Sounder Train at Kent Station (image: Sound Transit)

Sound Transit is seeking public comment on a program of possible expansions to Sounder South. These are likely to include additional daily runs on Sounder and station platform improvements to allow 10-car trains to operate (up from 7 cars today). Sound Transit envisions a series of improvements rolling out through 2036, with planning on the first projects beginning in 2020.

The ST3 program included $934 million (2014 $) in Sounder South capital improvements to improve access and capacity. There is an additional $325 million to fund an extension from the current terminus at Lakewood to serve two new stations at Tillikum and Dupont in 2036.

Sound Transit owns the tracks south of Tacoma, but the tracks between Seattle and Tacoma are owned by BNSF. That means improvements and slots for added trains must be negotiated with BNSF. The 2016 plan was vague on what improvements would be made because it involved both a negotiation with BNSF and a lengthy examination of trade-offs in selecting options for expanded service.

Some of those trade-offs have come into view. Adding trips at peak hours would serve more riders than adding trains at other times during the day even though those other times are sparsely served. It’s also less disruptive to BNSF freight operations which are mostly outside the peak Sounder window.

Adding trains off-peak would require fewer new train sets, but need more infrastructure to avoid freight conflicts. The additional track time from BNSF would be more expensive for this reason. Late evening trains, because they are furthest from the existing window, would require the most infrastructure improvements.

Sounder South route (image: Sound Transit)

Increasing train frequencies from the current 20-minute headways to 15 minutes would reduce crowding but also risk delays because of constrained movements at King Street.

Longer trains would avoid some of these problems, but also require purchasing more train cars and storage and rebuilding stations for longer platforms. That will be particularly difficult at Auburn where the east side platform can probably only be extended for eight car trains because of the proximity of the Stampede Pass rail junction.

Sounder South has seen steady growth with average weekday ridership recently reaching 16,500, up 30% since 2014. With additional runs added in 2017, there are now 13 trains per direction each weekday, along with occasional extra trains for events on weekends.

Some improvements are already in the pipeline. New parking garages are scheduled to open in 2022 at the Puyallup and Sumner stations. Two more garages at Kent and Auburn will open in 2023. Together, these add 2,150 parking stalls. The projects also include bus and non-motorized access improvements at those stations.

An online survey is available and there are a series of drop-in sessions in South Sound communities and at King Street Station through September 21.

68 Replies to “Expanding Sounder South”

  1. In other words, Sounder will continue to be relevant only for the 9-5 downtown commuter crowd until the end of time, while everyone else is stuck on the buses that take twice as long.

    If all day Sounder service is not feasible, the least ST can do is give every station an all day express bus to Seattle. Currently, Auburn, Puyallup, and Tacoma have it, while Kent has only the 150 and Tukwila has only a long walk to the 150.

    It may also be worth looking into running short DMU trains on the segment of track that ST actually owns, with a timed bus connection to continue the trip.

    1. Metro is planning a Seattle-Kent-Auburn express to replace the 578. ST’s budget is dedicated to finishing ST2 and 3. Adding a completely new STEX route would cut into those, and burn up service hours in downtown congestion.

      The 150 goes directly to the biggest concentration of pedestrians in Tukwila, namely Southcenter. The problem with the 150 is not its travel time to Southcenter but its travel time to Kent. Southcenter directly hinders that by forcing the bus to turn four times rather than staying on the faster Interurban/West Valley Highway. But of course it’s where the pedestrians are. Which means Tukwila and Kent need to be served by two different routes rather than one consolidated one that doesn’t serve Kent very well.

      1. “Metro is planning a Seattle-Kent-Auburn express to replace the 578”
        Whoa, really? I haven’t seen anything about this — do you have a link?

        Turning the 150 into a RR line was what I always thought would be a great option, linking Seattle, SouthCenter and Kent, but they’re definitely not doing that. 150 is getting more trips I think.

    2. For Tacoma and south, Sounder loses much of its competitive advantage due to its Puyallup route. In fact, if the 594 off-peak skipped SODO and went straight downtown (like the 578),it would probably be faster than midday Sounder.

    3. For evenings and early morning, having STX direct from Sounder stations to downtown is a good idea, as a way to extend the service window. Sounder’s value is 1. ability to handle large, peak-oriented crowds 2. avoid freeway congestion. Outside of rush hour, Sounder’s advantages fade; it’s much more cost effective to run STX service rather than spend the hundreds of millions to add non-peak Sounder service. If you are traveling on a bus outside of the 9-5 commute window, I don’t think your bus trip is twice as long as a theoretical Sounder trip?

      As the “rush hour congestion” window continues to expand, then sure expand the Sounder window accordingly. But running a regular Sounder train that departs King at, say 9pm seems a poor use of money when STX would do that trip just fine.

      For all-day & weekend service, probably better to depend on a grid network with an all-day bus transferring to Link, once Federal Way Link is open.

      1. Yea but link will take 53minutes from Fed to Westlake while off peak st x will take 32 minutes. If we’re serious about this we need to invest on sounder and also faster link options

      2. There is another advantage of Sounder over a bus. And that’s the ability to make stops, at the cost of only dwell time at the station, without all the stoplights a bus would have to wait through to get between the station and the freeway. This is why, even without traffic, the 578 bus still takes much longer than Sounder does.

