial segment is finished. :) But U-Link added some 30,000 per day, so U-District could add some 15,000 (subtracting those not going north of Capitol Hill, and those who are shuttling from the U-District to UW Station, adding those who won’t shuttle but take the 49 or 70 instead, and adding new riders). So that gets up to 88,000. With Roosevelt and Northgate opening simultaneously, and with the number of cross-trips this will allow beyond just Roosevelt-UW, Roosevelt-downtown, Northgate-UW, and Northgate-downtown, it could easily push the total above 100,000, and then it’s not far to your 105,000. And I’m not sure which “intiial segment” you mean. The one I remember was SeaTac to 45th, but somebody said there was also a SeaTac to Northgate at some point.

      1. The original projection of 105,000 was for the initial segment with the South terminus being SeaTac airport and the north terminus at 45th St in the U-District. (This milestone was supposed to be reached by 2010.) The Sound Move proposition only spoke about extending the line farther north to Northgate “if funding became available”. Those plans were quickly scrapped.

      2. Well, all projections are based on predicting what future decisions hundreds of thousands of people will make. I don’t believe they can be any more than guesses, so I’m not very concerned if the result turns out differently or takes longer. There’s a second benefit of transit which those numbers don’t address: the ability to use it even if you don’t. I have the ability to go to Beacon Hill every ten minutes, or to take the 512 to Lynnwood every 15 minutes or the 554 to Issaquah every 30 minutes. Even if I don’t use it every day, it’s helpful that it’s there when I want it, and I’m glad it’s not like it used to be before these services where getting to these places took a lot longer and discouraged people from using transit.

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