An updated map of the Tacoma Link Extension, with the new station names (Sound Transit)

The extension of Tacoma Link to the Hilltop neighborhood is nearing the start of construction, slated for next year, and Sound Transit has recently finalized several key details, including an order for new light rail vehicles, the permanent names for the stations, and the final design of the stations after public feedback.


On Thursday, Sound Transit Board approved an order of five light rail vehicles from Brookville, a Pennsylvania-based manufacturer, and an unfunded option for five additional vehicles. The vehicles, which will likely resemble the Liberty series streetcars that Brookville built for Dallas and Detroit, are expected to cost $26.5 million and be delivered between 2020 and 2021. The new vehicles are needed to increase frequency from twelve minutes to ten minutes during peak periods, supplementing the current fleet of three vehicles.

Station Names

During the same board meeting, Sound Transit also signed off on names for the seven new stations, along with the renaming of an existing one, in accordance with community wishes and agency guidelines.

Temporary Name Adopted Name
Commerce Street (opened in 2011) Theater District
Theater District (relocated) Old City Hall
S. 4th St. & Stadium Way S. 4th
Stadium District Stadium District
S. 3rd St. & MLK Jr. Way Tacoma General
6th Ave. & MLK Jr. Way 6th Avenue
S 11th St. & MLK Jr. Way Hilltop District
S 18th St. & MLK Jr. Way St. Joseph

While the names aren’t as bad as Shoreline’s two stations on Lynnwood Link, the inconsistency between “S. 4th” and “6th Avenue” is going to bug people for decades. The current Commerce Street station, one of two stations on the street, will also be renamed to “Theater District” despite being slightly further from the eponymous theaters than the relocated Old City Hall station.

Station Designs

A typical platform layout for Tacoma Link (Sound Transit)

Earlier in the month, Sound Transit wrapped up its final design open house and showed off its concepts for each of the new stations. The stations will be nearly identical to the existing Tacoma Link stations, and are comparable to Seattle’s streetcar stations with center-street platforms and curbside parking.

40 Replies to “Sound Transit Approves Station Names and Vehicles for Tacoma Link Extension”

      1. I had a lengthy conversation over email with Sound Transit about this. Legally there is no distinction between streetcar or light rail.

        Frankly I think the pictograms are a little ridiculous and I want to know why ST thinks T-Link doesn’t need them.

  1. “Hilltop District”? No, it’s just “Hilltop.”

    They didn’t name the stations “Beacon Hill District,” “SODO District,” or “Capitol Hill District.”

    1. I preferred “Hilltop” but apparently Tacoma didn’t. “Stadium District” is more understandable because there’s a Stadium station in Seattle, and the neighborhood is widely called the Stadium District. Compare U-District. “6th Avenue” is of course another widely-used name. “S 4th” is regrettable, especially when paired with “6th Avenue”, but New York and Vancouver have the same stupidity. (New York: “14th Street”, “WEST 4th Street” — the wall art even says “W 4”. Vancouver: “29th Avenue”, “22nd Street”. Numbers are only useful when they’re in a series. And Caltrain when it had more stations in southeast San Francisco before the T line.) At least “Medical Center North and South” are gone, although “Tacoma General” and “St Joseph” sound too specific. (Will the station names be changed if the buildings do?)

      1. 6th Avenue is not a great name because the 6th Avenue district usually refers to the area on 6th about a mile to the west. Would Wright Park be a better name even though it’s a couple blocks away?

      2. Wright Park is s good name because it’s a pexerstrlian destination and has the potential to become more so, it’s not a business like the hospitals, and its name would give people a Dr-stressing nature feeling like all the Central Link stations called Park and Lake.

        PS. Maybe we need a Park Park station and.a Lake Lake station to top things off? Also, Montlake has an East North Street.

  2. Ugh, I really dislike ST’s naming schemes. In order to get to a destination in one of those “districts”, I need to know what street I’m getting off the train at. A two-level naming scheme in which streets were the primary naming component would be much more helpful than this General Area Awareness system.

    1. Because this is a regionwide system, and many street names repeat (6th Avenue in Seattle, Kirkland, and Tacoma, for example) a street name system would also be very confusing, especially to visitors and people who are unfamiliar with transit. I think that a two-name system creates too much complexity. So, the neighborhood name system works. Ask anybody in Tacoma to take you to Stadium or Hilltop, and they will deliver you to those station locations, give or take a couple of blocks.