        For instance, the 578 from Puyallup to Seattle is scheduled at 1 hour 14 minutes – which is about double what Sounder would take – in spite of making just three stops (the same number that Sounder makes). When every stop the bus makes adds 10+ minutes to the running time, but every stop Sounder makes adds 1-2 minutes, at most, that difference adds up fast, even with very few stops.

        Good to hear that Metro is eventually planning an all-day Kent->Seattle express, which they should. I don’t really care whether this bus is a Metro bus or a Sound Transit bus, as long as its a bus, and it runs when Sounder doesn’t.

  2. I really think the idea of extending peak-only Sounder further south is a mistake. Tillikum and Dupont are not big places, and ST will be spending a crapload of capital dollars to build massive, Sounder-size stations, to add a small number of peak riders to a service that’s already busy at peak. The real opportunity with the Nalley Valley line is all-day service to Olympia.

    If we own the line, we should run trains on it all day, whenever there’s demand — and there clearly is demand between Olympia and Tacoma, we know that from the seven-day-a-week traffic disaster outside JBLM. The existential constraint for mainline Sounder is that we don’t own the line, which limits our off-peak options, but we don’t have to extend that hobbled service pattern.

    ST, the state government, the DOD, and the cities of Olympia and Lacey should team up to: (1) extend the ST service area west to cover Olympia; (2) extend the line along I-5 to downtown Olympia, with a stop in Lacey; (3) run DMUs all day on that line between downtown Oly and Tacoma Dome. Effectively, this would become an extension of Link for the south Sound, somewhat similar to how Antioch BART was built.

    Biggest challenges would be money, crossing the Nisqually Delta wetlands, figuring out how to slot in through-running Cascades trains, and getting the state/federal governments to give a shit about transit.

    1. They could, in theory, make DuPont a smaller station and only open up just one of the train cars there.

      I agree, though. In a dream world, all day service to Olympia would be more useful.

    2. Bruce, however small Tillicum and Dupont, Olympia is much bigger. And, what, ten minutes south of Dupont? With a passenger potential, including State government that could be persuaded to care a lot more about transit. Worth it to give legislators student passes.

      Shame that direct track into Olympia was taken out years ago. But my own stop-watch and odometer tell me that with some reserved lanes and signal pre-empt, ST Express or Intercity Transit could make Olympia Transit Center- by way of the State capitol- in twenty minutes.

      With little if any extra capital, except maybe some lane and signal pre-empts, a new ST 574 express to Sea-Tac Airport could start first of next month. Big “draw” not the bus itself, but Airport transfer to every present and future destination of LINK.

      Intercounty politics? When Thurston County made its last decision…..Know I’m not the only one of its residents and ratepayers with years to go until we got our eviction notice from Ballard. Oldsmobile or any other “make”, the Olympia where I walk my ballot to the drop-box in the courthouse parking lot is not your grandfather’s.

      Express bus service from West Olympia to Lacey will start very soon.

      Mark Dublin

    3. I agree that Tacoma to Olympia should happen, the state should chip in. It would finally make getting to Olympia from most parts of the puget sound as painless as it should always have been.

    4. From

      JBLM provides world-class support to more than 40,000 active, Guard and Reserve service members and about 14,000 civilian workers.

      So the number employed at JBML equals the population of Olympia. Tracks to Oly and station is already in place. Albeit, Amtrak Centennial Station is not ideally located the PS&P short line has track that could provide a decent DT stop. Give that ridership would be small; mostly people going to JBLM, using existing track is the only really viable option financially. It might also add some value to the Starlight and Cascades routes.

    5. I think you’re exactly right, Bruce! A DMU connection is the way to go!

      I am long frustrated that DMU got ignored except for the bogus ERC corridor in the ST3 pre-studies. It is a viable option in a number of situations.

      Further, the shared platform concept of Antioch trains in West Pittsburg is something that is still missing in ST planning — even where new Link lines will intersect.

      In this situation, the DMU could run all day! It could be designed for hourly service with use of occasional bypass tracks (and an eventual upgrade to 20-minute peak period service in the peak direction like South Sounder wouldn’t be that hard) . It could operate with only one or maybe two people on the train. The lighter train consist could be electrically powered, and be easier to speed up and slow down . One or two more stations could be more easily added between Tacoma Dome and Lakewood.

      ST3 allocates over $300M for the DuPont extension. That’s seed money to build and operate a much better rail service option. Such options apparently were not studied in detail prior to the ST3 project list was drafted.

      1. The right thing is a combination service. Run the Olympia DMU’s on a constant headway 16 hours from 6 to 10 and overlay Sounder South trains at commute hours between them. This gives you a permanent “Fort Congestion” bypass while giving the Seattle commuter a one seat ride.

      2. a permanent “Fort Congestion” bypass

        What do you mean “bypass”? JBLM is far and away the largest jobs center in Pierce County. And since State Farm has moved their operation back to Dupont that’s not smashed potatoes either. Remember Dupont is named for the chemical company that set up a gun powder facility there decades ago (wonder why?? ;-) and still has a corporate presence. It’s actually a pretty decent place with lots of room for more corporate campus set-ups. Great public transportation could really kick start this. Mean while, the “City of Destiny” seems to want to continue to shoot its self in the foot.

