Page Two articles are from our reader community.

NOTE: This post is copied in its entirety from an article I wrote. It is the latest entry of my blog, Transportation Matters.


Do consider the lunacy of the journey foisted upon the traveling public: after riding at least 80 minutes from Capitol Hill or Downtown Seattle in order to reach Tacoma, riders must disembark Link and await an untimed streetcar transfer—for an additional 15 to 25 minutes of travel time—all to reach the UW Tacoma campus, the city’s premier museums, key bus transfers, inner-city neighborhoods, and the workplaces of the downtown. To any reasonable person unfamiliar with the current rail arrangement in Tacoma, this would be deeply illogical rail planning. And yet this will be the Tacoma rail transit future, the consequence of early 1990s urban planning for a then-stricken community, financed in 2016 for a city on the rebound, and not opening until ±2032 to service a city that has since been utterly remade.

Sound Transit should strongly consider extending Link Light Rail into Central Tacoma. The agency should be advancing such an alignment not only because it makes the most sense from a community and transit-planning perspective, but also because rail investments of this sort clearly have a dramatic impact on their adjacent neighborhoods. Tacoma is primed to accept new urban development and continue to grow into a regional urban showcase—as long as the rail facilities are provided.

A conceptually dubious megaproject already beset by a two-year realignment delay and steadily rising costs (now approximately $340-million per mile), Sound Transit’s Tacoma Dome Link Extension (TDLE) marches inexorably onward. While preliminary engineering design and corridor planning continue within the larger DEIS review process, which is to be released in mid-2022, none of that work will correct a fundamental flaw that undermines the premise of the entire Link-spine concept: trains will never actually travel into Central Tacoma.

After spending vast sums of public funds to route a rail corridor into the South Sound, Link Light Rail will purposefully miss its economic and cultural heart. Instead, it will terminate in a suburb-focused transfer center that is within walking distance of large swaths of permanent surface parking and a drive-in movie theater. Places ignored entirely by the rail line, whose focus is ostensibly to connect key regional destinations, includes the transformative University of Washington Tacoma urban campus, a sophisticated museum center and pedestrianized waterway, a revitalized Downtown with the largest office center in Washington State outside of Seattle or Bellevue, and innumerable local transit connections. TDLE proposes to mandate transfers to access these critical points of interest that, for any other sensibly planned rail corridor, would be on the main line.

The fact that TDLE is to end at its namesake Dome Station is not exclusively the fault of Sound Transit. Tacoma Dome has been very intentionally planned as a major transit node since at least the early 1990s by a variety of civic and institutional players, and there has been success in implementing these plans and improving the immediate neighborhood. With the construction of a nearby apartment building already complete and more in the pipeline, the Tacoma Dome (or old Hawthorne) neighborhood might very well achieve some prominence in due time, even with its constrained tracts of developable parcels. Still, the Tacoma Dome area is unequivocally and intentionally not Downtown Tacoma, and this will always be the case regardless of the presence of a few new residential structures.

Much like how Northgate is neither the equal of Westlake nor of University Street, it would be nonsensical to prevent the newest rapid-transit rail line of the Puget Sound from accessing the urban core of Tacoma. Long neglected and overlooked, Central Tacoma has worked hard to secure decades of thoughtful urban rehabilitation, and the product of that effort is a historic city that is thriving in all of its corners. The Tacoma of the 1980s and 1990s is not the Tacoma of today, and the future of the city is no longer in doubt—indeed, the success and well-being of the place is generally understood as certain. With the heyday of urban Tacoma no longer relegated to the distant past, then no longer should its urban core be treated with the disdain that is exemplified by the termination of critical rail services one mile or more from its primary destinations.


This proposal details a superior Link Light Rail alignment for direct rail service to Central Tacoma, the Central Tacoma Link Extension (CTLE). This proposal should be contrasted with the current Sound Transit effort to terminate the multi-billion dollar rail line at Tacoma Dome Station—a transit facility tailored to the suburbs—via a route requiring overly complex engineering and civil structures.

The trackways of the CTLE take advantage of existing rail rights-of-way and wide roadways, and will feature strict separation from vehicular traffic. The modern prototype of the at-grade sections of the extension can already be found on Pacific Avenue itself, as well as in the Rainier Valley. As the CTLE is at the terminus of the Link Light Rail spine and travels at 15mph (25kmh) max through curves, and modestly faster within tangent stretches of Pacific Avenue featuring timed traffic lights, the main line operational issues that can be found within the Rainier Valley will not be present here. Nevertheless, crossover tracks are proposed immediately east of the elevated Tacoma Dome Station to ensure continued rail services if an event were to impact the at-grade section of the CTLE.

The platform at Union Station is to be widened by 6-feet to 25-feet total, achieving the minimum width for island platforms of the Link Light Rail system. The revised platform width will have an impact to at least one lane of travel on the east side of the platform, or could potentially require revisions to both tracks and their adjacent travel lanes. Both Central Tacoma and Tacoma Dome Stations will have at least 30-foot wide island platforms.

Differing DC voltages between the existing streetcar line and Link Light Rail present a problem across the shared trackage through Union Station, but are resolved in a straightforward manner by dual mode technologies and related design solutions (see Pg. 1, and Pg. 720). Dual mode “train-trams” are commonly utilized by tram networks throughout the world that also operate over interurban lines (see Pg. 42).

This proposal echoes a system first constructed in 1902 for the Puget Sound Electric Railway, albeit with modal separation that will ensure timely and effective services through Pacific Avenue and the urban core of Tacoma. 

This proposal was designed using Sound Transit design criteria for light rail infrastructure and facilities.

Note: The Central Tacoma Link Extension (CTLE) is designed to integrate fully with Union and Tacoma Dome Stations, providing seamless transfers to the city’s streetcar, bus rapid-transit and core bus network, the SPIRE Regional Rail system, and the Central Washington High-Speed Rail Line


This approximately 1.7-mile extension proposal would cost at least two-hundred-million additional dollars to construct that is not presently financed by the Tacoma Dome Link Extension. Conversely, potential cost savings are obtained over preferred Sound Transit alignments by simplifying the westerly approach into the City via the Pacific Highway and Puyallup Avenue, taking advantage of wide rights-of-way (with the latter having previously accommodated rail infrastructure). This, as opposed to the circuitous routings through Fife, across the river parallel to I-5, and bisecting city blocks toward and then above East 26th Street (or even Freighthouse Square itself).