      Related to my own comment, the “S 4th” and “6th Ave” stations definitely have the problem of multiple streets of the same name throughout the region. Unfortunately, S 4th isn’t in a neighborhood with a strong identity, so I don’t have a good alternative. 6th Ave could have been “The Wedge,” which is the adjacent historic district.

      1. Tacoma Link is part of Sound Transit. ST is a region wide system. Once they rebrand it as not being “Link,” we can discuss whether the Tacoma portion can stand on its own. Until then, it’s a train, it looks similar to link in color and design, it shares the Link name, so it’s part of the system.

        There is discussion below regarding branding which I believe needs to be had. Until that discussion happens, though, it is still “Tacoma Link.”

    2. It’s like “U-District”, “Capitol Hill”, “Ballard”, etc. Those are the names that most people recognize and are looking for. “43rd Street” doesn’t tell you if it’s the center of the neighborhood or the periphery, or which neighborhood it is.

  3. Not understanding Tacoma geography well my make this next sentence completely ridiculous. Is this really the best layout for Tacoma? A big U shape? My understanding is that this system is for the city only and will not directly attach tot he spine…true? if so, is this be money spent for Tacoma?

    1. A streetcar or light rail is not the best use of money for Tacoma Transit. The best use of money in Tacoma would be local bus routes.

      The alignment of this route does have some logic behind it, as it links together Tacoma Dome (with Sounder & Amtrak Station), downtown, Wright Park, an underdeveloped neighborhood business district with potential for TOD redevelopment (Hilltop), two hospitals, and a future expansion to the community college. Taking a straight shot from Tacoma Dome up to St. Joe can be done in a car. There is no way a streetcar or light rail would be able to negotiate that hill, as it is too steep for too long of a distance. The routing takes a gradual incline via Stadium.

      I don’t mind the question. At least you’ve qualified it.

    2. It will transfer to the Spine at Tacoma Dome. The Spine will eventually continue further southwest to Tacoma Mall. That’s what Pierce wanted. At first it seems strange not to go to downtown Tacoma, but downtown Tacoma is in a dead-end penninsula. The logic of the U shape is that trains can’t go up the steep hill, that most trips will be going to the middle or bottom of the U, and that it really won’t be a long detour from western 19th Street to Tacoma Dome. The last one may be questionable but it can be addressed with a bus. The 2 goes on 19th Street between downtown Tacoma and Lakweood, and PT hasn’t said how it might or might not change with the Link extensions.

      1. Yes, it will connect to the spine. But the connection is going to be hideously slow. Not really any faster than simply walking down the hill. This is the nature of streetcar transit. It saves wear+tear on your feet, but it doesn’t save you any time.

      2. My guess is that in practice (not literally) it’s actually going to be used as two separate lines, with a bit of overlap at the turn: St Joseph’s to the Theatre District/north downtown, and Stadium District to Tacoma Dome. Almost nobody is going to ride from Hilltop to the Dome. This would not be too dissimilar to how Seattle’s Central City streetcar will be used: almost nobody is going to ride from Broadway to South Lake Union, but some might from SLU to Pioneer Square, or Little Saigon to Westlake.

      3. Yes, whenever you see a U-shaped line or L-shaped line, consider whether it’s intended to function as two lines interlined.

  4. I think it’s a bad idea for ST to use the “Link” brand for this street car. This is only going to tarnish the image of light rail in the area for this poorly designed system to be given the same name.

    The Seattle Streetcar isn’t called “Link Light Rail” so why should this one?

    1. I brought this up in the feedback about Tacoma Link stations, that there will come a collision when the two different levels of service meet, and suggested Tacoma Link be called “Tacoma Streetcar”. The ST spokesman said that branding for the ST2 incarnation of Tacoma Link has not been decided yet so it may change.

    2. Labeling among ST modes, as well as modes of other operators that seriously needs to be addressed. I think there needs to be a multi-operator working group tasked to sign onto a memorandum on labeling that is common to all systems in the region. Right now, we’re leaving each operator alone to do what they want, and the subsequent confusion will be magnify significantly once we introduce things like 405 and 522 BRT as well as color light rail line labels. Tacoma Link to Green Link to Blue Line SWIFT, or RapidRide C (red labeling) to Red Link to Blue Link to 405 BRT (with a color??) are in our future as currently proposed.

