ST3 passed enthusiastically in the Seattle region because voters were excited to get mobility improvements. However, Sound Transit has had trouble coming up with compelling designs to deliver on this promise. To address this problem, we should revisit some of the design assumptions.
Vancouver’s SkyTrain and Montreal’s REM took far less time to design and construct. We can learn from them and adopt automated train technology. If Sound Transit would interline trains in the existing tunnel and keep the Ballard to Westlake line separate, the new line could use different technology.
Automated Light Metro
To accommodate the current 4-car trains a Link station has to be straight and level for 600 feet, 400 for the station and 200 for its approaches. This makes station placement challenging, in particular at grade, as it is more than a block. At the end of a line you also have to provide another 400 feet for a crossover before the station and another 400 feet for a tail track for a total of 1400 feet of straight track.
With automated trains you can get the same capacity by running trains of half the length at twice the frequency. As you don’t need a cab, the trains still provide greater capacity. Shorter trains mean that the station is much easier to site. It requires less land acquisition and fewer utility relocations leading to cheaper and faster construction. In some cases the station could straddle the intersection without impacting existing adjacent buildings.
As tunneling has become more automated, tunneling cost is mostly driven by station construction. If the station footprint is smaller, the construction time, cost and carbon footprint become smaller, too.
As you don’t have to accommodate a driver switch, you can pull into and out of the station at the end of the line far more quickly which may even allow you to build single-track end stations. In general, it makes branching into stub lines much easier.
Automated trains allow for longer operating hours, too. It allowed Copenhagen to provide 24X7 operations.
Mode Selection History
In 2014 Sound Transit studied various transit technologies with a focus on the Tacoma to Everett spine. They compared various rail, bus and other technologies like monorail, Maglev, people movers, gondolas and automated trains. They eliminated some from consideration as they could not meet the needs of regional transit. Others, like Maglev and automated trains, were eliminated because they require full grade separation. However, after the at-grade related issues in Rainier Valley, Sound Transit has focused on building grade-separate transit. We should revisit this decision given the report emphasized that they are advantageous in different circumstances.
Operations and Maintenance Facility
One disadvantage of operating a separate line is the fact that you need a separate OMF, to “park” the trains. If you run trains through the night (like they do in New York) you may not need parking facilities for all train sets. With automated trains you may even store some along the route, for example in a tunnel segment. But you still need facilities to clean and maintain the trains. There is a property west of the BNSF railyard which may work or you could build it on the Armory site.
Both Metro and Sound Transit currently have trouble hiring enough drivers. If we expand our transit network, we will need more drivers as well as maintenance and other personnel. Not having to worry about drivers for this line may ease the burden somewhat, but operating more hours may also increase the need for other staff.
The quickest way to build a separate line would be to use the existing preferred alignment, scale down the stations and start construction. Since it would not involve downtown tunnel construction, construction could start much sooner. With the station footprint much smaller, it might also be useful to revisit some other options such as going all-elevated or at least increasing the elevated portion of the line.
Regardless of the alignment, automated trains would allow for more frequent trains, longer operating hours, more flexibility with station placement as well as a reduction in construction costs, complexity, and associated disruption.
249 Replies to “The case for Automated Light Metro Technology for Ballard and South Lake Union”
This would be a Ballard-Westlake line, with all passengers transferring at Westlake? Or would it keep the second tunnel, or interline trains in the first tunnel? What would the lines be? I’m not sure about mixing automated and manual trains in the same tunnel. The alternative would be to automate the entire Link system, and that would cost a huge amount to replace all the trains or retrofit them and add whatever track features are needed.
I think Martin is proposing a stub line, with all passengers transferring at Westlake, though one would hope it would be built with an extension south through First Hill in mind.
I’m skeptical that a full MF can be squeezed into Interbay, but Martin is certainly correct that fewer trains need be parked at night with automated systems. Many will just keep running. I would include a small stand-up cab in each car for operator-controlled running on the main stem.
Overall his ideas are sound and likely would make Ballard-Westlake more affordable and a better rider experience.
Addendum, a properly designed Ballard terminal should be designed to accommodate a future Ballard-UW line through Fremont using the same techno,ogy.
By being a stub, the number of vehicles needed is quite small, so the MF may be able to fit. The additional throughput through downtown will be provided by interlining West Seattle (and the expanded fleet through OMF-S), which allows for the initial stub to dump riders at Westlake.
And the south end could be extended east to First Hill in a future vote, thus implementing the “Metro 8” concept. It would inherit Uptown from the Ballard segment.
Does the Monorail have an OMF, or how is it maintained? Does it park on the track at night?
No, I think the monorail vehicle work occurs on the track itself. I’ve read that some of the replacement parts are made by the Seattle Opera’s props department, because they are literally custom and one-off pieces.
A large line (to First Hill, UW, etc.) probably would need a bigger OMF, but for Ballard-UW it might be able to get away with less than a dozen vehicles in constant circulation, running more like an airport circulator.
Or, vehicles could be designed to be simply trucked from Interbay to elsewhere for larger maintenance work. The attached OMF is needed to daily & weekly work.
Yes to First Hill after Westlake. First Hill was part of the original Sound Move back in 1996 that created ST. The scaled down stations that are possible with automated line are easier to site. A different approach could mean a shallower station than anything previously considered for First Hill.
Doesn’t it seem odd that folks above ground in SLU are doing automated deliveries by drone today, while Sound Transit is planning to rely on human drivers on a secured, exclusive right of way opening in 2039? All that cab space would not be needed with an automated line, helping to shrink the trains, the stations, and the budgets, but not the capacity of the system.
Tom, now that a ship canal tunnel seems to be given, it may also be interesting to reconsider a Westlake/Fremont/Ballard alignment rather than Interbay. That would allow for a branch towards UW and/or a branch to Lower Queen Anne along Mercer St.
Martin, yes, I mooted a “Y” line like that several years ago (Ballard-Fremont-UW and Ballard-Fremont-Downtown). Nobody listened, but they obviously listen to you, so maybe.
On that topic, did you notice that Mike excitedly suggested “And the south end could be extended south to First Hill” three comments after I had made my initial caution about the station configuration in order to consider that very thing. Both he and Ross seem to believe they are the only people who come up with useful new ideas. Thank you for not being like them.
So far as the Fremont option, unless it makes the Option D snake curve, it does skip Lower Queen Anne, but done right it would serve a much bigger rideshed. One station is probably not enough ridership to justify a tunneled branch to LQA.
Tom, not sure that was intentional. Sometimes I miss refreshing before responding, I do hope everybody on this blog responds with an open inclusive mind.
Yes, a Fremont line would not directly serve Lower Queen Anne and Seattle Center. I do think a branch would be justified, in particular if you go elevated. Again, that’s much easier with an automated system.
You suggested stacking the tracks to simplify branching, but an automated system may be smart enough to allow crossing the tracks, though that would reduce line capacity somewhat.
It is certainly true that an automated system could adjust speeds to minimize conflicts, making level crossings less of an issue. But is LQA that great on it’s own? Doubtful. Maybe LQA plus Smith Cove and a station around Fourth North as well. The southern face of Queen Anne Hill is very desirable.
But in reference to this mooted junction, suddenly we’re in the air over Westlake at Mercer? How did we get there?
The existing tunnel isn’t very deep (YAY!), but it is a tunnel. It’s more than four stories from the platforms to the Monorail station. So “No, this won’t have an elevated station at Westlake.”
The Monorail is of sufficiently limited usefulness that it’s OK to require that much of a level change between modes. It wouldn’t be OK for a Ballard Stub which served SLU, Dexter, Fremont, “Frelard”/West Woodland and Ballard to force such a vertical change. That’s one of the group’s gripes about DSTT2 as designed.
And if the line’s in a tunnel at Westlake, it will be in a tunnel all the way past Fremont. The Coast Guard says that a train can’t cross the Ship Canal on a bridge unless it’s as high as the Aurora Bridge, and that simply ain’t gonna happen.
Now maybe it can go elevated somewhere around Third NW, but that’s a very tricky — and ugly — transition to build. And an automated train can’t run on the surface without massive fencing, if only because of the “hot” third rail. So it would probably be tunnel all the way to Ballard.
By the way, the branch to UW could probably be largely single-tracked east of Fremont except at stations. Again, automation can adjust speeds to avoid full stops. Passengers tend not to notice slow-downs, but certainly do notice full stops between stations.
Both he and Ross seem to believe they are the only people who come up with useful new ideas.
No, but you seem obsessed with the idea that you thought of it first. What do you want, a gold star?
There is nothing in my comments (or Mike’s) that suggests that either one of us came up with these ideas first. Nothing. Look, this ain’t rocket science. Most of these ideas are fairly obvious. The train could keep going from Westlake towards First Hill. Of course it could. Frank just filled in the blanks, with excellent stations and a great map: https://seattletransitblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/WSBLE-proposed-2-1-1536×1185.png. Is it the only option? Of course not.