      3. Bernie, I by “bypass” I mean a transit right of way immune to the repeated and very “reliable” traffic jams on I-5 through the fort. I am not saying go around it.

      4. P.S. Unless they make the new lanes being built through the Fort complex HOV, bus service will suck again in three to five years after they’re opened. That’s why having regular all day DMU service between Tacoma and Dupont/Olympia is worthwhile. The Army will have to provide on an on-base shuttle to the Tillicum Station, though, to make it worthwhile.

      5. > Further, the shared platform concept of Antioch trains in West Pittsburg is something that is still missing in ST planning — even where new Link lines will intersect.

        eBART is an exercise in how *not* to manage a DMU-EMU connection, especially with the ‘totally not Pittsburg/Bay Point’ platform that gets used to change trains.

  3. Would we be able to run 10-car trains and have the back 2 cars clearly marked as “do not serve Auburn station”? I vaguely remember NYC having some stations not big enough to handle a full train, and so some cars simply don’t open their doors at those stations.

    1. As someone from New York, this process is a massive pain in the ass, because you have to build in an extended stop both at the station not long enough (so that people can shove on forward to the correct car) and at the station right before (so that some people take the hint and move forward, though not all of them will).

      They spent more than half a billion building a new subway station in New York to eliminate this problem, and then another half billion rebuilding it after Hurricane Sandy destroyed it, because it is so bad performance-wise.

      1. If it’s only two cars, I don’t think that should be a huge issue. You could have the train stop center with the platform at Auburn, and have the cars on the ends not serve Auburn. That way, people have to walk at most one train car. For station entrances that are in the middle of the platform, this isn’t really an issue. In fact, if the stations are getting longer, that might make some edge entrances today into “center” entrances. Also, for station platforms other than Auburn, it’s pretty trivial to put down some ugly-colored paint warning that the car here won’t serve Auburn. No need to extend the dwell time if you make it clear and obvious that it’s their problem if they get on the wrong car. And if they do, then staff can direct them to take the 578 back up.

      2. I wasn’t aware that any subway stops in NYC had that issue, but I have ridden on the Metro North (commuter rail to Connecticut) some and remember a lot of announcements about the first/last two cars not stopping at a given station. There, when the conductor checked your tickets, they would let you know if you would have to move to get off the train. It never seemed like a big deal there.

    2. Is there really a point in running 10 car trains south of Tacoma? Just make a synchronized transfer there to a shorter train.

    3. Exactly. You don’t even have to do that, just announce “If you are getting off at Auburn, please move up from the back two cars. The back two cars will not open doors at Auburn.” Simple.

      People will figure it out and just not site back there for Auburn.

      I used to ride Metro North and plenty of stops in CT served only parts of the train. It was weird, but worked fine.

  4. Those cities have been paying into ST since the beginning, so politically it would be hard to pivot away from that investment. And for very long commuter trips, commuter rail is the correct mode.

    ST should certainly coordinate with Amtrak & WSDOT on better rail service within the region, but figuring out that service isn’t a job for ST. Spending $300M on these station neither hurts nor helps your vision. If anything, simply getting more suburban voters riding the Sounder, whether as a commuter or for major events, should help drive support for more investment in trains.

  5. All day service on Sounder will never happen unless the following happens… mind you, this will require a significant investment. I’ll use the official names/control points and try to give a general location of the areas in question.

    Main 1 is Puget Sound/West side, Main 2/3 is Land/East side, for future reference.

    Open King Street Tracks 4-7 for Sounder use. King Street Track 3 can be reserved for the Coast Starlight only. The Empire Builder is small enough to use any available track.

    Rebuild Main 1 from Stadium (Between Royal Brougham and Holgate Street) to Bailey (Georgetown) to align speeds with Main 2 and Main 3. Main 1 is restricted to 25 freight, 30 passenger. Main 2 and 3 is good for 35mph freight and 50mph passenger. This avoids an unnecessary crossover departing King Street to Tukwila to run on the faster main tracks.

    Rebuild Main 3 from CP Bailey (Georgetown/Boeing Field area) to Black River. Track speed does not align with Main 1 and 2 and currently 40mph for a few miles then only 70mph. Main 1 and 2 are good for 79mph for the majority of this segment.

    Turn PC3/Running track from Spokane Street/Coach Wye to Black River/Tukwila, creating a 4th main track to utilize.

    The expensive portion: Purchase the Union Pacific mainline and double tracking this segment between Black River and Tacoma. This would eliminate the need to invest in the track work on the BNSF between Black River/Tukwila and TR Jct and create a bypass for thru trains south to Vancouver/Portland. This would allow Sounder and Amtrak Cascades services to increase without affecting freight movements. This would also benefit BNSF and the Port of Tacoma by allowing trains to enter and depart from the port without plugging up the mainline in the Tacoma area.

    A new bridge across the Puyallup River will also need to be built to support this and maintain at least the existing mainline speed of 30mph over the current 10mph from the BNSF to the Union Pacific mainline.

    Adding a second track from TR Jct to G Street. This short segment would allow additional movements without delaying passenger trains.