To those who might suggest that the streetcar line already serves the CTLE corridor effectively, the value of this extension would be limited or even detrimental. To be clear, there are real physical and monetary costs to constructing this largely at-grade extension into Tacoma’s city center. To those who share my views, however, of the value of a comprehensive rail system that does not unnecessarily impose transfers, nor avoids essential urban destinations wholesale—and which takes advantage of the inherent flexibilities of light rail technologies for dedicated rail operations in an urban environment—the potential benefits of the extension could not be clearer. Certainly, they make more sense than major alignment deviations to serve a second-tier airport, and are equally, if not more so, deserving of the type of rail connection being delivered to Alaska Junction.

From here, I’ll let my plan speak for itself.


Central Tacoma Link Extension (CTLE) Project Maps

  1. ArcGIS Interactive Map, detailing the whole of the CTLE project on a viewer-friendly map.

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41 Replies to “If Link to Tacoma Must Be Built, Do It Right: Send Trains Into the City Center”

  1. Although I find your proposal interesting, your Seattle-centric view of the value of light rail to Tacoma is off putting. Tacoma’s leaders don’t care about a light rail link to Seattle. They care about a light rail link to the airport. That is what will help attract major employers to invest in Tacoma. I think they are right.

    1. That is a fair critique regarding my focus on the spine to Seattle, as opposed to the value of individual segments. As a Tacoma resident, I would use the line to travel to Seattle, so some bias may be present. I would counter that my focus is in-line with the original intent of Sound Move, and Sound Transit today more broadly. These significant investments in light-metro transportation would never occur if the line did not connect to Seattle.

      More troubling, when holding this “local” perspective on the rail line, it fairs even worse. What is quality South Sound light rail service if its premier economic, academic, and cultural destinations are not even served by it?

    2. If the point of light rail to Tacoma is to connect Tacoma with the airport, then wouldn’t you want the train to go to downtown Tacoma? What investors will invest in downtown Tacoma simply because a light rail train connects some other part of town with SeaTac. That doesn’t make any sense.

  2. The 80 minute trip on Link from Capitol Hill terminating at the Tacoma Dome reminds me of taking a bus from Issaquah to a bus intercept on Mercer Island to catch East Link to Seattle if your destination is SLU that makes Tacoma’s downtown development pale in comparison. Both terminate at a trolley.

    If DSTT2 is scrapped the Pierce Co. subarea would receive back its $275 million it must contribute to DSTT2, which would allow the Link extension to downtown Tacoma, with $75 million to “spare”.

    Of course, if traffic congestion does not return my guess is most will drive the 45 minutes from Seattle to downtown Tacoma, unless they are going to the Dome.

    1. “The 80 minute trip on Link from Capitol Hill terminating at the Tacoma Dome reminds me of taking a bus from Issaquah to a bus intercept on Mercer Island to catch East Link to Seattle if your destination is SLU”

      The relevant comparison is Bellevue to downtown Seattle. Neither Issaquah nor SLU are among the four biggest commercial centers in the region, so we can’t tailor all the infrastructure to this secondary trip. Issqauah Highlands to Westlake on the 554 currently takes 52 minutes on the 554 at noon. Subtract a couple minutes because it’s on a construction reroute on Rainier/Dearborn/Jackson.

      With ST2 Link the 28-minute Issaquah Highlands-Mercer Island segment will be the same. Add 5 minutes average transfer. From Mercer Island to Westlake the 554 takes 24 minutes at noon. Link will take less than that because Westlake-Bellevue will be around 20 minutes. So that more than makes up for the 5 minute wait, and you haven’t lost any time at all. I don’t even know how to calculate the Westlake-SLU segment fairly for comparison, but it will remain as is until ST3 anyway. In any case, SLU is just one destination, not the major one (downtown). And most Issaquah residents live west of the Highlands so they’d have a shorter trip.

      And you’ve been saying that people will telework and most won’t commute to the office at all, so that Issaquah-SLU trip won’t be typical. Instead when they go to Seattle they’ll be going for non-work purposes to downtown, the U-District, Capitol Hill, Seattle Center, the stadiums, etc. All of these are easier to get to on ST2 Link than SLU.

      Except that your Issaquah trip would take far less than that.
      – 28 minutes: Issaquah Highlands to Mercer Island on the 554.
      – 5 minute wait.
      – 15 minutes: Mercer Island to Westlake.

      1. I do think commuting to work from the Issaquah region to downtown Seattle will decline with WFH. Non-peak travel by transit on this same route will be weak. Sporting games yes, although a lot will drive, but very few taking transit from Issaquah to Seattle to shop on Capitol Hill (?) or dine. If they do go they will drive, but why leave Issaquah or the Eastside with all its free parking. You don’t fully understand how people from Issaquah and Sammamish think. You think they think like you do.

        Amazon and satellite businesses in SLU employ a lot of eastsiders. So Link adds a transfer outside the rail station to get to SLU, the same complaint about Tacoma Link terminating at the Dome so many complain of.

        The natural solution for Eastside Amazon workers is to switch to Eastside offices.

        As a result, I think cross lake ridership on East Link will be much lower than what ST has estimated. Especially post pandemic.

        As for total trip time from Issaquah to SLU on East Link I was echoing some of the other comments — mostly by Ross — on the aggravation of transfers and total trip time.

        Obviously Issaquah to Seattle is not as far as Capitol Hill to Tacoma, that by car should take 45 minutes to downtown Tacoma that has plenty of parking.