Same with the so called “Metro 8”. Was that you? I don’t think so, but who cares? Besides, it isn’t even obvious where it should go (I fiddled around with several maps, and there are lots of options). Or how about a new bus tunnel for West Seattle and Ballard. I’m not sure who thought of that first. I think it was d. p.. So what? He didn’t try to grab credit — if anything, he downplayed it. But other folks jumped on the idea, and next thing you know it became a movement (supported by Seattle Subway, believe it or not). And yes, at some point there was push for a station at First Hill with that idea. The same thing is true with the plans for a new “downtown tunnel”. The second there was talk of another tunnel, people mentioned First Hill. Who was first? Who cares?
Same thing with sharing the tunnel. Lots of people proposed that as a cost shaving measure (well before we realized the new stations and transfers would be terrible). Curving around to serve the UW; approaching a station at 20th in Ballard from the east (or the west); interlining a Ballard spur at the UW; these are all ideas various people have had, and no one but you obsesses about who had them first.
Just get over it. If you really did come up with an idea that people are now finally accepting, than I suggest two things. Pat yourself on the back and ask yourself why it took people so long. The answer to that second question may lie in your numerous, needlessly confrontational comments, like this last one.
Oh, and just so you know, the “Y” idea goes way back. It was mentioned on this blog back in 2013, and probably well before then. Were you even on the blog then? I’m looking at the comment — https://seattletransitblog.com/2013/12/06/sound-transit-refines-ballard-options/#comment-392850, and I don’t see your name anywhere.
By being a stub, the number of vehicles needed is quite small
Yes, absolutely. It takes 15 minutes (according to ST) to go from Westlake to Ballard. That means a half hour round trip (roughly). At five minute headways, that is six trains. At three minute headways that is ten. These are also smaller trains (basically just two Link-size train cars). So even with trains running every three minutes (hurray!) you have 20 train cars. Throw in some spares, and that still isn’t a huge amount of space. In contrast, the north OMF is designed to handle 152 train cars, while the south can handle 108.
As Martin pointed out, you really don’t need to have space for all of them, since the trains are automated. You just need space to clean them, fix them, and take them off line if they are broken. A simple second track (with room for a couple trains) might be enough.
An extension to the UW would also be short. Same with First Hill.
“is LQA that great on it’s own?”
Seattle Center is there. Thousands of people go to a single event there, and there are sometimes several simultaneous events, and people going to the Science Center. The Link station is part of the transportation plan for bringing the Kraken and a future basketball team to the Coliseum.
It used to take me half an hour to get from King Street Station to Seattle Center on the 33. Not sure what it is now, but a light rail station that allowed quick, easy transfers from all the bus routes in that area might reduce travel times and crowding on the buses from the north and west.
The area west of the Interbay yard is quite large and made up of a vast parking area that sits vacant most of the time (it fills up when cruise ships have just arrived or are getting ready to leave). If you were willing to build this OMF elevated like Chicago CTA facilities you wouldn’t need to sacrifice much parking to have a facility almost the size of the one in SoDo.
Mike, sorry, but four hours a week of crush loading thirty weeks a year do not a good transit line make. If you can do it on the cheap — at grade with little traffic impact — YES! But if it requires a tunnel and underground station, it isn’t worth it.
Look, LQA is largely “built-out”. Up the hill a ways there is still opportunity, but it’s very expensive to aggregate enough land to build something big.
Spend 1/10 as much refurbishing the Monorail to be two full lines and you can meet the need. Anyway, don’t you think a lot of fans would simply walk to and from a station at Mercer and Republican or Mercer?
The Metro Eight wasn’t my idea, it was proposed by Seattle Subway, but I believe I was first to argue moving it west from 23rd to the Broadway/Boren corridor about six years ago. You all dissed the idea then because it wasn’t the “party line”. Now that Frank and AJ have made similar proposals, it has the imprimatur.
I used a different name then but got sick of all the “in crowd” ganging up then so I quit for a while and then changed my name and email.
You thought that at first but I did not “fess up”.
So far as this obvious example of “gang thought”, it’s right at the top of this thread. I replied to Martin saying “YAY!” but with a caution about remembering to plan for possible expansion south. Martin and I have been talking about the stub idea for a few days, but I’ve been yammering on about it as an option if what I honestly think is the only possible diversion northbound occurred to me after the discussion about the tubes entering USSS at a non-perpendicular angle is not possible. And of course I’m not the first or only person to have mooypted it. We had a big argument about diversions about a year ago and some of us talked about it then, but then Jonathan had his very good out-of-the-box idea of the dogbone one-way merge/diversion.
Anyway, Mike was replying not to Martin’s comment but my reply. So he had to have read at least a bit of it where it says “be careful not to paint ourselves into a corner” and cut off possible expansion to First Hill. It would have been easy to do like Jonathan and say “Yes to First Hill after Westlake” or “I agree”. Whatever.
So, I’m sick of it again, and I’m out of email addresses.
I hope you can get ST to see the light but I doubt you will.
The right solution has been reached: RV through the big tunnel to Northgate and a better reversal system there, and First Hill to Ballard via Westlake (two stations) one under the dense part of Dexter, one in Fremont, one in Frelard and two in Downtown Ballard at 14th and Leary and 20th and Market, using automated third-rail powered Light Metro technology followed by a branch from Fremont to the U District and on to a station just west of Montlake at 44th with grade separated pedestrian access to U Village.
Glenn says an MF for all that will fit west of InterBase by elevating it, so that problem is solved.
The branch to West Seattle is a political football and, so, is probably inevitable, but likely to be a permanent emarrassment.
“Mike was replying not to Martin’s comment but my reply.”
I was replying to my own comment, adding something I’d thought about last week but just remembered then. I’d already read through the page and had seen your mention of First Hill but it was in the back of my mind and then I couldn’t remember whether there had been a comment about a Ballard-Metro8 line and I couldn’t read all the comments again to see. I never claimed to have invented the idea, I just didn’t want it to get lost. Sorry if that put you out.
The Metro Eight wasn’t my idea, it was proposed by Seattle Subway,
Maybe, back when Ben Schiendelman was in charge. He had a ton of different lines on a Seattle map (unlike now, when it is mostly a regional proposal). Neither proposal is realistic — the current crew imagines we are L. A., while Ben imagined we were Paris. Anyway, it wasn’t until more recently that folks rallied around the idea that a “Metro 8” should be a priority. The idea was likely first presented here. It could have been Ben, as he was was a regular contributor. This blog was bigger in relation to the Urbanist and Seattle Subway.
but I believe I was first to argue moving it west from 23rd to the Broadway/Boren corridor about six years ago.
Oh come on. Look, I made maps years ago that had several different variations, including a “First Hill” layer. I’m not saying I was first either. It is as if someone says you want to automate the trains and they go “yeah, and then you could run them more often!”. Everyone was thinking it. It is rather obvious. There is no reason to follow the actual Metro 8 line. That is silly. Where to make the curve is where it gets interesting. Broad turns are generally better, but a tighter curve picks up First Hill. Trade-offs.
If you send the Ballard line to Westlake, it is even more obvious. Where else would you go? The key here is to reject the idea that the new tunnel adds value. It doesn’t. Once you accept that, everything (in the short and long term) falls into place.
Ross, you did not understand the “Y idea”. In those five options the ST considered there is no mention of branching to the U-district. What I said was that IF Martin’s idea of going through Dexter, Fremont, and Frelard on the way to Ballard makes sense, having a tilted “Y” with the “base” in Ballard makes sense. It’s kind of like a very long tail track version of what you and Nathan were discussing for a Ballard in and out stub with a branch to UW. But the in and out stub is considerably longer and the line to UW would be its own line in order to have independent headways.
I think folks getting on in Wallingford or along Stone Way would really prefer to use a quick transfer at Fremont to continue downtown to riding all the way to 20th Northwest and reversing back to very close to their starting point.
Note that this is ONLY in the case that going through Fremont is seen to be preferable. Given the employment flop at Expedia and ST’s “value engineering” either Dravus or Smith Cove away, doesn’t it make sense to step back and ask if Fremont isn’t wiser? And if the answer is “Yes”, and the solution is automated, then it makes a lot of sense to make a Ballard-U Village branch just east of the Fremont station.
Since LQA would be seriously disappointed and it IS a genuinely dense and high-transit use neighborhood, perhaps gussying up and extending the Monorail to handle both side of Seattle Center and LQA could be included.
Martin’s idea of a stub that eventually becomes the Metro Eight is worth a look as well. But the Monorail extension would be lots cheaper.
Money is going to become very important quite soon. Completing 35% of the trackage required for a cross-town service seems like a good forward-looking thing to do. Of course, the bellmouths have to be dug when the first tube is excavated.
In those five options the ST considered there is no mention of branching to the U-district.