    Double tracking from Lakewood to Dupont should happen sooner than later. Adding the bridge over I-5 from Dupont to Nisqually should be a priority for future service that ST and WSDOT should invest in.

    For those that want service to Olympia, there is only one remaining way into Olympia’s city center and it would only be good for 50-60mph max once on the line. It would need a 100% rebuild, signals, PTC, etc.

    From Nisqually to East Olympia;

    Add 3rd main from Nisqually to East Olympia. This will require a new bridge over the Nisqually River. The Right of Way (ROW) is wide enough to support the third main the entire distance. There are several smaller bridges that would need to be constructed. Rebuilding the station platform at Centennial and adding a new platform on the Main 1 side, with a pedestrian bridge over the railroad to the existing parking lot.

    At East Olympia, a small yard would need to be constructed for the continued use of switching operations between the BNSF and the Port of Olympia.

    From here, the line would be rebuilt into Olympia. There are several locations where the station can be located and I believe the existing rail line stops right next to the capital building, just a small walk up a hill.

    All of this is a multi-billion dollar thing though, purchasing and rebuilding the UP line would be the most expensive item but it is something that can be done quickly would allow all-day service.

    1. Wouldn’t extending the tracks from Dupont to exit 105 using the I-5 ROW similar to Lynnwood Link be cheaper and faster?

      1. The grades on either side of the Nisqually River are too steep, especially given that you’d have clear the BNSF main on the north side of the river.

      2. You could do it. There’s no physical obstacle. However, what you would have to build would be the Canadian Pacific’s Lethbridge Viaduct.

        I don’t picture such a thing ever being approved for that location.

        The current main sits about 2/3 of the way down the hill, so as long as the bridge starts far enough back it will clear that line.

      3. You could do it

        Sure, you could as in “spend a couple of billion dollars for a three mile elevated structure eighty feet high in the middle two miles”, but as you noted “I [e.g. you] don’t picture such a thing ever being approved for that location.”

        Neither do I, so the gradient matters.

        And, sure, passenger trains can climb steeper grades than freights, but not that steep.

    1. I’m always reminded on this basic fact: ST3 lost big in the South Sounder corridor.

      Clearly, the South Sounder improvement program was not as popular as building Link elsewhere was.

      I also am concerned that BNSF will up the ante on using those tracks.

      Of anyone the projects in ST3 that should be revisited, this appears to be the best place to do it. ST should be developing a better strategy to minimize the BNSF limitations and power over serving the corridor.

      Sure using the track is cheap, but it’s like paying a minimum balance on a credit card. The best way out of the BNSF usury is to plan improvements that can free the region from total control.

      The most obvious strategy to me is to create a STRide line centered on 167. The second is to add a light rail or DMU connection to Link.

      1. It’s not really surprising that ST3 did lose big in the South Sounder corridor. The people that live there aren’t really gaining anything from Link, except for the option to drive and park at Angle Lake Station – which they can do anyway, with or without ST3.

        As to Sounder service, the ballot measure didn’t make any specific promises for how things would improve, just unspecified improvements. Considering that BNSF owns the track and everyone knows they will milk Sound Transit for all they can for every single additional trip, I don’t blame them for being skeptical.

        If more Sounder trips are effectively infeasible, the South Sound money needs to be re-directed to buses. This means more Sounder connector routes, like the Bonney Lake shuttle, so that every single Sounder user doesn’t have to drive and park at the Sounder station. And, more buses to provide alternative service when Sounder isn’t running. The 578 is a good place to start, but has room for improvement. 1 hour 14 minutes on the bus from Puyallup to Seattle with no traffic is too much – it’s double the drive time, and doesn’t include the overhead of wait time or connections at each end. There is also no transit service to speak of , except for Sounder, connecting Tacoma to the Kent/Auburn/Sumner/Puyallup SR-167 corridor. (Technically, there’s a Pierce Transit route to Puyallup that runs just once per hour, stops everywhere and takes an indirect route, and you still have to transfer to the 578 to go northward, but that barely counts).

    2. BNSF won’t be interested in consuming capacity in the tunnel. South of King station there are ways for ST to create capacity when buying easements from BNSF, much harder to do in the tunnel. Also, where would you put a station the size of King Street for the trains the turnaround. I can’t imagine BNSF is going to be like, “go ahead, we’re not using this switching yard”

  6. Since ST owns the track south of Tacoma, does this mean that by the time the red line is extended to TDS, they can run short Lakewood (DuPont 2036) to TDS Sounder trains all day every day, frequently, to connect with Link in Tacoma? If you do that, plus an ST Express bus from Lakewood TC and 512 P&R to Tacoma (like a short 574), then that connects all ST service south of Tacoma to Link nicely.

    1. Might be some freight conflicts with Tacoma Rail, even though ST owns the track? But yeah, running an offpeak Sounder shuttle is probably a good idea. It’s a long trip into Seattle, but nice if someone is trying to get to Tacoma or the airport from Lakewood. I’d imagine ridership would be very low, akin to most offpeak ST routes.

