Beacon Hill Station

Last week, vandals dealt Link riders, already idling thanks to Connect2020 service reductions, a further blow by vandalizing the Beacon Hill tunnel. From Monday through Thursday Wednesday, trains had to single track between Mt. Baker and Sodo, where they could split into Northbound and Southbound platforms before going right back to single-tracking all the way to Pioneer Square. Needless to say, this piled on yet more delays.

On Monday morning, a person entered a tunnel cross-passage, opened a standpipe valve, flooded critical electrical components and disabled the emergency ventilation fan.

Sound Transit

Fire codes disallow use of the northbound tunnel under these conditions. We are fortunate that this part of the system has lots of crossover tracks to minimize the stretch where trains in both directions must share track.

The cross-passage has to remain unlocked in case of an emergency forcing evacuation of one of the tunnels. However, ST’s John Gallagher says ST is ” looking at ways to make sure that the risk of vandalism is minimized” in the future.

SPD is investigating the incident. I have an email out to them.

35 Replies to “Vandalism in Beacon Hill tunnel”

  1. I can’t express enough concern that we need ST to have better contingency planning and service disruption risk reduction assessments for Link. Being a builder is great and creates lots of happy talking points, but the agency needs to shift its focus more into maintenance mode. The majority of the 2041 stations and riders will be in place by 2025 and there will be three times as many people on Link than there was in 2019. That means that more people will be daily riders than hope to be future daily riders and they’ll expect quality transit operations every working day.

    The “unexpected problem” excuse may have some validity here — but ST seems to be revisiting things to correct lots of unexpected problems recently. That includes escalators and elevators, name choices, rail accidents on MLK, train location info, fare collection design logic and now this.

  2. While I recognize the need to keep it unlocked, I question why the doors are not unlocked and alarmed. i.e., you can get out if there is an emergency, but you will be met by fire and police; if you break IN you will also be met by fire and police. Lots of homes and businesses, large and small, alarm their doors. This seems like a very straightforward strategy. How on earth did nobody ever foresee the potential for vandalism?!

  3. Since the potential severity of the problem was mitigated due to the abundance of track switches in the area, that seems like a good area of focus for Sound Transit in the future. It seems like places where trains could switch tracks should be abundant in the system.

    The DSTT is tricky since it was built in the 80s for buses without regard for trains (except for the useless tracks that were installed), and buses with issues could be moved to the center lane. Trains can’t do that since there’s no track there. And since 4-car trains are as long as the platforms, there is no way to enable this without digging new sections between the two tunnels.

    In curious if anyone has any idea as to how much it would cost to dig a center tunnel in between Pioneer Square and Symphony Station (USS) for a turnback (or train storage) track? There might not be much or any utility relocation required since it’s in between two close tunnels. It would certainly require months of worse-than-Connect2020 construction conditions, but it might be worth it.

    1. It would presumably cost 10 weeks of single tracking and 4 weekend shutdowns to build new switches on a live track.

      More switches = more flexibility but more moving parts that could break. Operations always wants more switches, and maintenance wants less.

      1. “It would presumably cost 10 weeks of single tracking and 4 weekend shutdowns to build new switches on a live track.”

        That’s basically Connect2020. Construction on this would be much more disruptive since you can’t expand the tunnel around tracks in operation (I think), so if this was to be done, ST would probably have to bite the bullet and have a months long closure of the tunnel between these stations. The 2031 infill station disruption would be a good time to do this, but with 130th being accelerated, that disruption would be heavily concentrated on the other track.

        This could be mitigated easily if all branches (Redmond, Tacoma, West Seattle, Ballard, and Everett) were able to use either the DSTT or the second tunnel. I hope they are considering something like this, since this redundancy is going to be most important here (imagine if this incident happened at Westlake Station in 2035?).