No, but there was plenty of discussion outside of that. Look at the comments I referenced. Someone writes about how they talked to ST about it, and if the train followed the Westlake/Fremont route to Ballard, it couldn’t branch to the UW. But then someone noted that ST was talking about branching from Ballard to UW, not downtown to UW. Basically they felt like they couldn’t make the really tight turn to go from Ballard to Fremont to UW that way. (I hope that description makes sense.) In other words, a sideways “Y”, with trains from Ballard going to the UW and downtown via Fremont was impossible. However a right-side-up “Y”, with trains from downtown going to Ballard and the UW via Fremont would be possible. Funny thing about that idea — it relieves pressure on the most congested part of our system. Thus if we really need a “relief line”, that would be it. Imagine the Fremont station with a center platform, so reverse direction transfers are easy. Now imagine the trains are running every three minutes (since they are small and automated). Better yet, time them so that a transfer to get from UW to Ballard (or Ballard to UW) would involve waiting only a few seconds.
Anyway, as far branching the other way, I agree. It definitely has merit. It wasn’t possible with the plans ST drew up, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be possible with some modification. If nothing else, you could split west of Fremont (which may be what you are thinking). But I could also see the Fremont station being pushed a bit north, allowing enough room for the turn to occur after the station. A lot depends on how the line even gets to Fremont and Ballard. ST’s plans were mostly on the surface. Underground changes everything.
It is interesting how we can easily come up with ideas that are simply better than what ST ended up with, let alone how this is evolving. There are some good things to the Ballard Line, unlike the other ST3 lines. It connects to Uptown, and gives Magnolia a connection to Link, so that it can send its buses to the UW. But that’s about it. It spends most of its time between the water and a greenbelt. A long term extension just keeps going north, which is nice, but doesn’t really change much. In contrast, if you go through Fremont, you can then connect Fremont with the UW (either by branching, or a completely separate line). That changes the whole dynamic north of the ship canal. It means that everyone can get to the UW, Ballard or Fremont quite easily. It complements the fast north-south buses. Ballard to downtown becomes essentially a large down payment on Ballard to the UW.
Thanks for the clarification about ST’s viewpoint. I certainly missed that and believe I would have remembered it had I read it, because I thought the general idea of a Y line (using the “Snake” alignment under QAH) was the best solution.
Depending on where in Fremont the station was — and there’s definitely more activity east of the bridge — it might indeed be a sharp turn to go south and your summary of the pros and cons is an excellent and comprehensive itemization. The currently proposed route is clearly better for Lower Queen Anne, but damn, as you say, that is a lot of track by a train yard. Especially if ST axes one of the two already fairly feeble stations it approaches West Seattle futility.
If you put the Dexter Station about Garfield it could descend enough before the Dexter curve to get under building foundations there and basically go straight north (still descending) to under Lake Union and then curve to the west. That might solve the station curve problem. Yes, I know they wouldn’t be excited about boring under the lake, but TBM’s are basically very sophisticated “shields”…. [that don’t require pressurized working environments, YAY!]
It seems to me that the best station site for South Lake Union is, as Martin suggested, as close to Republican and Mercer as it could be. And I’d like to moot a possible way to leverage one of his ideas. He has suggested a Queen Anne Stub but I kind of pooh-poohed it as not having much traffic. BUT, what about emulating the Second Avenue Subway section which has a planned-to-be-“temporary” connection to the Sixth Avenue line from Queens to get downtown now? It is planned that eventually trains will go on south via the extension down Second.
Something similar could be done for Lower Queen Anne. You could have a single-track connection with a cross-over to access it from the northbound track just south of the Mercer and Republican Station and a sharp level change in a fairly short-radius curve into a single-track Queen Anne Stub that’s deeper or shallower than the north-south line. It would have two or better three stations (Third North, Queen Anne and Expedia) served on the one track. Construct the station vaults with two tracks, one on each side of the platform. You might make the vault at Queen Anne Avenue long enough to allow cross-overs at each end to allow the westbound trains to serve the north side of the platform. That would provide a meeting location for somewhat more frequent headways that having it all on a single track. Ditto all the stations on the Fremont-U Village branch; it would be planned for single track between stations permanently.
Beyond Expedia the trains would connect to a Maintenance Facility in the truck parking lot just north of the west end of the Magnolia Bridge.
The stub trains would not serve the Republican and Mercer Station. so if folks wanted to go to Ballard from LQA they would reverse at Denny (or take the D….)
Then, some time in the future when funds have been accumulated, drill the second track between the stations and continue eastward through SLU with stations at Mercer and Fairview, one under the freeway with entrances on both sides (yes, the east entrance would probably have to be elevators-only), and a new platform at Capitol Hill. Most trains west of Mercer would use the east-west line to Capitol Hill, but there would still be some trains using the connection to downtown. I expect that will be true of the Second Avenue Subway as well, even after it has its own path to downtown (if ever). The Upper East Side wants to get to Times Square too….
If at that time the main Ballard line has been been extended to First Hill, that would be it; the cross-line might be extended to Fifteenth and Group Health, but it’s a lot of money for a not very dense neighborhood, but maybe.
But if the “main line” has gone on to West Seattle as Jonathan and few others have advocated in order to avoid ST getting the vapors about the whole idea, then turn the cross-SLU line sharply south at Capitol Hill and serve First Hill with it. Yes, it’s the “Metro Eight” and maybe part of Glenn’s “Reverse C”.
But the most important thing is to do it all with standard station designs for short automated trains and as shallowly as possible.
Correction and apologies. Since you can’t just drop a TBM into a finished station, both tubes would have to be bored at construction, at least west of the connecting curve. And boring isn’t that expensive.
So forget about the cross-over rigamarole to make Queen Anne a passing point. The line would be double track throughout because it would have very frequent trains, at least west of Mercer.
Yes, this is a stub line. It is completely independent of the other line. I helped edit this, and should have been more clear. “interline trains in the existing tunnel” means all three lines from the south go into the tunnel and head towards Northgate. “keep[ing] the Ballard to Westlake line separate” means a completely different line, from Ballard to Westlake. It is this new line that can be automated (with smaller stations).
This concept is intriguing for several reasons. To a certain extent it is a variation on the previous suggestion. The difference is that Ballard trains would not be in the existing tunnel. There are several advantages to this:
1) No tricky interlining. Merging the West Seattle train was always the easy part. A branch for Ballard was not.
2) All trains go from the south go to the UW. This is much better for those in Rainier Valley, and places south (they get their one seat ride to Capitol Hill, UW, Northgate, etc.). I would not expect all trains to continue to Everett. Some would turn back at Northgate or Lynnwood. But even so, you would still have outstanding headways through the core of our system.
3) Could be extended to First Hill (and beyond). Think of this. The red line could end at Mount Baker Station (not go to Tacoma) if capacity is not an issue.
4) As Tom mentioned, this could be extended to the UW. Automation makes it much easier, for the various reasons mentioned.
5) All the advantages mentioned in this post. Smaller, shallower stations. More frequent service. All of that.
The disadvantage is that it ends at Westlake, instead of further south. While less than ideal, I don’t see that as a deal breaker. The transfer would probably not be great, but it might be better than what ST has proposed, simply because the second station is smaller. More to the point, no line covers all of downtown. Neither Belltown nor First Hill is covered with this expansion. We can’t have everything. Westlake is much closer to the center of downtown than every before. It has the highest downtown ridership (by far).
I’m warming to this idea. It should definitely be studied. My fear is that it is just enough outside of what is expected to be rejected out of hand.
6) Doesn’t need to be a tunnel at all. With smaller station footprints and the initial alignment only going to Westlake, it is much easier to sell it as more akin to the monorail and therefore can just run down the center of of an avenue like the monorail does.
Ross, I think the way to pitch it is:
1. Ask the system expansion board to reopen the 2014 technology study. Point out that the reason automated was rejected is that it wouldn’t work if not grade separated, but we are now building mostly grade separated. Say our neighbors to the north are invested in automated train technology that is reliable and frequent, and our system is going to look antiquated by comparison when it is unveiled if we don’t automate.
2. The System Expansion Committee has a work item for this year to study standardizing station designs to save money. Tell them as part of this work they should study smaller automated stations that could save 30%-50% of cost.
Yes, AJ, you could consider going all elevated. You don’t necessarily have to stick with traditional rails either, you could use monorail like Los Angeles is looking at https://laskyrailexpress.com/ or maglev “dualrail” https://transportsystemboegl.com/en/track/ to reduce the visual impact of the guiderail, but even SkyTrain guideway is a bit simpler than Link guideway as the cars are slightly lighter.
@Cole — I think the tricky part is convincing them:
1) It is OK to have three lines coming from the south, merging into the existing tunnel.
2) It is OK for the Ballard line to end at Westlake.
I could definitely see pushback on both issues. It is interesting to see how this compares to the two negatives with the previous post. The first issue is shared with both. This avoids the cost and disruption of branching to serve Ballard but creates this new issue. I can see how people would not like this.
To me, this second issue has been a weakness from the very beginning. When it was assumed that West Seattle was going to be paired with Ballard (in its own tunnel) Dow Constantine pushed back against the idea of having the new tunnel serve First Hill. He was adamant that West Seattle riders not have to transfer to get to “downtown”. Every transfer has a penalty, but this is backwards. I keep looking at Frank’s map and admiring it. I think like a lot of people, I obsess over the weakness (the B line). That little stub sits out there, doing very little. But so what? The overall system is much better. It looks like a real subway system! I know that sound cynical, but this does not: https://www.soundtransit.org/sites/default/files/2022-10/web-map-west-seattle-ballard-link-20221031.png. This looks like a bus spine — almost like the current set of buses we have now. They all converge to one street downtown. This makes some sense for buses, but not for trains.
