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At the beginning of the summer, Sound Transit inverted the weekday Link schedule. Instead of two-car trains all day with a few three-car trains during rush hour, three-car trains would run all day and a few two-car trains would supplement peak capacity. This increased the proportion of three-car trains during rush hour from about one-third to two-thirds.

The initial story suggested this was a response to summer peak demand. Yesterday, ST’s Kimberly Reason confirmed that the higher capacity is here to stay:

Sound Transit is maintaining 3-car train operations on Link to accommodate increasing ridership, especially with Husky and Seahawks seasons underway. More people are relying on light rail to travel to the airport, attend games, and commute to work in region experiencing robust economic and population growth.

There are no plans at this time to return the old arrangement.

26 Replies to “3-Car Midday Trains to Continue Indefinitely”

    1. There is also more wear and tear on the vehicles. It amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for ST to do this.

      1. What’s the wear and tear by operating 3-car trains during off-hours compared to the wear, tear, and labor costs of making/breaking the trains so you can run the 3-car rush hour trains & break them down for off-peak operations?

      2. Did they actually break apart trains each day between rush hours? My assumption was just that they had some number of two-car trains running all day, and they had a few extra three-car trains that they brought out for rush hour. Then when they switched the default from two-car trains to three-car trains, they just ran the three-car trains all day and switched to two-car trains at rush hour. I could be wrong though.

      3. The midday demand seems pretty robust to me. I think that some of that is because university students, downtown shoppers and airline passengers don’t concentrate at peak hours, and work schedules seem to be more widely varied these days.

      4. “What advantages are there to running 3 cars midday if we can’t even fill 2 cars?”

        This wouldn’t be happening if they can’t fill 2 cars. But the spikes are only some days, not every day. Ballgames, festivals, protests, highway construction affecting buses, highway collisions affecting buses, etc. There’s enough of those every few days that ST decided to run 3-car trains midday every day rather than trying to predict the day. And “full” doesn’t necessarily mean every car is at capacity: maybe all seats filled triggers another car. So there’s a large overlap where either 2-car or 3-car operation could be used, depending on how many standees standing for how long the agency considers not worth adding a car for.

  1. STB hasn’t reported on it yet, but Central Link notched average weekday boardings of 77,000 in June and July. If this fall sees a seasonal dropoff of 5,000 daily riders similar to last year, then this year’s wintertime minimum could be about the same as the ridership in April and May when ST decided to move to a 3-car base. Therefore, ST sees the need to keep the extra service out there year round.

    1. Its becoming quite clear that they were very – almost too conservative in their original estimates for ridership. Have they since been updating their ridership models so that future expansions of the system can be better sized to handle the demand? Can the existing stations safely handle the current demand?

      1. Too conservative in their original estimates for ridership? Huh? Do you mean the 105,000 average weekday riders number ST has projected by 2010?

    2. Andrew Sang, no, it’s ST’s ridership projection for the central link light rail initial segment only. See Sound Move, The Ten-Year Regional Transit System Plan, Appendix C, Table 16.

      1. We’ll see what the ridership looks like when the initial segment is open for service, all the way to Northgate. That was before Eyman and the Nisqually recession. (I have a feeling we’ve had this same discussion before a few dozen times.)

        It is bad science to point to whatever the highest projection was while simultaneously trying to remove the funding that helps get to those projections.

      2. The Sound Move plan included a First Hill Station as well as an extension to Northgate according to Appendix A. It probably included a better feeder bus program too.

      3. ST has never had any funding mechanism removed. If you look at last year’s adopted financial plan(adopted June 2016 and the last report available online), which does not include ST3 revenues or expenses, the agency’s general fund grows to some $47 billion by year 2060.

      4. Sound Move didn’t have a feeder bus program. If it did, those resources would have been available for Rainier Valley and it wouldn’t have had to make tradeoffs that underserved east-west service (which was one of the reasons residents clamored for P&Rs at stations).

      5. Sound Move didn’t have a feeder bus program but it did make assumptions about how much service partner agencies can redeploy. That was also before Initiative 695 which we all know decimated transit funding statewide.

        In the service integration documents from 1998 that I read, they proposed some changes that we didn’t do like connecting the 7 to the 49, sending the 11 to First Hill station (which we will never have), truncating Renton routes to Rainier Beach, feeding all north end routes into Northgate (which don’t yet have), etc.

  2. The system is still new and expanding. There are many first time riders and people who are just beginning to understand the significant improvement that light rail brings. I’d rather have a little extra capacity than we need, than continue to pack people in to 2-car trains to save only a little money. First impressions matter and I think it’s important to provide the highest quality of service from the very beginning.

    1. I concur with that opinion. It appears at this point that we won’t need to worry about crush loads to and fro Safeco Field in October though. Which makes me ponder. Which will happen first? Lynnwood Link reaching me or the M’s making the postseason again.

      1. The Nisqually Glacier will advance to the Sound before the M’s advance to the postseason.

        So no crush loads anytime soon, at least from baseball. But with the ridership growth ST will eventually need to move to 4-car trains peak. They will need more hardware, but the time is coming.

        And getting buses out of the DSTT will certainly help with throughput.

  3. Important matter to investigate. Worked in the south end one fall, and so was aboard a lot of trains on game nights. Noticed that Pioneer Square always drew a lot more visiting than home town fans after the Mariners or the Seahawks lost.

    Not alleging that any improper exchanges are taking place between the teams and the restaurant association, such as hundred dollar dinners for the whole home team whenever they lost. Just that there’s nothing lost by being kind to our guys during a bad season.

    Also, have to calculate which trains haul heavier and when…Seattle fans heading home immediately after the game or sooner, or visitors headed out to the airport on the last train. But at least SPD and Transit Security don’t have to see to it that nobody with a wedge of cheese on their head gets on same train as somebody with fur ears and a leather nose get on the same train.

    Used to be common transit practice in England. Isn’t one side always Manchester United? Anyhow, police had to load fans of one team on one train, and other team on the next. Never seeing each other. Though this would be pre-school sand-lot compared to LINK having to unload Century Link field after grudge match between Seattle Storm and those lady distant relatives of Ballard fans.

    Would hate to be fare-inspecting next time Hope Solo calls the Swedish coach a coward. Especially if, as the Swedish coach pointed out last time, being a coward just won her team the match. But really embarrassing comeback from the Swedes is that at least for them, “draft” means soldiers, not ball-players.


  4. One sadly-forgotten train-length related transit item. When MUNI Metro began service through the upper floor of the new BART, K,L, and M Boeing Vertol LRV’s (outside the subway service as streetcars) ran through the tunnel coupled in trains of one car per letter.

    At West Portal, driver of each car uncoupled from the train, and all went out on their own separate routes. Re-assembling inbound at West Portal. Coupling operation really fast.

    Like the good condition of many things mechanical, this system fell apart under the signature size and general mis-design of the firm that blessed us with our Breda fleet. SF not outlyingly gullible. Same thing happened to Oslo and Gothenburg, who had no excuse for not knowing better.

    Did the International Highway Lobby invent the low bid? Or was it the North Koreans?

    Probably not much use to LINK. Our trains might be able to handle those street curves. Have to check. But for us, it’s likely best to run SLU, Connector, and FHS trains with the cars we’re using.


    1. Wait is this a proposal to run LINK like MUNI, that is with “portals” and streetcars? Not a bad idea to gain better coverage if there are dedicated lanes. That actually sounds pretty cool.

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