      1. It would be quite expensive to operate compared to a bus, so it might not make sense for just Lakewood and South Tacoma. But once the DuPont extension opens, then there is a huge value proposition in avoiding the JBLM mess on I-5, and to zip on by at normal speed on the train. But for general use, that would require ST to run it all the way to DuPont all day, and serving DuPont all day does not seem to be in any way a serious priority for ST (I believe the plan is to have even the Link-truncated ST Express routes still serve DuPont only at peak).

        Though far-fetched, extending to Olympia on ST-owned tracks is even more interesting. You could imagine an Olympia-Tacoma line every 20 minutes all day, and a DuPont-Seattle line every 20 minutes peak only. That would make 10 minute frequency at peak from DuPont to Tacoma, which may be where more people that far south are headed, and would transfer well with both Links at TDS. Olympia to Seattle would be doable but annoying, requiring a 10 minute wait at one of the stations, but someone with such a horrible commute would very much hate driving that much in multiple sets of rush-hour traffic.

        A nice side effect of that is that it makes the airport an easy (for what it is) trip from Olympia. That’s a big deal. Because dropping a car off at the airport is an expensive proposition, as is Ubering it such a long distance, people will tolerate a long ride to the airport as long as it’s not complex and it’s reliable. And a fast Sounder ride to Tacoma and a switch to a somewhat slower Link ride to the airport would be quite popular.

        The big Sounder commute killer though I think is the fare. DuPont to Seattle will likely be $6 or more one-way. Sounder is meant to be a mass transit option to efficiently move large numbers of commuters as an alternative to driving, not a rich man’s fancy bus. If it’s worth building out such an expensive system on its own merits, then it’s not a good idea to price many people out. I think ST should consider changing to a logarithmic pricing model, and consider capping it at $5.

      2. “It would be quite expensive compared to a bus” but not really that much more expensive.

        Here’s the thing: Sounder is expensive to operate because they have to pay the crews for a full day’s worth of work even if they only operate the trains for two hours or so. This is because the one-way nature of Sounder schedules means the crews are only able to operate, at best, four hours worth of trains a day, with most operations being only two hours (one round trip a day). They can’t reassign the crews to other BNSF trains as mainline freight assignments are designed to use a crew’s full 8-12 hour daily permitted operating hours.

        Operating the Tacoma – DuPont segment outside the peak period would be able to use the crews for a full assignment period, so the crew cost per trip would be quite a bit lower than for the rest of Sounder.

      3. They can work a split shift, but Sounder’s limited span means that each crew can only make one or two trips, at best.

        Let’s take a look at the schedule:
        Southbound departure from King Street Station: 3:35 pm
        Arrival at Lakewood: 4:51 pm

        There are no northbound trains from Lakewood in the afternoon, so to get the crew back to Seattle you would have to call a cab or put them on a bus.

        Bus route 594 is really your only option to do this, and it doesn’t get back to Seattle until 6:25 pm. The last Sounder departure is at 6:30 pm, and there is no way you really want to rely on the tight connections and traffic to get the crew there in time to set up the train and do their brake test.

        This is the second earliest Sounder departure from Seattle, so all the rest of the trains can only be one direction as well, except for the single round trip Tacoma-Seattle train.

        Therefore, with the current one-way peak only nature of Sounder schedules, you are stuck with one crew for each train, and about 2.5 hours of time for each crew: a single one way trip in the morning and a single one way trip in the afternoon, with one crew able to complete a single round trip because Sounder makes one round trip.

  7. Can somebody remind us the reason for taking Sounder away from the shoreline at the point the train-ride is the most beautiful?

    More frequently than I’d like, I drive I-5 past Dupont and Tillicum. The often busy Thorne Lane grade crossing at the north end of Tillicum has no visibility from the driver’s seat closest to the tracks in either direction. Same at north end of Dupont. Somebody that knows, tell me how many microseconds a forty mph. speed limit would make my train late into Portland?

    To a right-of-way that just gave us……did the radio this morning describe a $3 million jury verdict for multi-agency negligence that’d rot food? Last Friday, sat in on jury deliberations with somebody’s physician. If this railroad effort were an animal, would mercy be an injection or a bullet?

    Out of a halfway decent sense of shame for killing three people and injuring, what, sixty as a first attempt, least we can do is to just restore a lovely shore line train ride for at least another generation.

    Mark Dublin

    1. The Nelson Bennett tunnel at Pt. Defiance is single track.

      It was single tracked to accommodate double-stack container trains.
      It could be returned to double-track if they excavated the floor of the tunnel.

      Sound Transit wanted to access the communities on the Prairie Line (So. Tacoma, Lakewood), and built the connection between the Tacoma Dome and the tracks as they went up the Nalley Valley.

      It wasn’t to save time, it was to avoid the freight congestion going around Pt. Defiance.
      Amtrak was able to add 2 round trips to Portland.
      The travel time saving wasn’t the main driver of the bypass project.

      1. Thanks, Jim. But I’m curious. With the long, curving miles along the water, how much longer can BN use the shoreline for freight? Might not scenery become the railroad’s own best use for it?

        Maybe too much Si-Fi at an early age, but keep seeing supersonic freight, rail, vacuum tubes, or both east of I-5, either side of the Cascades. Fairbanks-Tierra del Fuego corridor.