Can we get people to bend on either point? Hard to say. I find it funny because when I write about how we don’t need the capacity, folks inevitably say things like “we have to think long term”, and yet when I see the current plans (a second tunnel, ridiculously close to the first) I see something that doesn’t work long term. This particular proposal makes it very easy to add First Hill later. The second tunnel does not.
I would consider my point 5 (“All the advantages mentioned in this post”) to include elevated, since it was specifically mentioned in this post.
Another “all of that”, that deserves to be emphasized is cost. I’ve generally avoided that subject, since I want to emphasize how much better these alternatives are. But it also gets complicated. Consider that previous proposal (“Sending Ballard and West Seattle Trains Through the Existing Tunnel”). This means that we need a branch to go to Ballard. I think this is probably still much cheaper than a second tunnel, but the difference might not be huge. In contrast, the difference between this and the current plans is huge. It is definitely a lot cheaper. You avoid the construction of two stations: CID and Midtown. The other stations are smaller. Heck, you could add a First Hill station, and still save money! Instead of Midtown (too close to the other stations to be of any value) you finally have a station at First Hill. You still avoid the cost of the CID station, while dramatically improving the value of the Ballard line.
For example, consider a trip from Aurora. The plan is to add a “South Lake Union” station so that riders can transfer to a train. That makes sense if you are headed to Beacon Hill, Rainier Valley or SeaTac, but that’s about it. For everything north of SoDo, you might as well stay on the bus. In contrast, a transfer to get up to First Hill would definitely make sense there, especially if that train is running frequently (and not every ten minutes).
Meanwhile, Denny to First Hill is just far enough, and just awkward enough on transit (https://goo.gl/maps/34pV4kfoKTxiCpg99) to make this short train trip worth it. Yes, you have to deal with the deep bore stations, but it still works. In contrast, getting in a very deep station to get to any of the downtown stations just doesn’t make sense. Not when the train is running every ten minutes (and the buses are frequent).
I’m not saying we push for First Hill, but from what I can tell, a stub that included it would be cheaper than the current proposal! That is clearly a huge improvement, and yet I fear that trying to push for that (in the short or long term) will be very difficult.
Consider how to construct a stub that ends at, or includes but does not end at, Westlake. I suspect a bored tunnel alignment through SLU coming into Westlake is the only one that will work out in the end.
As a former Chicagoan, I personally have no issue with big elevated lines, but they are not so easy to build. These trains are heavy and the columns are big and placing them means deep footings and lots of utility impacts, to say nothing of noise and visual impacts that are hard to mitigate. Furthermore, there are safety and navigational impacts to the public realm they traverse. Downtown street space is at a premium and elevated lines cast big shadows on what precious sun makes it to street level past high rises during the darker months.
Cut and cover down Westlake also sounds like a tough sell. I remember what 3rd Avenue looked like when the existing tunnel was under construction. It was like a mile long construction site, and the economic damage was lasting.
Bored tunnels are routine now and cheaper than they used to be; big stations are quite expensive which is why an automated line with a number of underground stations saves a lot of money.
TBMs need an extraction pit. It may be preferable to site such a pit on First Hill than it would be at Westlake, but regardless you would want the muck out to happen at the portal to the north. Stations can be cut-and-cover, or mined.
Is a crossover needed at the end for an automated line? How do you actually ensure a line is extensible? That certainly ought to be a requirement of any stub line.
Bored tunnels are routine now and cheaper than they used to be; big stations are quite expensive which is why an automated line with a number of underground stations saves a lot of money.
I agree. Even with modern elevated lines (that take up less space) it is hard to weave your way through a big downtown (like Seattle’s). The same is true with cut and cover. I’m a big fan, but it would be hard to pull off. I don’t see it happening. I think it will be deep bore downtown, but the stations themselves can be smaller and thus a lot cheaper.
This type of line sends the engineers “back to the drawing board”, if you will. Hopefully they come up with stations that are closer to the surface and cheaper. Better and cheaper because the previous assumption (that there will be four-car trains running every ten minutes) would go away.
I agree with Jonathan, a “forever stub” with same-level, abutting platforms has great connections at Westlake, but it’s stuck there from now on. Unless we can get ST to add the “Metro Eight” / “Reverse C” to its long-term plan and there fore give itself permission to plan junctions and station interfaces we’d best not paint ourselves into a corner with same-level platforms.
That said any such independent platforms should be as nearby and as shallow as possible, street “disruption” be damned.
I’m put them under Sixth Avenue with a pair of “half-mazzanines at the existing track level between the new tubes with ramps down to a center platform and direct connections to the east ends of the existing Westlake platforms and adjacent ramps up to the Westlake Mezzanine.
That way someone wanting to transfer from a Ballard-First Hill train to Sea-Tac or Pioneer Square would go up to the northern half mezzanine turn west and saunter directly to the southbound platform. To go to UW they’d go up to the south half-mazzanine and west to the northbound platform.
Tom, that sounds very much like the new Westlake Station Sound Transit proposed, just smaller, yes? slide 68 of:
I like Frank’s map, but I’m concerned about the elevation difference of the new Westlake station and Frank’s Madison station. From what I understand this depth and soil conditions stopped Sound Transit to served First Hill in Sound Move, how can this be mitigated? Do we have to use a different technology to get up the hill? rubber tires? maglev?
You would have to go under the I-5 box. Sound Transit was very concerned about that last time and had to strengthen it first, I’m not sure how difficult it would be this time…
The east side of I-5 is very low, now you have to climb quickly, is this possible with rail technology or do we need to look at alternatives?
Martin, I don’t think it is. The station in the proposal is along Fifth, entirely south of existing Westlake Center, and at least two stories deeper. Look how long the ramps are. Yes, they have a passage under the existing tracks for people headed to and from the north platform
I specifically chose Sixth because the Westlake box ends west of Sixth, which means that the mezzanine for the new platform can be at the same,
Me elevation, or if necessary because of the supports for the cut and cover tunnel, only a bit deeper.
Than, situating the new platform both north and south of the existing tunnel, direct platform-level access to to original station is available to riders through demised portals in the eastern wall of the lower level.
Would this be more disruptive to Sixth Avenue than ST’s cavern hidden behind a twenty foot fence? Yes, but one solid mile of FOUR STORY excavation for the BART / Muni tunnel didn’t “kill” downtown San Francisco. Only a microbe impossible to see with an optical microscope could do THAT!
So the new station box would surround the existing tunnel on both sides? I think I get it now… I see the advantages.
Martin, yes. And the mezzanine of the box would be at the same level as the existing platforms.
Would be similar to the Monorail or the streetcar, but going all the way to Ballard. You’d get off the light rail main line and transfer to the Ballard line.
Yes, and I would suggest that having lots of people transfer at Westlake is not such a bad thing. It’s feels like pretty much the center of town both geographically and economically. It’s a great place to run a quick errand, and a convenient place to meet people to do anything in the downtown area. A larger volume of people are headed to that area than some other parts of downtown like Pioneer Square. A lot of people would transfer at Westlake even if a Ballard line were to continue south through downtown because Westlake is a natural transfer point to get to the other Link lines. There’s no capacity constraint in that downtown tunnel we couldn’t get around and adding West Seattle trains to the mix only helps.
All this is to say, I think an automated stub to Westlake / First Hill, which is smaller, thus cheaper to build and cheaper to operate, is a great idea. I would suggest retaining the most promising ST3 alignments in the works north of Westlake, which hopefully will be further refined.
This sounds infinitely smarter than the existing plan and addresses many of its shortcomings.
West Seattle and Ballard become truly separate projects in this scenario. Their linkage was never essential. I believe West Seattle riders are better off with enhanced bus service than tomorrow’s Link system with its forced transfers, but if we do build Link to West Seattle, then by all means let’s interline West Seattle trains in the existing tunnel and share the existing pool of light rail vehicles as RossB and so many others have suggested.
I don’t see a single flaw in the argument this post makes. Automated systems can have a high capacity, as high as we need for Ballard in the long term even if it loops around to UW, which it should. The frequency can be very high, as it is just up the coast in BC with SkyTrain. I can’t remember what any of the SkyTrain stations look like on the inside because I never spend enough time to see anything but the next arriving train.
A stub line does not need to dive under the existing tunnel and does not need to be deep. Many on the Ballard line would exit at Westlake anyway to get to places like Capitol Hill. Automated vehicles are the way to do a stub line to Westlake that doesn’t physically loop around. Maybe someday it could be extended to First Hill or Belltown or some other place so Westlake wouldn’t be the final terminus.
The system could be pretty deluxe for the amount of money we’d save on the 2nd downtown tunnel and its several deep underground stations.
It’s not like technology like this doesn’t exist all over the world. It’s just different from what we’ve already built and what previous iterations of this planning process have assumed. Our biggest limitations are not financial, or in the physical realm. They are the limitations we impose on ourselves.