        Adding switches does make it more complex, but it’s a question of balance. Both extremes (no track switches anywhere except the ends, or switches between every station) both are pretty ridiculous, so the right answer is in the middle. And the question to ask is this: is it worth having no ability to turn back tracks within the DSTT in an incident in exchange for more reliable operations? I don’t work for ST so I don’t know, but since the system is closed nightly for maintenance, I suspect that in the long run ST can ensure better reliability than other systems like DC Metro (which had, or still has, to do long sections of single tracking on weekends for years to pay back the maintenance debt from early on).

        So I guess building in flexibility in which tunnel to go to is probably a better idea than putting in an infill track switch, now that I think of it. Since the theoretical minimum headway of the system is 90 seconds, moving all service to one tunnel in an emergency could be done in theory with the same service levels. But that’s a tight fit that would certainly cause delays. Certainly dropping frequency from 6 minutes to 8 minutes (or 6.5,depending on actual conditions) is certainly better than being blocked from downtown.

    2. I wonder if emergency crossover tracks could be dropped into the middle of Symphony Station for use in rare emergencies. That may not require extra digging.

      1. That would certainly work, but it would mean that trains in one direction could not stop at Symphony. And there would be so much traffic that the other direction probably shouldn’t stop.

      1. The term of art is “cross-over”. “Switches” are the operating turn-outs, and a facing pair of them become a “cross-over”.

    3. Alex, for a couple of years in the early 1980’s, as a member of the joint union-management Employee Advisory Committee on the Downtown Seattle Transit Project, I watched the world’s top rail engineers design into the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel a great deal of regard for the trains that became Link.

      We could have saved a fortune if we’d left out those perfect grades and curves and simply gone with what worked for buses and regular streetcars. 30 mph speed limit was imposed for safety, given close quarters with pedestrians and waiting passengers. As a driver, never felt even close to hitting the wall.

      The Tunnel’s real place in history is about the decision to build in pieces the transit system that the taxpayers refused twice to build whole. Nor were the tracks a useless superficial gesture. They gave us years of experience running rubber tires over streetcar tracks at road speed. Including when wet.

      Mark Dublin

  4. As a general question, as we start preparing for future expansions, are there places where more switch track and/or a third, central track can be placed for use when they are incidents like this. The extra track could also be used for extra service for events or other emergency situations.

  5. An easy solution is to just put a $30 padlock on the valve handle. Pretty much all municipal and industrial valves are constructed to allow this.

    1. It was probably an urban explorer who looked at the valve and thought “I wonder what this does…”

    2. I’ll be curious to see what the motivation was. Copper thieves want money, graffiti artists want alternative art or fame or a social message or marking their territory, but this seems like none of these. It could be somebody angry about a fare confrontation, angry at the ST board, angry about a non-transit issue, general antisocial behavior, a serial vandal, etc. Each of these might suggest a different response.

      1. About a week before the Beacon Hill tunnel vandalism, in NYC, a cop-hating group called Decolonize This Place, was going around the city vandalizing MTA stations (Bing it) … pouring glue in card readers, chaining open emergency exit gates, smashing contactless fare payment systems with hammers, etc.

        No, those acts aren’t similar to the Beacon Station vandalism, but, who knows, different city, different vandal, different tactics? And, maybe some anti-fare enforcement message was sent into Sound Transit that we don’t yet know about.

      2. The NYC action was directly in protest at a ludicrous fare hike, as well as obscene levels of policing ostensibly to prevent fare evasion, but when you’re paying $250 million for more cops to try and prevent $200 million in fare evasion at most, are you really doing something good or just wasting money?

        These aren’t related.

      3. I’m gonna guess “general antisocial behavior” or maybe “I wonder what will happen if I do this”? Could be serial behavior, which will likely end when they grow up.

  6. On Tuesday it was a disaster. 25 minutes at Westlake with no trains either direction at1220on. 35 minutes between northbbound trains. Bmissed my appt at UWMC. Way frustrating. Operationally st is in need of serious help but I get that it was not their”fault”

  7. So did they catch the vandal? Do we have surveillance photos of the scofflaw to share with the public? Are we going to even attempt to hold someone accountable for their actions?

    1. Holding people accountable for non-violent crimes is criminal justice from a bygone era. Even if they catch the guy, his punishment won’t include doing time.