        But first you have to get to the park and ride in Issaquah because the 554 won’t come to your neighborhood and there is very little feeder bus service (hence the park and ride), wait for the 554, head to MI, disembark the bus with 100 other riders (peak hour), wait for the light at 80th to cross NMW with 100 other commuters, cross, walk to the station entrance with 100 other riders, descend the escalator, and wait for Link that will have 8 minute peak intervals at the very last stop before Seattle so everyone will worry the train is full. Really, who puts a major intercept at the last stop before Seattle?

        Which is why most will just drive to the 1500 park and ride at S. Bellevue that has so much great shopping and dining around it whereas Mercer Island us very suburban, almost rural.

        Then you go to Judkins Park, ID, and Pioneer Square where few will get off, and then to 2nd or 3rd and University with a steep climb out of the station and a steep climb to 4th, 5th or 6th where most of the offices are. I guess you could go to Westlake and double back but that station is seen as sketchy.

        Then if you are going to SLU continue to Westlake, a steep climb out of the station, and then a bus or trolley to SLU.

        And we are talking about Seattle’s downtown core, not Tacoma.

        The real point I suppose is why would any shmuck do this back and forth five days/week? Because they had to, because they wanted a SFH on the Eastside with Eastside schools BECAUSE THEY HAVE KIDS.

        Now they don’t. Their commute goes to zero, except the days they go into the Eastside office during non-peak hours.

        Same for Seattle residents. Why spend your life commuting to the Eastside. WFH or use your employer’s Seattle office, or increasingly get a different job.

        Probably good advice for Tacoma or Lakewood residents commuting to Seattle, if like Bellevue they can get the major employers to open offices there or can WFH. DuPont and Lakewood are very nice places to live, including neighborhoods south, if you don’t have to commute to work, and housing trends are reflecting that.

        Commuting to work on transit is the lowest level of hell, so let’s end it. ST thought these commuters were prisoners with artificially high parking costs, and treated them like prisoners.

        We can figure out how to deal with the loss of farebox recovery from commuters, and right now is a good template of the future. If ST had not inflated ridership estimates so heavily in ST 2 and 3 the gap would not be so large, but to be fair ST didn’t expect a two year pandemic after building a 90 mile commuter spine.

  3. at least 80 minutes from Capitol Hill or Downtown Seattle in order to reach Tacoma, riders must disembark Link and await an untimed streetcar transfer—for an additional 15 to 25 minutes of travel time—all to reach the UW Tacoma campus,

    You can stop right there. T Link currently has 12 minute frequency and will be much better long before “Link” reaches Tacoma. Everything else is a rant from someone that has an opinion and no facts.

    How come my pg 2 submission never got posted? It wasn’t controversial… maybe that’s why? It has no pictures which I replied with when asked. I guess you have to have a D by your name.

    1. Good evening, Bernie, and thank you for the comment.

      Sound Transit’s posted schedule for Tacoma Link shows train headways at 12-minutes and travel times of 10-minutes, end-to-end. Adding a couple of minutes to actually undertake a transfer for a fit and able bodied person, you approach the timeline I put forth—which I firmly stand by.

      I will defer to other readers and ask if my transfer penalty estimation is so awful that it does not warrant reading past the first sentence, as was apparently the case for you. I suspect my math is just fine.

      1. It’s a 15 minute walk to the center of UW campus (less than a mile). You don’t ride end to end if you take the streetcar. It’s 3 minutes travel time with signal prioritization so it’s just as fast or faster than staying on a bus. Your average wait is 6 minutes so it’s 9 minutes to take the streetcar and gets better next year. And the streetcar follows a schedule with layover time at the Dome station. If you’ve taken an ST bus to get there the added 6 min. time to transfer is trivial.

        Thing is, looking at google travel times and roadway access, it seems to make more sense for ST I-5 buses to use 705 and make UW Tacoma their single DT stop instead of the T Dome station. Transfers to Sounder are likely non-existent. Transfers to Amtrak are easy with the level boarding of the streetcar. Everyone else is just that much closer to their destination.

      2. It is hard to define “downtown Tacoma”, but I think it is reasonable to put it between Union Station and Theater District Station (inclusive). This covers the UW as well as most of the big buildings). Google puts the time from the Tacoma Dome Station to those two spots as 4 to 10 minutes. The plans for the Tacoma Dome Link station are still ongoing, but it looks like the walking penalty between the streetcar and light rail will be minimal. I would add 1 minute. Add 6 minute average transfer, which gets us to 11-17 minutes. If the streetcar runs every 3 minutes, then it drops to 8-14.

        It will take longer to get to the actual destination, but that would be true if the light rail was extended. If things go well, and they can manage to run the streetcar as often as Bernie hopes, then an average 8-14 minute time penalty (depending on location) sounds about right. The actual time penalty varies more, of course, depending on how long it takes to wait for the streetcar.

        It really isn’t the time penalty, though, it is the transfer penalty. Even with super frequent, very easy transfers, people don’t like it. Often it is worth it (e. g. to build a better grid) but in this case, nothing is gained (other than saving money) by forcing people to transfer.

      3. Does that walking map take the hill into account? Going up a steep hill cuts the effective distance by half or more. I walked from 9th & Market to Tacoma Ave and it wasn’t exactly easy, and that’s only part of the distance from the station.

      4. Mike, I would definitely interpret any walking map as being for able-bodied individuals. Still, I think the map is generally accurate.

        And while the slopes in the Downtown area do indeed climb, the city was intentionally sited there as the slopes are more moderate there than anywhere else along the City Waterway.

      5. Hopefully they are going to add a SC stop at the entrance to Freighthouse Square. It would be very aggravating to make a 3 min walk to a waiting SC only to have it pull away just before you get there and travel right past where you just came from. A SC stop is cheap with a small footprint and should have doors opening on the Freighthouse Square side. This should be happening ASAP since Sounder and Amtrak will soon be using the station (i.e try to get the disruptive construction done before the line opens).

        The bus transfers should be easy since a bus stop can be nothing more than a sign. But you probably want a shelter, some ticket vending machines and arrival/information screens. I just don’t know where you cram it in with all the rail operations. You really don’t want people crossing tracks. I still think using 705 and UW to intercept freeway bus routes is worth looking at.