I can’t remember what any of the SkyTrain stations look like on the inside because I never spend enough time to see anything but the next arriving train.
That’s a great line.
Stub line doesn’t even need to be a tunnel.
A forever stub doesn’t need to dive under the Spine tunnel. However, I do believe that we should think very hard about allowing for an extension to the southeast under First Hill. I very much like having the platform(s) for the stub directly abut the southbound platform at Westlake. It would make both typical AM transfers (UW and north to SLU and LQA and north to farther downtown) single level and short.
But that also makes the line dead-end forever. Extending to the south would require branching somewhere between there and Denny and plunging to a new set of platforms.
If some strong commitment to a Metro Eight to handle First Hill were in place it would moot the issue and we could build a same-level stub with confidence.
If Madison BRT works out well, perhaps use that model to upgrade the literal Metro 8?
I do believe that we should think very hard about allowing for an extension to the southeast under First Hill.
I agree. I’ve been very dubious about many of the “future proofing” ideas put forth by folks at the Seattle Subway (e. g. that we’ll eventually have trains running over the Aurora Bridge). But the line from SLU to Westlake is practically begging for an extension to First Hill (and beyond). I know I’ve linked to Frank’s map many times on this post, but that red line just looks fantastic: https://seattletransitblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/WSBLE-proposed-2-1-1536×1185.png.
Frank’s red line is an interesting, creative concept but my instinct is, you get more than 60% of the incremental benefit of that line with less than 20% of the incremental cost by adding exactly one stop on First Hill to a Ballard/SLU–Westlake line. One stop central enough to the major employers and residential density would add huge ridership to that line. South and east of there, the redundancy of Frank’s red line starts going up and the surrounding density quickly goes down.
I disagree. Density around Yesler Terrace is high. Likewise Jackson. You start getting a very good network effect as you cross other transit lines (both rail and bus). You really can’t go too wrong by expanding coverage in any direction. To be clear, I’m not sure that is the absolute ideal route. I could definitely see some of the stations moving a few blocks this way or that. But it is an urban area that should have urban stop spacing, like the rest of downtown.
The network effect is a valid point. The density is pretty high and rising at Yesler Terrace, and it’s higher still in Belltown which unfortunately remains off the map. A smaller scale automated system seems like the best hope of reaching any of these vital core neighborhoods of our city.
Speaking of forever stubs, or extendable ones, the Ballard end of this line needs to be extendable back towards UW in a subsequent phase, whether or not there is accommodation for a future extension to the north. UW-Ballard has been in ST’s long term plan from the start. I don’t know where the maintenance base would go for that project if it didn’t share one with this one because there isn’t going to be room for one in Ballard, Fremont, Wallingford, or the U District.
For future Ballard-UW line, I would agree with the suggestion that a TBM pop out right by U Village, which is actually quite a major employer in the area. That might be the end of the line, right there by the Burke-Gilman. Children’s is right up the road, which is a major employer that makes a lot of sense to serve, but I wouldn’t want to be the one to present a proposal for an elevated line up Sand Point Way to the Laurelhurst Community Club.
Other than east of U District station down towards U Village, I don’t know where else you would extract a TBM for a Ballard-UW line. With all the development, that can’t happen right by U District Station anymore.
I agree about being able to extend the Ballard line as well. Automation helps in that regard as well. Folks here have suggested going under the ship canal at roughly 14th, then curving around to 20th. That would mean aiming the train in the wrong direction. However, you could do an “out and back”, whereby you reverse directions and head towards the UW after serving the station. That gets tricky (lots of crossings) but it is at least theoretically possible with an automate line. Of course you could also explore crossing to the west, at around 24th (which was looked at a while back) and then curving around to 20th. That way the train would be facing where it would eventually go.
The main thing is that you have the same arguments as you have here. More frequent and smaller trains, which reduces cost, while improving things for riders.
I’d curve the line to the west and plan for Ballard – UW to be interlined. Lots of options to actually serve Ballard while planning for the future.
I’d put the station pit at the Safeway parking lot, angle it slightly so that Ballard 1 curves under 15, winds up one block north of Market, and utilizes the surface parking lots there for station entries.
The station at Safeway is angled slightly so a continuation could be added north for a line headed north on 15th, and also a diverging line headed southeast to Fremont.
Anyway, just because that’s what I would do doesn’t make it a good idea.
Just a note that an automated train can be routed to run one direction into a station then reverse direction easily. That’s because there is no need for a driver to be on board — and no need for that driver to switch driver cabs.
So a train could go from Interbay under 14th to q grade separated station under 20th in Ballard and reverse to go though a close-by wye towards Fremont.
It’s not ideal because a train would go in and out on the same track preventing high frequency but it could be done. The wye would have to be really close to the Ballard station.
However, these kinds of branching and extension discussions can be had later. The important thing now is this simple unified message: “Study a stand-alone automated Ballard-Westlake option”.
Exactly Al, that is what I was getting at. Reversing directions becomes fairly easy.
Lovely V-shaped concept:
U-District (43rd & Brooklyn)
6th Ave NW (for 3rd and 8th)
[ST3 Ballard Link]
Ballard (15th & Market)
Terry & University (for Virginia Mason)
Broadway & Madison (for Swedish, Seattle U, RapidRide G, SLU streetcar)
Broadway & Jefferson (for Harborview)
Jefferson & 15th (for Swedish Cherry Hill)
Jefferson & 23rd (for Garfield High School)
I’d have V the other way:
Ballard-SLU-Westlake-First Hill as one branch.
Ballard-Elliott Bay-Belltown – Stadium the other way.
Sound Transit has got to start seriously considering automated transit service. Labor costs will never come down enough to make manually operated trains sustainable in the long term. Large station boxes for conventional light rail will only become harder and harder to carve out. Modernize, or go broke!
So only low paying jobs are worth having in the public sector, got it.
Thank you for not supporting the middle class jobs that actually allow people to live in the city (or region) they work for.
“So only low paying jobs are worth having in the public sector, got it.
Thank you for not supporting the middle class jobs that actually allow people to live in the city (or region) they work for”
They’re not saying that. It’s more of shifting labor priorities around to different parts of the system. To make high-quality jobs still exist, but now they’re elsewhere like maintenance yard, central command center, etc. That’s what SkyTrain has from an operation and labor cost standpoint.
That’s a fair argument – thank you for making it.
It’s not the one they made, though.
I am pushing hard on this because I do not want the blog to devolve into “it’s okay to remove good paying jobs if they’re done for a good reason”. That way lies… well, the insanity of the last 40 years. As I’ve said before, I’m all for automation in transit, if the automation does not remove well paying jobs.
The biggest labor problem in America is not the lack of good paying government jobs. It is that the private sector is not unionized. All we have left is government union jobs. And no, I’m not saying we should get rid of them. But consider what happens when you have a strike at a public institution, like the schools: Kids and parents get screwed. Those wealthy enough to send their kids to private school are fine.
Now consider what happens if workers at say, UPS go on strike. Rich people sweat. CEOs, investors, you name it. Packages are late, but many just switch to other companies. The cost, if you will, to society is much smaller, and the pain felt by the wealthy is much higher. Strikes are never good, but public sector strikes are much worse than private sector ones.
But again, I’m not saying that we should aim to replace public sector jobs. No one is saying that. There are more than enough public sector jobs out there, including transit. Holy smoke, there is a driver shortage! Transit isn’t nearly as good as it could be, because there simply aren’t enough drivers. If we can double the number of trains with the same number of drivers, it would be fantastic. Then there is everything else that goes with maintaining the trains (which are, generally speaking, good, well paying jobs). For the most part, government spending is independent of how many people it employs. If anything, the more efficient you are, the more likely it is that people will support more spending (and thus more people get employed).
The whole reason to run a train in the first place is that you need fewer people to operate it per rider. Automating the train just takes that to another level.
I get your concern, but consider Copenhagen, which as mentioned, has an automated system. Denmark is the second most unionized country in the world. If this was such a bad thing for workers, it simply wouldn’t happen. (America, by the way, is well below that — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_comparisons_of_trade_unions).
“Now consider what happens if workers at say, “
the freight railroads.
Then you get the government to force them back to work, even if they do want to strike.
I specifically didn’t mention the railroads because they are both a monopoly, and essential. It is the worst of all worlds. Monopolies and the lack of unions go together. It is very difficult to strike at a company that has no competition. The company gets hurt, but in many cases, there is no alternative. The company can just sit it out, knowing that they won’t lose business — it will just be deferred. In the case of railroads, it is even worse, because the work they do is essential. It is very similar to a public union (like, say, the police) in that they can be forced to go back to work; the difference being that they are in the private sector, which means that the companies can make huge profits, while exploiting the workers. They should be nationalized, as it is a natural monopoly.
It is why I mentioned UPS. If the workers strike, the owners know that other companies will take their business (in the short or long term). They have a very strong incentive to settle.
of course, it’s all a matter of what the owners want.
Where is the dividing line for nationalization
essential services supplied by private companies?
Is American Airlines considered a monopoly?