        Can see importance of passenger service through Lakewood, Tillicum, and Dupont. On the way to and from Olympia and beyond. But every single grade crossing has Got To Go.

        To same hole in Hell as the curve that recently killed three passengers and injured so many dozens more. Jim, can you tell us what maximum speed is for the Tacoma Rail freights that serve Olympia? And how much irretrievable speed we’d lose if we kept that for maximum until we get all those grade crossings gone?

        Repeat-avoidance? Our country is going through a period of mass retirement on the part of the exact numerical age and experience-level or workers who “know in their bones” the difference between right and wrong operations. Which doesn’t transfer to Twitter.

        One more question and I’ll let you go. Where on a mile-long double-decked freight train on the fast track to Hell was the union?

        Mark Dublin

      2. They’re going Mark. Look at the bridges under construction TODAY on I-5 through the Fort. The structures all stretch across the Sounder Tracks.

        When they’re completed the only at-grade crossing will be Dupont-Steilacoom Road. It can be next.

  8. “Thanks, Jim. But I’m curious. With the long, curving miles along the water, how much longer can BN use the shoreline for freight?”

    Remember Mark, for freight, it’s all about ‘ruling grade’. It’s why most all the heavy hauling Class 1 railroads take the ‘water level route’.
    Loaded coal trains take the route along the Columbia River, and north from Vancouver to avoid the grades (and need for more motive power) of Stampede and Stevens pass, for instance.

    ” Jim, can you tell us what maximum speed is for the Tacoma Rail freights that serve Olympia? And how much irretrievable speed we’d lose if we kept that for maximum until we get all those grade crossings gone?”

    Tacoma Rail never served Olympia, although they did operate the Prairie line until BNSF took it over in 2007. However, access to the line from Tacoma proper wasn’t a direct connection from the tideflats.

    If you remember, before Sound Transit, the line came up to Freighthouse Square and turned under I-5, and continued up to Fredrickson.

    The connection down the Nalley Valley turned and headed to Union Station and the railyards there. That segment was severed when Tacoma Link was built.

    WSDOT piggybacked on Sound Transit making the direct connection from Freighthouse Square up the Nalley Valley for Amtrak to take advantage of.

    As far as grade crossings go, speed isn’t as much the issue as is crossing control. Yes, complete grade separation is the most desirable, but then the question comes down to – who pays for it?
    The railroad? Sound Transit?
    If every driver behaved correctly, then grade crossing accidents wouldn’t be an issue. If every pedestrian at least treated the railroad ROW with a minimum of respect they give to the Interstates, there would be even less fatalities. As it is, any incursions onto the ROW are considered trespassing.

    Up here in Edmonds, the ferry landing for the Edmonds-Kingston ferry (SR-104) has all sorts of auto and pedestrian traffic, and few accidents. I believe a few years ago a Sounder train clipped the front bumper of a semi that stopped on the tracks, and then there is the occasional drunk that drives down the tracks at Dayton St.

    The only pedestrian fatalities I know of have been suicides (about 4 in the last 10 years). It is still single tracked here, so if it goes to double track, then we might see the type of pedestrian fatalities that happen down in Ruston (the Pt. Defiance route).

    Grade crossings are safe. Especially if you’re on the train.

    “One more question and I’ll let you go. Where on a mile-long double-decked freight train on the fast track to Hell was the union?”

    When this derailment occurred, I posted here that everyone was trying to quickly to find the reason, and the one person to blame.
    From my view, it had all the indications of the classic airplane crash – multiple points of failure. The NTSB report confirmed that. The engineer was set up to fail. Yes, he did miss the key element that caused the accident. I know the engineer, and he is a conscientious person. This wasn’t like the Metrolink Chatsworth accident (blamed on texting while operating). This was something that it seemed every link in the chain failed just enough, that the final one was inevitable.

    Some of you might recognize my name from when I wrote the articles in the All Aboard Washington newsletters. I knew Jim and Zack for years, so I don’t soft-pedal the responsibility of the system for their responsibility to have kept them alive.

    It is just bad all around.

    The best legacy is to let the proper improvements be made, and the culture of ‘making the deadline’ be the second priority to the proper functioning of the operations (which includes safety).

    Maybe when I was writing software deadlines were the main focus, because most software goes in broken anyway (“Want a fix, … it’s in the next release!” ” It’s not a bug, it’s a feature!”)

    Actual operations affecting actual people need more care, deadlines be damned.

    1. Jim, thank you for continuing this conversation this far, and for sensible answers to questions in a very bad frame of mind. If you don’t mind my asking…what’s your trade?

      Having driven transit vehicles for thirteen years, and taxicabs and small trucks for another few in various places, would hate for anything I say to inflict further grief on any driver or other first-line worker involved above.

      Can still see a fourteen year old boy disappear below the window line of my windshield as he ran left to right in front of my bus as I came into the zone. Doubt he ever saw a uniformed adult cry, or when he jumped up the steps laughing, could even figure out what had ruined my morning.

      Really do think that before anybody can hold a position giving orders to, say, large-machine drivers, they need at least three years in grade before they can give any orders to people who can get other people killed.

      “Maybe when I was writing software deadlines were the main focus, because most software goes in broken anyway (“Want a fix, … it’s in the next release!” ” It’s not a bug, it’s a feature!”)