        I think SC frequency goes to 10 min when the extension opens. It will likely be stuck there for quite some time because of cost and really ridership demand needs to increase before more frequency is justified. There will be backup rolling stock purchased for the extension. I wonder if peak only frequency could be added by shuttling one tram back and forth from UW to the T Dome in addition to regular service? It’s 6 minutes run time out and back plus time for the operator to change ends. Seems like that would work nicely to alternate with regular service for 5 minute headways.

  4. A little bit off topic: It is a shame that Sounder can’t serve Union Station. This would mean a considerable delay for Lakewood riders, but since so few ride from Lakewood, a worthy penalty, in my book. My guess is the freeway destroyed any chance of that — or at the very least, made it much worse.

    1. The loss of Union Station as a rail passenger terminal is real, but I would suggest that Tacoma has somehow made a bad situation beautiful.

      The City as a consequence now has a new passenger terminal in a great building that actually looks nice, which is located on public and nearly passenger-dedicated tracks, has saved Union Station from the wrecking ball to root a rejuvenated neighborhood, and is no longer prisoner to the Point Defiance freight rail line and its attendant problems.

      Union Station really is a gigantic terminal for a city of only 220,000 people.

  5. The Link Union Station is where I expected it but Tacoma Central station seems to be in the worst possible location. I’d always envisioned it on Pacific Ave, which is already the eastern enge of downtown, but you have it even further east, right against the impassible mainline railroad and highway and shoreline beyond it, with no walkway across them except the 11th Street bridge south of it. So the station is in a corner serving the very edge of downtown, and half the walkshed is missing, and most of downtown Tacoma is four blocks west and up a steep hill from it. Is that enough to be substantially better than Tacoma Dome Station?

    1. Mike, these are good questions, thank you. They were all considered when producing these plans.

      One, the real prize of this proposal is securing rail access to Union Station / UWT and its many transit connections via Puyallup Avenue, which allows for a Link Light Rail turn radius onto Pacific Avenue that exceeds Sound Transit minimum standards. This is because Puyallup Avenue was designed to accommodate a double-track railway, and Pacific Avenue as the principal city avenue hosted two tracks as well. Any Link alignment that utilizes East 25th Street kills such a city center extension because of the turn radius at 25th and Pacific (and it further makes any preposterous mall extension very difficult).

      Two, the Central Tacoma Station is only poorly sited if you think that King Street and Union Stations in Seattle are also poorly sited for their 1910-era Downtown Seattle (i.e., Pioneer Square). In other words, the charge is absolutely not true. Both stations have premier locations in the immediate walkshed of their level-terrain downtowns, and there are no finer station locations for this type of rail infrastructure due to the hills on one side and the coastline on the other. These are coastal cities, so the walkshed issue is a minor problem that our cities need to accept (and certainly did in the past). It is, ultimately, a non-issue.

      Three, one needs to consider these plans in the context of railway operations. Terminating Link trains at UWT requires either a space-wasting pocket track or the blockage of the main line to reorient Link trains northbound to Seattle. This hinders both Link and streetcar operations in the most critical stop of the area rail network. Sending trains north along Pacific Avenue to Central Tacoma Station not only properly captures the economic center of the City of Tacoma, it places within immediate walkshed the Theater District and some of the city’s highest population densities. It provides for a second terminal track to host two trains at-once, and the return loop dramatically streamlines operations through the urban core of the city.

      This is classical and proven railway infrastructure design. How do I know? This design that I propose is mainly a modern refinement of the Puget Sound Electric Railway, otherwise known as the Seattle-Tacoma Interurban, which was a tried-and-true passenger railway designed by Golden Age railroad professionals that efficiently served this city for decades—and which never should have been dismantled. The grid of the city where Central Tacoma Station is sited literally exists to host such railroad infrastructure as it physically developed around the interurban lines. I provided historic maps to better articulate this truth.

      Unless the City was able to fund a tunneling effort somewhere downtown, which it could never afford and really does not need or deserve, rail services to Tacoma do not get much better than what I have proposed and precision-mapped here.

      1. I get what you are saying, but I agree with Mike in that it is less than ideal (even if is traditional). It seems to me like the ideal approach is to simply follow the streetcar. The stop could be on commerce, between 9th and 11th. The train would turn around/layover north of there (much as the streetcar does, but using more room).

        In general I would consider this a replacement for the streetcar. That means that ideally, it ends close to the hospital (on MLK). That is the logical ending of a mass transit line serving Tacoma. That covers the peak employment density, while also enabling a good network. I would not go further, as that gives you diminishing returns. There is nothing wrong with ending a line on a curve. But it is a bad idea to make a loop, as riders will abandon the indirect routing (i. e. potential trips just make no sense). I would end the light rail line at the hospital, and replace the streetcar (and planned extension) with extra bus service.

  6. RossB, thank you for the comment on this little thesis proposal of mine. Please note that when researching and preparing this plan, I understood that if RossB did not buy off on it, the proposal would never have traction and was generally not worthy of review. Your transit planning ideas are astute and very well regarded by me; consider me a fan. Separately, I am not under any illusion that the Tacoma Dome Link Extension will go any farther than 25th & D Streets, so this is just an interesting preliminary engineering, planning, geometry, and mapping study (a rather nerdy hobby of mine).

    With regards to your comments, I explored the prospect of sharing the trackage only to the new Old City Hall Station, but a slew of problems presented themselves that prove such a track-sharing arrangement undesirable. It would be unquestionably worse north of Old City Hall Station through to Hilltop.

    One, Link would directly mix with a greater portion of the streetcar traffic, and, even worse, general vehicular traffic as it leaves the modal-separated Pacific Avenue. This immediately introduces operational problems that I would prefer to see avoided on new Link alignments. Unless Link stopped at all streetcar stops, which would require extensive modifications to each station to meet Sound Transit minimum sizing standards for Link platforms, the varied operations of both Link and the streetcar become complicated, especially as streetcar service frequencies improve. The turnaround of trains for Link is not the equivalent of the streetcar, and the space consideration is substantial and problematic on a constrained right-of-way. Any bunching of Link trains on Commerce Street would be a nightmare for the South Sound bus and rail transit network. Conceivably, any bunching of Link trains beyond Old City Hall Station would take place in modest residential streets, a rail design issue for which I lack a comparable example. The hypothetical addition of a pocket track at either Hilltop or Commerce Street would resolve the bunching issue, especially if the track was sited in a rail “barn” out of the right-of-way, but this becomes a pretty wild rail infrastructure.