(Yeah, I know it’s an old article, but my point is still the same)
This is a bit more current (about the airline pilots)
We’ll always need bus drivers. Buses will always play an important growing role in our region.
Setting the ground work that would allow our light rail to operate reliably at frequencies currently only possible on driverless trains is not a bad thing at all
The reason there’s a bus driver shortage currently in Puget Sound is because transit outfits and the governments that fund them are all living 30 years in the past. Metro, PT, etc…. do not pay current CDL pay scale and insist of bullshit like part time and even split shifts… Pay more money, get more drivers.
I’d guess if transit wants to move forward in Puget Sound, shower automated train routes and better bus coverage is absolutely the way forward. At the price the public is paying for a “rail spine” from Evert to Lakewood…. we’d be better off with transit only lanes on I-5 with self driven express buses traveling at 80 mph. Because we’re talking billions dollars here….. why would we basically invest in 100 year old technology? It’s called “train on the brain” … the wacky thinking that it’s not rail, it’s not the right answer.
> So only low paying jobs are worth having in the public sector, got it.
> Thank you for not supporting the middle class jobs that actually allow people to live in the city (or region) they work for.
This kind of attitude is how New York spends billions per mile with barely any additional subway miles to show for it.
A train needs a fraction of the drivers equivalent bus routes would need, and Link’s three lines are a drop in the bucket compared to hundreds of bus routes. ST will never have trouble finding a few dozen Link drivers, especially if it’s a more desirable job than driving a bus.
Although most the transit activists here will never admit it…. security and cleanliness are big issues on all American transit, starting with Seattle. The only holding back transit ridership more is the lack of prompt and reliable service.
Smaller. automated transit lines, running on time, with more support to keep things clean and safe? Maybe America would start riding transit more?
The “job loss” argument is a bit of a red herring. Here is why…
There would be two or three times more trains!
Ballard- Westlake would run every 3 minutes all day and evening! No 10 minute waits with possible reliability disruptions created by the RV (car crashes) or further south.
That means that jobs that were in train cabs would be done in control centers. It would create a greater need to monitor two or three times more trains. So it’s not really eliminating total employment; it’s merely shifting job descriptions and offering lots more frequent transit service for the same size staff.
Reece Martin also has a great video on automated metro technology where he even contrasts it with Link light rail: https://youtu.be/pqmB1f47wp4?t=510
Come on people.
ST Link is already one of the most successful Light Rail systems in America, and it is only going to get orders of magnitude better when Lynnwood Link and East Link open.
Why change technology now? Why change technology midstream on a system that is already so successful?
And why change technology to something that is already antiquated? It makes no sense.
Want automation? Just wait. Link is actually better positioned for the future than is Skytrain.
“ST Link is already one of the most successful Light Rail systems in America”
Light rail is doing a lot of work in that sentence. The most successful metro systems in the US aren’t light rail. Other American light rails are less frequent than Link and are almost 100% surface, so they’re slower and you have to wait longer for them, so of course they’re less successful.
Yeah, it is really silly. It is like saying you have the best bus line in the world. OK, then maybe it is time to switch to rail.
The irony, of course, is that our light rail isn’t operating like light rail on 90% of our system. It is operating like a light metro. Put it this way: If we built it now, there is no way we would use low floor light rail. It makes no sense. We assumed we were building a system like Max, but instead we are building a system like SkyTrain, but with the wrong tools (and not enough stations — but that is a different issue).
The main technical reason we didn’t was because of the bus tunnel. I can’t believe Lazarus hasn’t caught on to this, given his past criticism of all things bus. But joint operations meant that the train needed to be low floor. It would have been a mess otherwise. Riders getting on the bus would have to step down onto stairs leading up. But ST also assumed that we would have lots of surface stops (like those in Rainier Valley).
There are also political reasons for “light rail”. I’m sure the term “light rail” tested better, for an ignorant American public. Who doesn’t like lighter things? It suggests newer, less expensive, more nimble. Not an old, stodgy, rat-infested system like New York or Chicago, but new, modern, clean and light — like San Diego. Thus it was both political and practical. Practical because of the bus tunnel (and the remote possibility we would have a lot of surface stops) and political because “light rail” just sounds nice.
Converting our existing system would be very expensive and disruptive. I think some systems in Japan have done that, but they just do things different (and better) than us. A completely new line gives us the opportunity do something different — and clearly better.
Do you think American Light Rail systems are top notch? What about REM or European or Asian cities?
Light Rail was mainly chosen because it can be operated at grade which was planned for Rainier Valley. Unfortunately, people have gotten hurt, and this has caused many service interruptions and has caused reputational damage to Sound Transit. For WSBLE Sound Transit has stepped away from building at-grade systems. If Sound Transit wants to continue to be successful, it may want to update their 2014 mode study as the requirements have changed. As the Ballard line is separate, why not consider a more appropriate technology if you can get higher frequencies, longer operating hours, more station flexibility, and reduce cost now? Wait for what? What’s more antiquated? In what regard? How is Link better positioned for the future?
“For WSBLE Sound Transit has stepped away from building at-grade systems.”
ST stepped away from at-grade alignments earlier. Tukwila was elevated at the City of Tukwila’s request. All of ST2 was grade-separated until Bellevue begged ST to economize in Bel-Red and south Redmond to fund a tunnel at Bellevue City Hall. All of ST3 is grade-separated so far.
I mentioned this below. I really don’t think they planned for a lot of surface stops. I think they chose light rail for political reasons (light rail sounds cheaper and more modern) or because of shared operations in the bus tunnel. From a technical standpoint, low-floor trams (or light rail) make sense for the shared bus/train tunnel. Otherwise, for our system, they really don’t. Only four stations out of somewhere around 70 stations will take advantage of it. If it wasn’t such a pain, we would simply switch, and raise the platforms in Rainier Valley (and build a higher platform for East Main).
Because we stopped building a light rail network and started building a metro network using light rail technology. If the ST3 plan included the occasional at-grade intersection to unlock significant cost savings there would be a much clearer case to stick with Link, but if WSBLE cannot place a station at grade in the Junction, Interbay, or Ballard, then there is little utility in continuing to serve Link.
Great reply! +10
RossB, you as well. I can’t really add much that you two haven’t said already. Frankly, I don’t take much of what commenter Lazarus says seriously and stopped engaging with him/her after the time he tried to tell this attorney that my reference to an established law library source when citing a statute was bunk. Lol.
“Not an old, stodgy, rat-infested system like New York or Chicago,…”
I have a soft spot in my heart for that rat-infested, graffiti-covered NYC transit system that I grew up with. :)
Also – the urban frequencies are very different. Outside of the Seattle urban core, the branch frequency is fine given the longer distance per trip, but within urban Seattle frequency is critical.
ST1 – assumed mixed rail/bus operations in the DSTT to support high frequency within downtown
ST2 – assumed interlining L1 and L2 from ID to Lynnwood to support high frequencies within downtown
ST3 – assumes low frequency on 2nd tunnel.
The frequency on the 2nd tunnel is not good enough. We could run a 2nd line through the 2nd tunnel, but no only it that unfunded, and it’s unplanned and the 2nd tunnel doesn’t anticipate an ST4 branch. So the best option is instead to run the single line at a higher frequency – which points to automation and smaller vehicles; it could be literally the same fleet running out of the same OMFs, but a different assumption in train length & operating pattern allows for a very different capital investment.
Yes, absolutely. We are conflating two arguments (automation and low-floor versus high-floor):
1) Build a separate line for Ballard Link.
2) Since it is a separate line, you can automate the trains.
3) Since you are automating the trains, the trains can be smaller.
4) Since the trains can be smaller, the platforms can be smaller.
5) Since the platforms are smaller, the stations can be smaller.
6) Smaller stations can be better and cheaper to build.
1) Build a separate line for Ballard Link.
2) Since we have a separate line, we might as well pick rolling stock that is better for the job, which means high-floor trains.
3) High-floor trains have more capacity.
4) High-floor trains can make tighter turns, which might lower construction costs.
The big benefit comes from automation, although you still get plenty of benefit from high-floor trains.
“ST2 – assumed interlining L1 and L2 from ID to Lynnwood to support high frequencies within downtown”
And to support high frequencies in Capitol Hill, North Seattle, and Lynnwood.
Adding automated equipment to a light rail car is not an especially space consuming task.
There is a great deal of savings to be made from economy of scale when it comes to having one type of everything. One type of car axle to run on the wheel lathe, one type of brake shoe, one type of seat hardware, etc.
For every hour of service, Portland Steercar costs significantly more to maintain than a MAX car even though they are smaller due to the economy of scale of the number of MAX cars.
Plus, for operational future proofing, I think it’s best not to build these excessively incompatible. If the line gets extended to Mt Baker via First Hill or SoDo via Belltown, there may be a desire to have some mutual operation.
Come 2040 or so, the rails in the DSTT will need replacement. The ability to operate Rainier Valley trains to Westlake and SLU on an alternative route could be very useful.
Agree – the automated line could be designed as such to eventually use the same fleet as the rest of the system. Even if they never intersect, there is value is shared training, spare parts, etc.