      What’s “got” my mood right now is my sense that however that last phrase reads in Hungarian, Hindi, Brazilian Portuguese, Israeli Hebrew, Russian, and both American and British English, it’s the enthusiastic war-cry of command-level Governance worldwide and pole to pole. Right, Polish too. Have read Serbia’s worse.

      Talking about unions, US Anarchists have History’s most legitimate labor complaint with 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue over getting run roughshod out of their job description of at all levels Destroying the Government.

      At 74, family is onto me to get used to the fact I’ll never work again in my life. Would be easier to take if every young person I meet of early train-driving age didn’t so completely deserve a complete break from the attitude presently controlling, and not seldom ending, their lives.

      But- and I doubt this is just Olympia am repeatedly meeting young people I think have the “stuff” to at least start repairs. Starting with a strong attitude of non-defeat.

      The couple I met at my favorite coffee house yesterday afternoon. She’s going to teach high school math and not let anybody make her or her students hate it. He’s going Special Forces, with ideas, thoughts, and values to make him one of the few people I’ve ever met I’d want to see with an AR15. Well- her too.

      Pray we can get him Command that won’t get him Killed.
      And her, supervision and structure that won’t leave her in my frame of mind. What’s my move? Thanks for being here.

      Mark Dublin

  9. The light rail should have just ran in between I-5 n/s and the sounder in between 167 n/s, both should be elevated in a manner that stops the suicide by train crap that happens a couple times a year and f’s the evening morning commute with a cancelled train. It also eliminates the auto and train interactions and would allow for faster travel like the elevated light rail from tukwila north. Stations should stop at hubs that have feeder branch lines or busses to other destinations. And seriously why the f doesnt the light rail stop at Tukwila’s Southcenter area.

    1. Do you mean they should have just built I-5 on either side of the rail line ?
      The mainline (Sounder route) was there first.

      1. No, virtually all of I 5 and 167 have space in between the north and south lanes to make a link style elevated track.

      2. The rail lines would still exist, though.

        I see, you are suggesting they build a new Link line down SR-167.

    2. Link doesn’t go to Southcenter because Tukwila insisted on a tunnel, which was just as expensive as it is these days, among other conditions and ST balked at footing the entire bill for it.

      And routing *any* railed transit system along a freeway like I-5 is the absolute worst thing you can do. It kills walk-up potential and development around the stations.

      1. I see your point of view but disagree. And honestly I’m just some bum who has no choice on the direction of ST and the decisions made.
        My point of view is that I think it would mitigate one of the largest issues ST faces which is land aquisitions and we have numerous park and rides already close to I5. It would also mitigate the huge cost of having to do lengthy and expensive environmental impact surveys as the areas likely already had it done when the various projects on I5. The majority of Sounder users drive to the station and park. The walk on potential would be on the feeder routes to the main terminus. When I say feeder routes I mean bus, light rail etc. If you want a system that would be here quickly and more adaptive I feel that makes a heck of a lot more sense to pick the option that has the least barriers. Once you put rail in it doesn’t move without enormous cost, bus stops and those routes can adapt and change. If Ballard gets a tunnel South center should get one 😋

      2. Park and ride lots just don’t add that many riders. None of the freeway parallel sections of MAX perform that well because it is too difficult and dangerous to get to the station ms with the freeway and it’s exit ramps in the way. Furthermore, the amount of developable land near the stations is almost nothing due to the tangle of freeway ramps around some of the stations.

      3. The ship sailed on Southcenter getting a station, tunnel or otherwise, before Link even opened because Tukwila refused to budge on the tunnel or pay anything towards it. Ballard is also a VASTLY different destination than Southcenter is, and Sound Transit has much, much more in the way of resources these days (and even then the Ballard tunnel STILL won’t happen unless outside funding presents itself, so this is hardly ST snubbing Tukwila).

        Highway routing may make things easier in the short term, but it dramatically limits the lines’ usefulness for their entire operational lives; walksheds are even more important than buses routed to stations. Better to have a more drawn-out start than kneecap a system from the beginning.

      4. The branch lines would be for walk on access, the main terminus would be for car commuters, and would allow faster than highway speeds, and would mitigate the freight traffic problems that the Sounder has. I am speaking of my point of view as an actual user. I drive to the park and ride and take the Sounder to another park and ride and drive the rest of the way. My car is the branch lines. When the link goes near my house, I will not take it. Why, because despite your intentions it would take far longer to get to work than even the worst traffic days. It might work for short stints, but I feel the direction it’s going is not for my usage. And lighten up, the Tukwila/Ballard comment was a joke.

      5. I’m trying to figure out how your commute actually works. Did you actually buy a second car, just to store at a P&R overnight and drive those last few miles after getting off the Sounder? That sounds much more expensive than the more traditional approach of just buying one car, driving it all the way, and ignoring Sounder completely. It is also in violation of Sound Transit’s parking policy, since you are exceeding their 24-hour limit every weekend, and every time you take vacation.