    Two, the streetcar network, for better or worse (i.e., worse), already exists, and Link and the streetcar can and should coexist. The thinking behind my plan, as well as the thinking of Golden Age rail planners, is that interurban and streetcar services should directly connect with one another as they do with the CTLE, and yet be complimentary and separate services with distinct mobility goals. If someone is at the stop labeled Central Tacoma in my plans and must travel to the Hilltop hospitals, they may walk the few blocks to Old City Hall Station and catch the streetcar. They may also catch a direct bus line up the hill, the future equivalent of a Rapid Ride G. Or they may take Link to Union Station, cross platform transfer, and then ride the streetcar uphill. A Hilltop to Downtown Tacoma / Seattle trip is even easier, with either a disembarking at Old City Hall, or a simple transfer to Link at Union Station. Et voila, we have a modest rail and bus network functioning as it should.

    Three, the physical improvements would be substantial. Turn radii would need to be improved near Stadium High School and 6th / MLK, which would be prove damaging for these sensitive intersections. Additional curve improvements may be needed. Platforms would need to be either widened and extended for islands, or consume valuable and limited street space for side platforms. The right-of-way widths substantially decrease as you depart Pacific Avenue, a road that is already tight itself with two tracks, which would politically imperil the proposal and hamper the flow of vehicles all along the route. Most damning to the larger track sharing idea is that the construction of the streetcar system is not even complete, and would almost immediately need to be significantly modified. The construction of the streetcar extension has proven to be a very destructive and grinding project, and I doubt there is further appetite to get full Link trains up the hill. The street grid of Tacoma is certainly more “Victorian” than that of Seattle, and the longer blocks here do mean that all modes of transit fight for the same essential arterial, as opposed to simply traveling a parallel block. In Tacoma, that parallel block frequently does not exist.

    Four and finally, your comment related to the “loop” may be unrelated to the literal rail loop of my proposal. Just in case it is, however: I hold much reverence for the rail planners of the past whose system planning continue to function well today. Any criticism of the loop in my proposal, which is a design of the Puget Sound Electrical Railway, and a design that carries through to this day, is undeserved. It reduces the track profile in Pacific Avenue when it is needed most. It allows service to Central Tacoma Station with a full island platform and a critical storage track. It redirects trains northbound without switching, an ingenious solution in constricted environments. The city grid here already is shaped to accommodate such a rail the loop, and the proposal takes advantage of it.

    I struggle to see how a city center rail line gets constructed that is less disruptive and costly than the one proposed here, or more effective at doing what is must: connecting the city and region. Otherwise, tunneling would need to be explored somewhere, or perhaps a removal of a lane on the pointless waterfront interstate, a non-starter at this time.

    1. On second thought: while my review was strictly focused on how we can best and most cost-effectively revise the Tacoma Dome Link Extension, a retooling of Link to replace the streetcar and eliminate certain stops, and in turn relocate to serve the most critical rail stops, does appear technically feasible. A very preliminary review shows that curve modifications are feasible, and a single stop on the wide Division Street could host a station that effectively serves the Stadium / North End neighborhoods and the hospital zone. A pocket track would not be necessary within Division if it featured a crossover before the station, nor is a loop required with the wider right-of-way. The horizontal and vertical profiles of Division would need to be totally revised. Other stops along the line would be Commerce Street and Union Station. Modal separation would be difficult to obtain, if not impossible.

      This would be a very hard sell to effectively abandon the streetcar entirely, and to abandon the brand new Hilltop extension south of Division, whatever the merits of it. I could never foresee it coming to fruition.

      1. my review was strictly focused on how we can best and most cost-effectively revise the Tacoma Dome Link Extension

        Let’s look at cost. I pulled up the ST 2019 performance report which I think is fair since it’s pre-pandemic (is it, how long has this being dragging on?). When you look ay T Link it’s stellar. On time performance, uptime, customer satisfaction (OK, few complains when you have very few riders). Then you look at cost. Not so good… in fact really bad. I took cost per boarding and multiplied by boardings per service hour. Check my math but it came out to ~$490/hr. That’s at least 3 to 4X the cost of running a bus. Then I looked at Link Light Rail. I know it’s more expensive to run than T-Link but the cost per boarding was about the same… call it $5 for round numbers. But the eye opener was boardings per Vehicle Hour were less than T Link (89 vs 98). So less boardings times same cost per boarding you’d think Link Light Rail was cheaper to operate. But, the dirty little secret is they report Link Light Rail cost not per train but per car (if they reported boarding per car it’s way worse). So if it’s on average a three car consist the cost per hour is over $1,300. I don’t know if they pull the same slight of hand with T Link but it doesn’t have the expense of operating the bus tunnel and other expensive stations. I’d think track maintenance cost would be higher and….

        So, both of these numbers seem high. Someone set it straight if they know the actual cost. The long Alice’s Restaurant refrain I’m coming back around to on the guitar is how much is running this extra loop going to cost? With the loop back I’m guessing it has to be longer than the SC. Does 15 minutes sound close? Let’s just say the cost per revenue hour is only $800/hr or $200 per trip. As a SWAG lets say the boardings are 50/hr (split 50/50 with current SC boardings). That’s adding $4.00 to the cost of boarding per trip which is close to doubling the subside to ride Link. Factor in the cost of paying of the construction bonds and ask is this worth it to duplicate existing service.

        I’m open to different ridership numbers but please explain where they are going to materialize from. Clearly I and others believe Light Rail will be a train from Tacoma. I don’t see anyone in Federal Way or even Seatac driving to a P&R to take a train when they can just drive to Tacoma and park for free. What demographic is going to be using this train riding South? Maybe a handful of UW Tacoma students but again, unless they are forced transit riders they’re going to drive.

