In case you haven’t heard, Link celebrated its tenth birthday last week, bringing back memories of the long-past era of 2009. Since the first trains left Mount Baker Station on the morning of July 18, 2009, Link has carried over 125 million passenger trips and has become the single busiest transit corridor in the state. For all the milestones and achievements of the past ten years, Link is saving its grandest leaps forward for the upcoming decade.
When we arrive at Link’s 20th birthday in 2029, light rail ridership will have shattered several times over and reached well over 280,000 daily trips—surpassing almost every light rail system in the United States. Trains will whisk away riders from 44 stations, from Lynnwood to Federal Way and from Redmond to downtown Seattle, popping out of the Northgate tunnel every three minutes, alternating between red and blue.
Keen-eyed commuters will also be treated to glimpses of the slightly further future, in the form of the new extensions to West Seattle and Tacoma, which will have been well underway for several years. For those walking around downtown Seattle, they might be interrupted by a few of the new underground stations that will be dug for the Green Line to Ballard.
The trains themselves will also be a little different. The Series 1 Kinkisharyo trains introduced in 2009 will have company in the form of the Series 2 Siemens fleet, and perhaps a Series 3 will be in the works with yet more changes to how riders sit and stand while traveling at 55 mph over and under slow and stopped traffic.
Link will have become far more ingrained into the minds of Seattleites by this time, with the thought of errand-hopping or going out on the town by train being as normal as breathing. Complaints about squeezing into escalators or about the ever-present bumbling tourist standing on the wrong side of the escalator will be as commonplace as the whinging about the winter weather.
The neighborhoods around the 44 stations will have grown and matured into their own communities that are married to the idea of train living, becoming inseparable with the idea of Link. Restaurants prepare themselves for the tides of patrons in the morning and evening rush hours, train riders will form friendships and relationships based on who they see everyday across the aisle or the platform.
By now, the works of art installed in the first generation of Link stations will have long become community icons and landmarks, themselves the inspiration for other works in other stations, creating a clear lineage between eras of light rail expansion. Perhaps something more outlandish than the kissing jets of Capitol Hill or the false brownstones of U District Station will have been lifted into place above commuters for their enjoyment or ignored as just another part of the background noise.
Even in 2029, there will be long and hearty debates over light rail and transit by advocates, experts, newcomers, and dreamers alike. The biggest what-ifs, great regrets, criticisms of the present, daydreaming about the coming AV revolution, and optimistic looks at the future like the one you’re reading now on the STB of 2029. Here’s to another ten years of watching Link grow and blossom into what it was envisioned to be: the great backbone of our home region.