    3. Fully agreed. A branding exercise would be helpful at this point. The local buses are fine as Metro, PT, ET, & CT. I like the continued use of the ST buses for regional purposes. But, as we build out BRT, those should, perhaps, be integrated. There is no need to have Swift, Rapid Ride, and whatever ST comes up with for its future lines. And yes, differentiate between light rail and streetcar. Here are my ideas:

      Local bus, no change. Continue to use numbers, with the omission of 500 series.
      ST Express, no change. Continue use of 500-series.
      BRT, integrate all lines into a LETTERED system. Swift and future ST BRT lines can tag on at the end of Metro’s Rapid Ride lettering, or choose their own unused letters (“S” for Swift? or maybe “Z” just because it sounds cool?) NO color designations.
      Link goes to colored lines as already planned. Blue, red, green, etc.
      Streetcars get names appropriately and called streetcars. “Tacoma Streetcar.” “First Hill Streetcar” “SLU Streetcar.” If First Hill and SLU get connected, it could just be “Seattle Streetcar.”
      Sounder Commuter Rail continues to stand on its own as Sounder North and Sounder South.

      Along with all of this, as Metro has simplified fares recently, get all of the members of the pod (the Orca Pod) in a room, and get consolidated uniform fares, so people crossing county lines have a single fare structure.

      1. I like something like the German systems where any mode other than a local bus has a letter in front of the route number, like L1, L2, etc for Link and S1, S2, etc for streetcars. Sounder = R, arterial BRT = B, Express bus = X, Ferry = F. Operators can then be distinguished by the first number.

      2. The German system is a good model, at least for networks with several of each. Russian cities have a similar system, where each mode has a letter: M (metro), Cyrillic three-legged T (tramvay = streetcar), Latin one-legged T (trolleybus), A (autobus = diesel bus). These aren’t used as widely as on German signs, but they’re common on maps or where there could be confusion. And you must know the mode because the numbers overlap: tramvay 1 is a different route from trolleybus 1. The Metro line numbers are used only on map legends: normally people use the line name or color instead. Whereas in Germany “U1” or “S1” is the only name.

        Atlanta’s model of numbered stations (below) is also useful. Atlanta stations used to have a letter-number after the name, so N2 means the second station north of the center. That has disappeared from the network map and I don’t know if the station signs still have it. Atlanta’s network has a single central station where the north-south and east-west lines cross. Seattle has more of a central DSTT with ambiguously one or two primary stations (Westlake and/or Intl Dist). So it would be stranger here to say “Intl Dist is S3 (from Westlake)”. Atlanta also struggled with overlapping lines. When I was there one line was called “North-South (N-S)” and the other “Northwest-South (NW/S)”. They overlapped in the entire south and up to N6. After that the northwest line started using NW7 etc. That may or may not be a reasonable approach. But woe to the numbers if an infill station is inserted. The east-west lines may have existed with letters E and W, I don’t remember. But there’s a second east-west line that overlaps with the first for all except one unique terminal station on the west side. I don’t remember how that was handled. There was also one station that was only open on game days; I think it was an inner west station but it may have been that unique station.

        If we go with mode letters, the ORCA agencies should really decide whether RapidRide, Swift, PT’s one-digit routes, and ST BRT are really the same mode or not, and not just leave them all different because each agency currently has a separate brand. The first three all come from federal “enhanced bus route” grants in the early 2000s. Swift was implemented as a limited-stop overlay. RapidRide didn’t have the budget for an overlay so it’s a compromise between the two. PT 1-4 are like RapidRide but with shockingly low frequency. ST BRT’s brand remains to be seen. I wish it were just called Swift because that’s what it functions like: a limited-stop service like Swift and Central Link. But then there’s Tacoma Link, which is more like RapidRide, sigh.

        Metro’s long-range plan suggests four categories: Rapid, Frequent, Express, and Local. These might be a starting point, but they’re solely Metro’s decision and the other agencies may balk. And the rail modes don’t straightforwardly map to them. But if we wanted to, Central Link could map to Rapid, Sounder to Express, and Tacoma Link and the streetcars to Frequent. The agencies would probably prefer to put the streetcars in the same category as Rapid because they have off-board payment, but in that case they should really get on with transit lanes and signal priority so that the SLU and FH streetcars aren’t as slow as the MUNI tails or Philadelphia streetcars.

  5. Should stations be numbered like highway exits? In a situation like this, the names are mostly not cross-streets, and the geographic references are rather small areas. This is pretty much opposite from both the SLU and FH streetcars in Seattle.

    Perhaps a wilder idea, should each station be designed with a theme — like an architectural style or recognizable geometric pattern or pair of colors? It would seem easier to know when to get off of a train when one can merely look out the window and immediately see a Tudor design, or prominent green triangles all over the station fixtures. When a passenger is left having to search for a station name out the window because the stations are all sterile and similar, a few critical seconds will have passed. This is especially true for those that do not read English well (including children and foreigners) or have some sight limitations.