      2. Bernie, I think you are arguing a point that I never before have made.

        I do not expect there to be any remotely decent ridership on the Tacoma Dome Link Extension. I am not a proponent of sending Link any farther south than Federal Way, nor any farther north than Lynnwood. ST3 should never have been advanced by the public, and certainly not by any transit planning professionals within Sound Transit. These are bad rail projects.

        I think Link services south of Sea-Tac should have been local bus lines and also what I call the SPIRE Regional Rail plan. I am an advocate for SPIRE for all major intercity trips, accomplished at high urban speeds through the separation of freight and passenger rail traffic into Seattle, the modest improvement of passenger curves, electrification, and other basic improvements. Of course, we need effective governance to begin to workout the economic and political entanglements to construct such a smart rail system, and we do not have that. We study maglevs and 220 mile-per-hour TGV fantasies instead.

        Our reality today is that we have freight train rail service that happens to carry people at certain hours of the weekday, and a Link extension that will cost multiple billions to get to Tacoma and yet somehow only reach its industrial edges. Some people are okay with the latter, or pretend that it effectively serves the City of Tacoma. Apparently, City of Tacoma and Pierce County leaders have endorsed this alignment in the past, but, of course, they are not transit planners. Some cry out for a $1.1 billion light rail extension (in 2014-dollars) to access a suburban mall, oblivious of the cost or effort. It is all rather embarrassing.

        I am just trying to get Link to do as it should: serve the urban centers of the Puget Sound and actually *link* communities best served by rail—if they must.

      3. Well, once again we are somewhat in agreement. I hope someone fact checks my numbers because I believe they aren’t 100% correct. I lowered my cost for Link Light Rail to $800/hr based on recollection of what we’ve worked through on this blog in the past. I may have seriously understated the T Link cost which would suck and really support pulling the plug on life support if the extension doesn’t change things dramatically. For sure they need to start charging and I have zero problem with paying if I can stick in my credit card and get a day pass like Portland. Even if it’s $10 like Portland and I’m only going to ride it twice I’m onboard with that; especially since it covered the cost of parking it’s a bargain.

        I’ve looked at your ARCmap and it works. It’s really tight by the courthouse but could be done. I think your costs (given this is an ST project) are low balled as much as you inflated the transfer penalty. Any time you start construction in a old urban area you run into both “known and unknown unknowns”, Utility relocates are huge and fill since this was last a RR could turn this into a nightmare. Property acquisition costs are high and usually involve lots of litigation. Past history suggest cost would be upwards of $300M/mi. which turns this into another billion dollar baby that duplicates existing service. And the only real benefit put forward is a small number of UW Tacoma students get a -1 seat ride? The shifted alignment is inferior to the SC.

        Back around to the cost refrain on the guitar… The SC lines that emanated from Tacoma were the means to electrify neighborhoods along the route. There was guberment subsidy (graft) for sure but the money maker for the RR/SC lines was capturing a utility district. It was a land grab and the power stations were in DT Tacoma.

        FYI, I don’t think subsidies for DT Tacoma are wasted or unjustified. I grew up in Lakewood in the 60s/70s and went to HS in Tacoma in the early 70’s. It’s much better now and the money was well spent and spent where it should be. But the growth rate is stuck at 1%/yr. I just don’t see the game changer that is going to increase this by an order of magnitude. If anything, the recent changes from Covid make Pierce seem like even more of a commuter-ville where you get way more bang for the buck buying a house.

        Pierce has at least 10 years to contemplate and reassess. Link Light Rail is a County investment not a Tacoma investment. As such it needs to address the #1 employer, JBLM and the #1 private employer Multicare/Tacoma Gen. Your plan ignores one and effectively precludes JBLM.

      4. >> Clearly I and others believe Light Rail will be a train from Tacoma.

        Right, the problem is, you will get very few of those riders, because there is no place for those riders to go to. The biggest problem is proximity. The farther you are, the less likely someone is to make a trip. For example, plenty of people travel from Rainier Beach to Beacon Hill. Very few will travel to Beacon Hill from Tacoma. It is simply too far.

        The nearest significant destination to Tacoma is Highline College, which isn’t likely to be much of a draw for Tacoma residents, let alone the rest of the line. After that you have SeaTac, which is greatly exaggerated as a destination (I’m prepared to argue this point if you want). That basically leaves you with downtown Seattle. The problem with downtown, of course, is that Link will take too long. Sounder is significantly faster, and in the middle of the day, the buses are significantly faster than Link.

        You just aren’t to get that many riders treating Tacoma as a bedroom community of Seattle. The only shot is to treat Tacoma as a destination. Is this overkill? Absolutely — but that is the nature of Tacoma Dome Link. It makes way more sense to end the light rail in Federal Way, and run buses to Tacoma (along with Sounder). But since Link is already scheduled to go to the Tacoma Dome, the relatively small investment to connect it to downtown is worth it.

        Put it this way. As Link goes extends outward, it will likely have *lower* ridership per mile. This in itself is shocking, and very bad. It means that despite the enormous investment in capital projects, the system requires more operational investment per rider than before! It means it will be very difficult to pay for decent frequencies on the train, let alone express buses.

        The relatively small extension to downtown would actually reverse that trend. Not enough to justify the overall expense of sending light rail to Tacoma, but you would at least get more riders per hour of operation. The light rail is going to go all the way to Tacoma — you might as well milk as much out of it as possible.

        I don’t see anyone in Federal Way or even Seatac driving to a P&R to take a train when they can just drive to Tacoma and park for free.

        The assumption is that you will have at least a few apartments close to the various South Sound stations. There will also be plenty of feeder buses, so that some riders won’t have to drive at all. Then there is traffic, of course. While the reverse commute to Tacoma is not as bad as going the other direction, it can still be an issue.

        To be clear, I’m not delusional. I know that extending the light rail to downtown Tacoma won’t result in tens of thousands of people heading there. But for the relatively small amount of money outlined in this proposal, it would result in a significant increase in ridership, making it worth the money.