  8. Not a great comparison, but the Tube has workers helping people at the fare gates at busy stations, workers hanging out on the platform answering questions, etc. No FEOs (by that name) and less “security” – just people there to help. I was recently in Amsterdam and took a tram, and was blown away they have a separate conductor in the back who you can buy tickets from or ask questions. I was scared about not having a ticket or not knowing where to buy a ticket, but was blown away by the friendly face in the back who was there to help. He even gave us a deal because we weren’t going that far.

    Do we need friendly faces dawdling on the platforms who would keep an eye out for someone slipping into the tunnel? And just to help people in general. Perhaps fare gates would help with this. Considering these stations cost $100M+ each, it seems obvious to have some staff (maybe even some toilets) to help riders and keep an eye on things. I notice this more at U-link stations, but not as much in DSTT.

    1. Considering the number of CCTV cameras all over London — not just the Tube — your suggestion that there’s less security there is laughable. As for your no FEO comment, they’re called revenue protection inspectors (RPIs) and can and do issue penalty fares.

      I have noticed, in my visits to London over the past decade or so, an improvement in platform level customer service — partly at the expense of less service at station entrances, but it’s still the case that there’s quite a bit of security there, and a high emphasis on ensuring that people pay for their journeys.

  9. Can you tell us whether the perpetrator had to break a lock? Because I’m afraid that, like with a lot of vandalism, a lot of people don’t need any particular reason comprehensible to anybody else to do it. Sort of glad I don’t get into the permanent verbal civil war online- but shudder how thin the barrier is with reality.

    I don’t think there’s any question that at this particular time, there’s an unusual level of free-floating hostility in the air. So as a strong, long-time supporter of Sound Transit, I would like to know if the authorities have ascertained any credible threats against the Agency. Political or personal.

    I have family near Beacon Hill Station, and have patronized the Station Cafe for many years- when he opened the cafe, the owner prominently posted a placard from ATU Local 587. They make a terrific espresso, and their food’s good.

    Attended a Transit Riders’ Union event at El Centro de la Raza last Wednesday night. Doubtless more will follow. So anything the system might need me to do or watch out for….much appreciated.

    Mark Dublin

  10. “And, maybe some anti-fare enforcement message was sent into Sound Transit that we don’t yet know about.”

    Thanks for the observation, Sam. Because it leads so directly into my question as to
    “If not, why not?” Sound Transit’s stubborn cling to a policy that criminalizes a school-child’s mistake certainly lays bare its own rules for this engagement.

    “Whether it makes any sense or not, do what we say or you’re going to get hurt!” If you’re too young to vote and your folks can’t afford an attorney on a bonus-free income, only human if your response is”Well, Back Atcha!”

    If Sound Transit’s actions are provoking violence, just like any other hazard, we’d damned well better know about it and deal with it. Because there’s another clear and present danger.

    At a celebratory breakfast in the Capitol basement years ago, a student council president doubted the usefulness of her political activities because she couldn’t yet vote.

    Adult guest asked Governor Lowry if it would make any difference if her district’s high school kids worked for him. Mike’s words: “I could take any election in the State.”

    So there it is. When vast majority of futilely law-abiding young passengers make Tim Eyman Governor this fall, you can talk financial need with him.

    Mark Dublin

  11. Reading over my last comment, however much a certain stipulation in Link enforcement policy infuriates me, which is plenty, no way am I advocating or condoning damage to the transit system as a means of protest.

    But Ravenna Steve’s input about a friendly informal presence to assist passengers brings me a lot close to the approach I am going to advocate and work for:

    A program worked out between, Link, the Transit Riders’ Union, and the school system to enlist K-12 students to provide on-site advice and guidance on platforms and aboard trains.

    The thought needs a lot more work, but would take the idea a step further toward creating the political equivalent of the kind of “Youth Wing” presence common in European politics.

    Opposite planetary pole to compliance by punishment, my goal would be to pass along to young people what the transit world lifelong passed along to me:

    “These trains are something of MINE!”

    Mark Dublin

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