Wow. Hard to know how to respond to this Pollyanna thinking. How about a comparison:
1) SkyTrain — 527,000
2) Link — 80,000
Midday Frequency after East and Lynnwood Link:
1) SkyTrain — 3 to 7 minutes (most stations have 3 minute frequency)
2) Link — 5 to 10 minutes (most stations will have 10 minute frequency)
Not only is Link not the best in North America, it isn’t the best in the Northwest! Our nearest neighbor is basically kicking our ass. It is tempting to think that its because they spent so much more, but that isn’t the case. It is hard to compare costs, but we are spending more than any American city per capita right now. And yet after ST3 is completely built out, our system won’t be as good as what Vancouver BC has now — let alone what their system will look like in a few years. They just got a lot more per dollar spent.
A big reason for that is because they have automated trains. It explains those frequencies you see there. The numbers don’t seem that impressive until you look at a map of their system (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SkyTrain_%28Vancouver%29#/media/File:Vancouver_Skytrain_and_Seabus_Map.svg). There are branches, but those branches are well outside of the city. That means that the really good frequency (3 to 3.5 minutes) occurs for almost the entire system. In contrast, we are running the trains every 10 minutes now (most of the day) and that will likely continue into the future. The north end will get 5 minute headways, but much of the city, and the entire East Side will have to live with 10 minutes. Rainier Valley and Judkins Park — clearly part of the city — will have trains only every ten minutes (less often than the nearby bus). That just doesn’t happen in Vancouver.
The automation also explains the (relatively) low cost. I don’t want to imply that it was cheap to build the Vancouver system, but consider the Canada Line. It is a good example of the type of thing Ballard Link could be. The Canada line cost around $1.5 billion U. S. and has more riders than our entire system. For comparison, just the East Link extension will cost around $4 billion. Vancouver has been able to build huge parts of their system much more cheaply than us, and a big part of that is because the trains are automated. The Canada Line trains are smaller, the stations are smaller, but the trains run a lot more often.
I wouldn’t normally recommend a video for understanding these things, but YouTube does have transcripts. If you read (or watch) videos by Reece Martin (a transit expert) you will notice that he has a very nuanced and extremely well informed view of various transit systems around the world. I’ve asked him very obscure questions, and he has been able to answer them. He lauds the Vancouver system, and specifically criticizes the mode of Link. The main advantage of low floor light rail is that it can run on the street. You can have dozens of “stops” with very little cost or effort. Portland is a great example of this. Unfortunately, we do that for only tiny sections (in Rainier Valley). None of the new stations are on the street. It is simply the wrong tool for the job.
It isn’t just Reece. Any transit expert will tell you that if you can automate, automate. This is especially true of cities like Seattle. We don’t have massive, 10-car trains full of riders, like you would see in a really big city. The driver per rider ratio is relatively big, which explains why we don’t run the trains very often. Without drivers, that ratio goes to zero, allowing us to run the trains a lot more often. (The cost to run a train is not zero, but drivers still make up the bulk of it.)
But mostly we struggle with building out our system. Costs have skyrocketed. Most of the new stations are crap. I think we all agree on that. Seattle Subway, the Urbanist and folks on this blog — all major proponents of ST3 and transit and general — were (and are) appalled at the stations. They have begged the engineers to “do better”. I don’t think they can, unless we change the very nature of the platforms. If the platforms are smaller, then the stations can be smaller, and it is quite likely that we can get stations that are both *better* and *cheaper*.
“The main advantage of low floor light rail is that it can run on the street.”
The reason Link can run on the street is it’s not powered by third rail that might electrocute someone. There are surface high-floor trains, like the Cologne tram I encountered in the 90s where immediately inside the door was stairs up. I’m glad those went out of fashion, and people with wheelchairs and carts are especially glad.
“ Wow. Hard to know how to respond to this Pollyanna thinking.”
Thanks for the insult, what happened to the comment policy?
But I stand by everything I wrote.
And your comments about frequency are more a statement of faith than of fact. There is simply no data out there that indicates that small variations in frequency produce large changes in ridership. Particularly for lines that are commute dominated.
Case in point – the Skytrain Canada Line!
Currently this line is running at peak frequencies of 6 mins. ST Link will be operating at 8 min frequencies. Do you have data that shows that 6 mins will generate robust ridership growth, whereas 8 mins won’t? Where is the data?
Na, Skytrain has good ridership because it is an older system and it operates in a dense urban environment. It doesn’t have good ridership because it is automated, or has a 2 min shorter frequency, or has a nicer view out the window.
And nobody really cares if their train has an operator driving it or not. They just care about whether or not the trip meets their needs.
“Pollyanna thinking” in this case just means we built the best of all possible systems. Our light rail line is great, so continue it. Am I misrepresenting your thinking, because it sure looks like that is your argument? There is nothing fundamentally wrong with that attitude, either. If you are the Golden State Warriors, for example, you sure aren’t messing with the system. My point is we are the Atlanta Hawks. Not terrible, but certainly not the best. We’ve made obvious mistakes in the past (First Hill, only two stations for the UW, etc.) and we are making a big mistake with this second tunnel.
There is simply no data out there that indicates that small variations in frequency produce large changes in ridership.
The idea that frequency influences ridership is so well accepted people don’t bother citing the studies. There are plenty. Here is one: https://www.vtpi.org/tranelas.pdf. Look, I’m getting a little tired of chasing things that are generally accepted facts. Smaller stations are generally cheaper to build. Higher frequency leads to more ridership. Most of us just already know this is true (we’ve read it in the past, from reputable sources) and you want to us to waste our time citing studies.
Hey, here is an idea: Go argue with Jarrett Walker. Seriously, go ask him to back up his numerous claims that better frequency leads to higher ridership. He will be able to cite numerous articles. Be ready to sign into your academic library, to read those journals.
Particularly for lines that are commute dominated.
Since when is Ballard Link commute dominated? Get real. The line is dominated by urban stops. South Lake Union, Uptown, Ballard — those are all-day destinations. Huge numbers of people live there, and plenty of people visit.
Currently [SkyTrain] is running at peak frequencies of 6 mins. ST Link will be operating at 8 min frequencies.
Sorry, but you are wrong. Look it up. Here, I’ll copy it for you. These include all stations inside the city (where most of the ridership comes from):
Expo Line: Waterfront and Columbia: 2-3 peak, 3 midday.
Millennium Line: 3-4 peak; 6 midday.
Canada Line, Bridgeport to Waterfront: 3 peak, 3-4 midday.
It is only the far outskirts where frequency gets low. That is the nature of those branches. They are outside the city. In contrast, the Ballard line is well inside the city. In fact, much of it is downtown (Denny, SLU and Uptown).
Now then, you are claiming that the Ballard Line will run every 8 minutes, all day long. Really? Since when? Do you really think that ST will run trains all the way down to the Tacoma Dome every 8 minutes in the middle of the day, when they can’t even run them that often now? Get real.
They will run them every ten minutes. And yes, running every ten minutes is very different than running every six minutes. Running three minutes is a world of difference than ten. Frequency matters. A lot.
just a quick clip on the importance of frequency: https://youtu.be/hOwsPklBClY
Oh, I am very sure that Jarrett Walker would agree with me on this.
While increased frequency is certainly better than reduced frequency, the difference between 8 and 6 min frequency, in a commuter dominated suburban area, is just not great enough to have one system generate over 500,000 daily riders and the other 80,000.
It’s just not that simple, and stating that increased frequency always generates a large increase in ridership is a vast oversimplification of the concept.
Because small increases in frequency only increase ridership when there is something to do with that frequency. VanBC is tacitly acknowledging this when they only provide 6 min service despite their large investment in automation.
And you can also see it in ST ridership modeling where increased frequency on the main trunk produces more increased ridership between UW and Cap Hill than it does between South Shoreline Station and North Shoreline Station.
It’s just the way the real world is. And it is what the data shows us.
“the difference between 8 and 6 min frequency, in a commuter dominated suburban area, is just not great enough”
It’s not 8 minutes vs 6 minutes, it’s 10 minutes vs 6 minutes. You’re looking at peak hours, but off-peak is 60% of the service day. The point of automation and frequency is you get greater frequency for free. And frequency is good in itself, because it means less waiting.
And Ballard isn’t a “commuter dominated suburban area”.
” is just not great enough to have one system generate over 500,000 daily riders and the other 80,000.”
What’s wrong with 80,000 riders? Why should they wait an extra 5 minutes because you don’t think they’re numerous enough?
Peak frequency on the suburban tails of the Canada line and the University part of the Expo line is 6 mins. Peak frequency on Link is currently 8 mins. And that is what is planned for Link in the future.
So an apples-to-apples comparison, peak-to-peak, is 6 mins vs 8 mins. That just isn’t a huge difference.
Additionally, late night those same parts of Skytrain operate at 20 min frequencies. Link operates at 10 min frequencies.
So an apples-to-apples comparison off peak would indicate that a change in technology would get us HALF the frequency we currently enjoy with Link.