      5. @RossB

        for the relatively small amount of money outlined in this proposal, it would result in a significant increase in ridership, making it worth the money.

        We’re are in total agreement until the conclusion. I tried to post numbers and they may be way off but it sure doesn’t look like a ” for the relatively small amount of money”. Both the operating cost and the capital investment seem like doubling down on stupid. Nobody has been able to propose where this “significant increase in ridership” is coming from because it doesn’t exist.

        We all seem to have come to the conclusion that if you look at the cost vs benefit Link Light Rail should never burden Pierce subarea with its exorbitant cost. (both capital & operational) .The political cost is people in Pierce voted base on the idea they’d get a 25 minute ride to SEA. Maybe you can do that with a bus but that won’t get the votes to pass a huge tax increase. So it’s a sale’s job.

        One thing I can’t dispute is there is a lot of this that can be done for a lot less money and possibly better with buses than rail (pick your flavor). Why even continue the discussion that light rail should add the cost of looping DT. If the SC doesn’t work then this is doubling down on stupid.

      6. Bernie, my very crude cost estimate is based entirely upon the current expense per mile of the Hilltop Streetcar Extension, which is a very similar project to what is proposed here. The costs are very comparable.

        That project is now something like $105 million per mile, and that figure factors in some pretty awful and unexpected utility relocation costs. This project requires only approximately 1.75 miles of new rail, a decent portion of which is of single-track. While single track sections are not dramatically cheaper than double track sections, they do have utility relocation, traffic engineering, materials, and alignment implications that can noticeably reduce costs. On that note, as you zoom-in on my GIS map, you will see that I considered and incorporated stormwater and sewer systems for this alignment. At least for these gravity utilities, there is a good reason to hope that the utility relocation could be modest. Certainly, other utilities will need to be identified and relocated to some extent, but that is the nature of the beast. As written in my piece, I trust that my alignment improvements near the Puyallup River could offset these expenditures to some degree, if not entirely. Good comment, thank you for it.

        With regards to turn radii downtown, they all meet the 100-foot minimums imposed by Sound Transit for Link operations in the streets. The 10th and ‘A’ Street curve is a little tight against the sidewalk there, but who cares? At worst, Sound Transit could condemn the garbage low-rise building and sell the land for cheap to a developer for an apartment tower.

      7. Nobody has been able to propose where this “significant increase in ridership” is coming from because it doesn’t exist.

        That is simply not true. It is pretty obvious where it will be coming from: the stations to the north. A little bit from each station, essentially. Ending at the Tacoma Dome just doesn’t make sense. It would be like ending East Link at South Bellevue Station. You would get plenty of riders driving and parking there, to get to downtown Seattle. You would have plenty of commuter buses from the east side shuttling people to downtown Seattle. But you would get very little in the way of reverse commuters, and you leave Metro with a very bad network. Either they send additional buses to South Bellevue — which is essentially nowhere — or they ignore it, and keep sending buses to the center of the area (downtown Bellevue).

        Of course the analogy is flawed, because unlike Bellevue, Tacoma will never have the ridership to justify light rail. I think we are all in agreement there. But the point Troy and I have made from the beginning is if you are going to spend the money anyway, then do it right. Go to downtown Tacoma, and cross your fingers, and hope for the best. Maybe some graduate of UW Tacoma falls in love with the city, and decides to build the next big thing there. Or maybe MultiCare continues to grow, and decides to build a bigger office downtown (like Kaiser Permanente in Oakland). At the very least, this enormous subsidy is actually serving the part of Tacoma it should serve — downtown.

        Put it another way. Imagine we were talking about buses. In this case, capital costs aren’t an issue — it is largely operational costs. Would you run a bus from the north and stop at the Tacoma Dome? Of course not. There are half a dozen Pierce Transit buses that serve the Tacoma Dome. Every single one also served downtown Tacoma. It is far more cost effective to just keep going.

        Then there is the overall network. Light rail to the Tacoma Dome does practically nothing for Pierce County. You can’t truncate to save money, because it doesn’t actually go anywhere. Trips involving Link are often three-seat affairs, meaning they just won’t happen. For example, let’s say I live by Bates Technical College (at 12th and Yakima) pretty much in the middle of the highest density census block in Tacoma. I take a job at the casino, not that far away. The light rail is useless to me, even though it would get me very close to my job. I’m not going to take a bus, then a streetcar, then the light rail. I transfer to the 41. Or what if I’m doing the reverse. What if I live on Portland Avenue, and want to get to the community college. Again, the light rail is useless. These trips aren’t even to or from downtown Tacoma, but the failure of the light rail to go downtown dramatically limits the network value of it. The abrupt, nonsensical ending of the light rail line also hurts bus routes outside of Pierce County. Metro is going to run buses to Federal Way. If those riders can take Link directly to downtown Tacoma, then it will get additional riders, and thus run more often. If those riders have to take the 500 (or take the light rail and transfer) then they won’t.

        Maybe it isn’t worth the capital costs, but surface rail is usually cheap, especially if it is piggy-backing on existing rail. You basically have surface station costs, which are pretty cheap. There might be other issues, sure, but that is the nature of planning. If it the costs are too high, then forget about it.

        But at this point, the plan is stupid. It doesn’t make sense to end the light rail at the Dome, nor does it make sense to spend a fortune sending it to the mall. Of course the smart thing to do is end the light rail at Federal Way, and run buses there. But that isn’t going to happen — too many powerful people badly want light rail (and that’s what they’ll get — bad light rail). That being the case, the least we can do is make the rail a little better. At least put a little lipstick on this pig.

  7. On a previous comment I mentioned “looping”, and this may have lead to some confusion. I was referencing the streetcar plans, which involve looping around. In general, routes that involve looping have fewer riders. To quote Jarrett Walker (

    All other things being equal, long, straight routes perform better than short, squiggly and looping ones.

    The streetcar plan is both short and loopy. Even with the expansion, there won’t be that many potential trips — in part because of the looping. It isn’t nearly as bad as the Seattle streetcar plans, but it is still flawed for that reason.