        This is a fundamental problem with relying on P&R access. They work ok for first-mile trips (until they fill up), but all those parking spaces are effectively useless for last-mile trips at the end. Even for first-mile trips, they’re only useful if you have a car. And because you tie up the car all day, one car per family isn’t even good enough – you need a separate car for each person. Plus, each parking space costs around $50k to construct, which translates to $50 million – just on parking – to carry a maximum of 1,000 daily riders. Considering that this doesn’t even include the cost of the train itself, such enormous costs-per-ride simply do not scale.

      6. You made a lot of assumptions on my commute that are incorrect. I have voiced my opinion and I am fine with that.

      7. I don’t remember a tunnel in the plans for Link in Tukwila.

        Sound Transit’s original plans were to cross I-5 and BNSF at the Boeing Access Road, and continue up Hwy 99 (International Blvd) at-grade.

        Tukwila insisted they divert to Southcenter.

        What you see now is the sort-of court-ordered compromise.
        (i.e. figure it out you two)

        Diverting to Southcenter was 4 times the cost, but not 4 times the ridership. (Somewhere just under twice in my conversations with ST personnel way back then)

      8. The first usually gets the worst. The public mood has changed since those decisions were made in the 1990s. Generations of people had grown up without rail so they didn’t believe its benefits or centralizing influence. They knew it worked in New York and Europe but they didn’t think that was applicable in smaller/newer cities. One Rainier Valley argument was “Come back to us last”, as if it would cause only displacement but no benefit and the existing bus service was adequate. Have they ever tried getting around without a car?

        So many in Rainier asked for underground or elevated but ST said no because it couldn’t justify the expense in the flat valley, and Tukwila may have been similar. What I heard was Tukwila didn’t want surface on Intl Blvd because it had just beautified it, and it didn’t want the alignment cutting through a corner of Southcenter’s property. I never heard anything about a tunnel in Tukwila. The surface alignment would have had a station on Southcenter Blvd, but that was lost in the switch to elevated.

        So Rainier and Tukwila didn’t get what they wanted. Roosevelt later did, and one by one all other neighborhoods got grade-separated alignments as the public said they wanted it and were willing to pay for it. So Rainier and Tukwila lost because their decisions were made before the public mood and ST’s attitude changed.

        In one case the grade separation was reversed, in Bel-Red and part of Redmond. That was because Bellevue’s highest priority was a downtown tunnel and Bellevue was the biggest city in the Eastside, so when it asked ST to economize elsewhere to pay for half the tunnel, it did so, and that led to parts of Bel-Red and Redmond becoming surface. I protested in an open house about this, but the ST rep assured me the Bel-Red crossing was a low-volume street and wouldn’t interfere with trains much.

      9. I don’t remember Bel-Red (i.e. DT to Overlake) ever being planned as fully grade separated. One route that might have achieved it was taking the BNSF ROW all the way to 520 and paralleling that to Overlake. But nobody really wanted that because the plans were always to use Link as a catalyst to up-zone Bel-Red (aka the Spring District). The minor at grade crossing at 132nd is no big deal. The original ST plan had at grade crossings of 148th and NE 20th which would have been a disaster. Fortunately Microsoft threw their considerable influence behind the current alignment. The only “cost savings” is the at grade crossing of NE 20th (aka Northup) which if engineered intelligently would have been as cheap or less to do elevated as the design changed requiring an almost immediate transition to elevated to make the crossing of 148th. OTOH, that intersection is going to be terminally messed up when they complete the split Spring Blvd design tee into Northup only a a few hundred feet west of 140th. FWIW, the other end of Spring Blvd teeing into 12th/Bel-Red also looks like a disaster.

      10. Wow, fascinating history about Tukwila and the RV. I’m not really sure how in the world Tukwila thought it was going to get a station at Southcenter. They had to have known that the first objective was to build a line to the airport, and going to Southcenter first would require an entirely new east-west segment to get to the airport, probably with a tunnel under that big hill (that’s probably where the tunnel would be).

        Recently having beautified International blvd was a dumb reason to avoid it, but it did avoid the risk of having the tracks run at-grade for cost savings. The route along 599/I-5 is a little unnecessarily long but not that bad. And the east-west orientation of TIBS sets it up nicely to align with airport expressway.

        In the end though, Tukwila lost out on a potentially worthwhile battle by not playing the long game. It’s obvious in hindsight (but should have also been obvious at the time) that the diversion to Southcenter is not a thing that was going to happen with the airport line. Instead, they should have pushed for inclusion in a second line, and to build the airport station in such a way to facilitate a Burien-Southcenter segment of a future line. At the time, it wouldn’t be totally clear which line they should have pushed for, but West Seattle – Renton or Burien to Bellevue would have both made sense if they knew roughly where ST was going in the next two measures.

      11. “The surface alignment would have had a station on Southcenter Blvd, but that was lost in the switch to elevated.”

        The actual Tukwila light rail station is on Southcenter Blvd, but I’m assuming you meant next to the mall. I think it ended up on the better area of that road for a station though, because forcing everyone to walk across I-405 up and down a steep bridge would really have been bad (and this would be nearly 100% of walk-on access), whereas most of the walk-on potential of TIBS is on the same side of the freeway as the station, and there are some apartments near the station. And of course there is parking, but it’s parking that is thoroughly used, unlike the would-be pedestrian bridge to the mall.

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