    1. London Underground uses names for its lines and stations, its a huge network across a very diverse city in regard to nationalities and languages, 5 million people manage to navigate it every day :-)

      1. The London Underground doesn’t have a surface platform every 1000 feet, either. It’s hard to identify tiny districts merely by the names.

      1. There are unique pieces of art at every station — but an average rider on the train cannot casually see them. The art appears to be for the community — but not the rider.

    2. Highway exits are based on the milepost so adding one is fairly easy as the rest don’t change. I’m not sure that works for train stations. People would get confused by there being a station 12 at Rainier Beach and a 15 at Tukwila but no 13 or 14.

      1. True enough Glenn. I remember that highway exits used to be done ordinally, and not by mile post and that’s what I was thinking.

    3. Atlanta’s MARTA numbers their stations in order and based on which direction the line is from downtown (N4, E2), which I actually found useful.

      I would guess that there will be some addition of color to stations once we have more than one line. It would only make sense to do so, even if it’s just a stripe of color on the station name sign; multiple colors for stations served by more than one line.

      I actually don’t find it terribly hard to see station names from the train, and of course they are announced and have reader signs on the train (eliminate the word “station” though please – it’s redundant!). Some lines around the world have active line maps above the doors where there are lights for each station that flash as you arrive at the station and then go dark once you leave it.

      You don’t need to read English at all to find out what station you are at – if you speak any language using the Latin alphabet, you’ll know your station by the letter combination. You don’t need to speak German to read “Anhalter Bahnhof,” or French to read “Le Chatelet.” It would, of course, be helpful if online maps were available with both the Latin lettered name and a language of your choice that uses different letters (Arabic, Cyrillic, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Pinyin, Tigrinya and the like) so that you can print out or pull up on your phone and compare. It will never, however, be easy for anyone traveling to a place where the alphabet is different to get around.

      1. The situation is not so much the different alphabets as the fact that Japanese characters are so complicated and hard to distinguish for those who aren’t used to them, and Russian Cyrillic names tend to be long and duplicative. One suggestion in a Russia guidebook was to memorize the first and last letters. That sort of works but many stations end in the same -aya. The number of words and their length can also be a clue, and if you recognize a word like “Park” at the end that can help (e.g., “Izmaylovskiy Park” vs “Izmaylovskaya”, just remember the Greek P and R from college fraternities). But in Tokyo I’m told that all stations have Romaji (Latin) spellings next to the Kanji, and I assume that’s spreading in China (Pinyin) and other countries. Street signs in many countries have the name of the city in both the local alphabet and English; I’ve seen pictures of those in Japan, the Middle East, and maybe Thailand. And multinational-aspiring companies in China, Japan, Russia, and elsewhere have signs with both their native name and their English name. And people who write in Chinese/Japanese enter them into a computer using a Latin alphabet, which reads the syllables and suggests matching characters. So essentially everybody who’s educated is comfortable with the Latin alphabet already even if their native script is different. The problem is more going the other way, and as I’ve said the best way to address that is with particular attention to characters that are complicated or hard to distinguish from each other. (For instance, I’d have trouble distinguishing a Japanese character, and Arabic letters all look like repetitions of the same curve. Whereas I can see differences in Hebrew letters and Devangari letters, and could memorize the shape of a few letters if necessary. This also gets into the fact that humans can remember four or five things simultaneously or as a unit, but as the number gets up toward ten it becomes much more difficult. So two or three distinct strokes for Latin/Cyrillic/Korean/Devangari/Thai is easier to remember than five or six strokes for Japanese or all similar curves for Arabic.)

      2. Even if the native language name was romanized, you will struggle to remember it because it’s a combination of unfamiliar sounds. So instead of remembering “Hamamatsucho” on the Yamanote Line you remember ‘JY28’. Or instead of “Sala Daeng” on the Silom Line you remember ‘S2’.

        Sometimes they have a proper translation as the official English station name which also helps. Because “Soon Watthanatham Hang Prathet Thai” is a mouthful to visitors compared to “Thailand Cultural Centre”.

    4. Never in my life do I want to see a tudor style train station..

      In chicago the first letter of the station name is sometimes on signs in large font right outside the train window, which is somewhat helpful.

      1. Tudor style train station? Does that mean it looks like a sixteenth-century English pub? That would be a nice piece of artwork.

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