    In contrast — and what I was getting at — was that a light rail extension to Tacoma General doesn’t have that problem. The light rail is long, and an extension to Tacoma General would not be loopy. Every combination of trips is plausible. A rider would never feel like the train is taking an indirect route, or that there are better options between stops.

    This is entirely different than the loop taken by the train at the end of a line. From a user standpoint, that is largely irrelevant (an implementation detail, if you will).

    Getting back to the streetcar, I would replace it with a Link extension to the hospital. This would leave MLK without a streetcar. This problem is easily solved with improved bus service. It may turn out that a bus route becomes loopy, but this is less of a problem for a couple reasons. First, it is cheaper to run the bus. Second, the loopy part is likely to be a smaller proportion of the route. More than anything, there is just a lot more flexibility when it comes to achieving that goal. For example, the simplest change would be to have the 57 loop around like so and then run it a lot more often. But it could also be part of a much bigger restructure. If Tacoma keeps growing, and the buses become more frequent, then you can build more of a grid, which means a bus along MLK could keep going up north (which means no looping at all). In contrast, rail infrastructure is essentially permanent — you better get it right. I’m not convinced they did with the Tacoma streetcar — because it is loopy.

  8. I applaud you for your effort, Troy! I’ve long felt that the ST3 planning process in Pierce was lacking. There should be a countywide long-distance system envisioned before TDLE was defined. The result is three Pierce stations with only casinos, an area, a car museum and some very low density commercial uses. These additional stations appear to have more “there” there.

    As others have mentioned, it’s not just the station area but the possible trips on the line that matters. This extension would give reasons to put more development at the currently planned Line 1 stations. I also could see extensive TOD at the Federal Way stations. That’s all on top of SeaTac access.

    The convenience of staying on the light rail train is powerful, but would another efficient technology work? A driverless shuttle? A rubber tired system? A câble-pulled system? A gondola (somewhat facetiously asking)? It already has Tacoma Link and buses.

    One curious benefit to this is adjacency to Puget Sound. Should a ferry terminal or cruise ship terminal be added to this concept?

    A final comment is that even if Tacoma Mall is chosen for a Line 1 extension, this line could pair off another corridor like the Kirkland-Issaquah Link line. In fact, Line 1 is demandingly long for a driver, so a different line serving Tacoma Mall (ultimately JBLM and maybe somewhere to the East like Puyallup, Auburn or Kent) would seem strategic as a system investment.

  9. I agree with Ross. A toy train is pretty pointless if a real train runs that line.

    And that has nothing to do with living 2 blocks from Tacoma General. I wouldn’t be happy about having a one seat ride to the entire puget sound on my doorstep. Not at all.

  10. There’s no especially good reason to use dual voltage equipment on this line.

    Increase the voltage on the lines to 1,500, and install new static converters on the streetcars. There’s not that many of them. Very little on these cars operates directly from line voltage.

    It is not especially unusual to change the nominal overhead voltage on a line, and the step from 750 to 1,500 isn’t that big when you consider line variability already requires insulation well above the nominal rating.

    1. Could the Tacoma Link line stop at the same boarding platforms or use the same tracks as Line 1 Link? I wonder if the engineering challenges are too great or not. I would expect some retrofitting and additional tracks would be needed but I’m not sure if track compatibility is too difficult to achieve to share tracks and platforms.

      A related question is whether Tacoma Link could ever be served by Line 1 vehicles. If so, the South OMF could be used instead of a separate Tacoma OMF.

      1. The Tacoma cars are about 9 inches narrower than Link cars. They would need bridge plates on the smaller cars.

      2. No way Link light rail cars would make the turns on T Link. And even if they could they would have to move some of the street features which the T Link cars miss by inches. I don’t know if the T Link tracks were built to carry the weight of a Link light rail vehicle. I suspect not since construction costs seem way lower.

      3. I could see your point, Bernie.

        I do wonder about doing the opposite too: T-Link cars on Line 1 tracks. What would that take?

        I’m not advocating for it. I’m merely wondering if it’s technically possible with motivations.

      4. Link cars can make extremely tight turns. See the existing O&M shop in SODO. There will be overhang, so they might have to take some parts of the street.

        I think the biggest problem will be the overhead wires. They’ve got center poles holding the wires up, and at the very least to accommodate wider cars you’d need to replace those with line side poles and hang the wires from outside the edge of the track.

        The Skoda cars are listed as 96 7⁄8 in wide. Link cars are 104 1/3 inch wide.

        So, you’d only need about 4 inches on each side. However, I don’t think there is that much to spare, without changing the location of the center wire support poles.

        However, by the time Link gets to Tacoma, it will be time to replace the Skoda cars anyway, so maybe at that time just making everything the same width should be explored. Car designs are made to fit an assortment of conditions, and the Skoda 10T design used for Tacoma is not something that is commonly used anywhere. It’s simply too small for most cities operating rail transit lines.

        Alstom and Siemens both offer 100% low floor cars that are available in a number of different widths, and which could operate on both Link and TLink lines over the relevant areas of Tacoma.

      5. Then you have to rebuild all the existing T Link stations; some of which haven’t even opened yet. Link light rail ain’t going to serve the hospital extension ever. Link light rail south of SEA is commuter rail. North of the U District it’s commuter rail. If Tacoma needed light rail in it’s DT then Link light rail would have started there and maybe tied into Central Link. T Link is/was overkill but it’s there and the extension needs to prove it’s worth.

        Last word was Link extension to Tacoma was a Tier 1 project pushed out to at least 2033. in ST speak that’s at least two decades from now. Optimize the extension to the T-Dome (which I think at least postpones any Fife station(s) and call it good. No way putting it on Puyallup Ave makes sense as that misses any connection with Amtrak & Sounder which can’t be moved.

      6. Rebuilding the T Link stations for cars 4 inches wider on each side is a matter of taking a concrete cutter and chopping out a bit of the platform. It’s not like we’re talking about making things two feet wider.

        Sure, parts of T Link will have to continue with shorter, single car trains. But wider cars are available to operate that part of the line and still be compatible with the rest of Link.

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