Half the frequency and even less than half capacity is hardly a compelling reason to switch tech. It’s sort of like shooting yourself in both feet at the same time.
On the interlined parts of the respective system the story is identical. But I would argue that 3 min frequencies vs 4 mins is an even smaller effect. On average that is a 30 second difference in wait time for a train.
30 seconds just isn’t a compelling reason to change tech midstream.
However, I will grant you that Skytrain operates later at night than Link. But hours of operation are not a function of frequency. The two attributes are separate and not dependent on each other.
Oh, I am very sure that Jarrett Walker would agree with me on this.
Oh really. Go ahead then, send him an email. Ask him when an improvement in frequency does not correspond with an increase in ridership. Here is a hint: It doesn’t occur when you think it does. In fact, there is no evidence it ever occurs. It simply gets smaller and smaller. Actual studies confirm this. The elasticity gets smaller, but it doesn’t go to zero. Even for (relatively) frequent commuter rail, it drops to around 0.3 (if I remember right).
Peak frequency on the suburban tails of the Canada line and the University part of the Expo line is 6 mins. Peak frequency on Link is currently 8 mins. And that is what is planned for Link in the future.
So an apples-to-apples comparison, peak-to-peak, is 6 mins vs 8 mins. That just isn’t a huge difference.
Once again you are cherry picking different aspects to support your pet ideas. Once again both Mike and I have to point out that you are only talking about peak hours. You also ignore the bulk of the SkyTrain system. Yes, it is true that particular parts of the line run infrequently. So what? Those are clearly suburban areas, in contrast with Ballard Link. Do you really think stations in Surrey and Richmond are the same as stations in downtown Seattle or Ballard? Really?
You don’t seem to get it. This is not a commuter line. (And yes, there is evidence that commuter lines are impacted less by frequency.) This is an urban line through an urban area. It has three stations within downtown. Not a “Central Business District” type downtown, but a real, thriving downtown, with thousands of people doing things all the time. Many live there, and many more visit. The end point is not some distant suburb, but one of the more urban areas in the entire city. The people who ride Ballard Link are not 9 to 5 commuters, but the type of riders who have generated the recent increase in ridership. Holy cow, you of all people, being such a Link fan, should realize that. The only station that saw an increase in ridership from before the pandemic was Capitol Hill. The stations along here are similar. The main reason that Link has done so well is because of its “urban” nature, not because it serves commuters. Just look at the numbers. Sounder has collapsed; Link is doing OK. It is a direct reflection of the urban/all-day ridership pattern versus the suburban/commuter nature of each line.
The difference between 8 minutes and 6 minutes is significant with such lines. The difference between 10 minutes and 6 minutes is huge. No one has claimed that SkyTrain is better than Link only because it has much better frequency. But it is one of the big reasons. Every analyst who talks or writes about it says the same thing. But I suppose you think they all agree with you too.
Link is 7.5 minutes peak, 10 minutes off-peak, 15 minutes after 10pm. When I’ve ridden SkyTrain it’s been 5 minutes full time until at least midnight. If it’s 6 minutes now, that’s close to 5. If we can improve Link from 10-15 minutes off-peak, we should do so.
Most regular transit riders know from experience that frequency is important. Waiting several minutes ranks at the top of people’s dissatisfaction with transit. 5 minutes is “not very long”; 10 minutes is “starting to get long”. If you have a 2- or 3-seat round trip or make several trips a day, you might be subject to two or more 10-minute waits, and end up waiting a total of 40 minutes. A 10-minute bus wait can drag out to 15 or 20 minutes if the bus is late or doesn’t show up.
With 5-minute headways your average wait time is 2.5 minutes. That’s as short as anyone can expect, and within the margin of error of missing the elevator or having to adjust your backpack or looking at the map or checking your text messages. 6-minute headways are close enough to 5 that they still seem ultra-frequent. But when you get up to 7.5 or 8, that’s getting close to 10, or 1/6 of an hour. I could feel the difference when Link had 6-minute peaks vs now with 7.5 minute peaks. And I’m very glad Link doesn’t have 15-minute frequency like MAX or BART. That’s what turns a good subway into a mediocre subway.
Lazarus, you’re so bullish on Link I’d’ve thought you were strongly for high-quality transit in general. High frequency is one of the basics of high-quality transit. It doesn’t need 100,000 or 500,000 riders to justify it. Or is it really just manual conventional light rail that you’re bullish on?
In my long and illustrious career I’ve seen many young kids arrive straight from college all bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to apply the theories they learned in school to the real world.
What they end up learning is that the real world has some lessons to teach too. The intersection of theory and real world implementation is a messy place, and compromises always occur.
Yes, more frequency is better. But in the real world there are real costs and trade offs to pursuing a “frequency above all else” design path.
Changing tech, reducing capacity, and limiting interoperability have real costs, and they simply aren’t worth a frequency improvement of only 2 mins (1 min average).
In a world of instant gratification this can be a hard lesson for some to learn, because we all like instant gratification. But the smarter of those kids straight out of college were able to learn this lesson. And most of them went on to have successful and satisfying careers too.
ST is not going to change to Skytrain type tech. The costs at this point are just too high, and the benefits too small.
Mark my words. Reality is a “whatever”, and the real world always wins.
It’s just the way it is.
And, as a side note, if automation ever comes to Link, it won’t come in the form of Skytrain tech. It would come in the form of Self Operating tech, more akin to a self driving car than Skytrain. But it is probably a long way off. Probably as far off as ST4.
Let me just summarize the rebuttal put forward by Lazarus:
1) This will mean better frequency. It will be close enough during rush hour, and rush hour frequency is all that matters.
2) The stations will be cheaper to build. Not by much.
3) The stations could be better. Probably not.
4) The north end will be directly connected to the south end. Not important.
5) We can increase frequency in our core (Northgate to downtown). Frequency doesn’t matter much.
6) We will definitely save money ending at Westlake. Who cares?
Then we provide facts, figures, reports, essays all supporting these concepts that every transit expert in the world would agree with. This is met with condescension. Claims that we are little children, ignorant of how the real world works, followed up by claims that Link is awesome. Nothing more than cheerleading for a losing team. Just to be clear. Link is not a total loser ( unlike a lot of other light rail systems in this country — no wonder Lazarus specifically compared us to other light rail lines). But it has definitely had its losses. The agency has a long history of making big mistakes. Not bad execution (e. g. bad pliths) but bad planning. This is one of those times.
I wasn’t paying much attention to transit when they decided to skip First Hill. If I was, I would have done everything thing in my power to make sure they didn’t. I can just imagine Lazarus, with his rebuttal — it won’t be that bad. Sorry, Lazarus, it is that bad.
Well, folks, the current plans are similar. At first glance this is absurd. How can adding a second tunnel — however flawed — be anything like skipping an essential station? Simple. They are related. The decision to eliminate the First Hill Station was made almost 20 years ago, in July of 2005. Since then, there have been many additions, and many more are planned. This will be one of the largest mass transit systems in North America (top 5) and it isn’t cheap. Very little of it is running on the surface. Even before ST3 passed, we were spending more per capita than any other city. Billions upon billions, and yet no First Hill stop. No Belltown stop. Why?
Because if you waste your money on the wrong things, you can’t build the right things. That is the real world Lazarus.
“ Because if you waste your money on the wrong things, you can’t build the right things.”
Exactly! And that is exactly why we shouldn’t switch technologies mid stream and implement something radically different from what we currently have,
If you don’t believe that, then look no further than VanBC and their Skytrain system. Every time they build an extension they have the same old debate: Stick with Skytrain, or build LRT or BRT instead?
Case in point, the Surry Extension of the Expo Line. It was originally selected as an LRT project, and it was fully funded as an LRT project, even though it was basically just an extension of Skytrain. But last minute lobbying got it switched back to Skytrain at the last minute.
The result? Higher cost, slower deployment, and less coverage. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a good project, but that also doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been better if built differently.
So that should be a warning sign to Seattle.
But hey, one of us will be right, and one of us will be wrong. I’m confident that some form of the DSLRT2 will get built, and that it will use standard Link tech.
I’d bet you a dollar and a donut that I am right, but when I win I’d have to eat a donut with you to collect. I’ll just buy my own donut instead.
Laz, I’m not following your logic, here:
So, keeping the same technology resulted in a worse outcome? Or, are you saying that changing the technology mid-scoping (from LRT to automated metro) resulted in higher costs?
The problem is that BLE (as part of WSBLE) was originally scoped as a “proper” LRT, with at-grade sections to save money, and now it’s all grade-separated. This has already resulted in cost explosion – I don’t think you’re understanding the potential cost savings with cutting station excavation volumes in half, with not building DSTT2, and the potential rider experience improvements of increased frequencies.
Exactly! And that is exactly why we shouldn’t switch technologies mid stream and implement something radically different from what we currently have
But this isn’t mid-stream! That is the point.
Look, there are plenty of people in the transit community who say we picked the wrong technology. Reece Martin, who covers transit systems from around the world, has Link as his poster child for “when you picked the wrong tool”. I’m not blaming ST for picking it — it was the only thing that made sense at the time. It doesn’t now. It simply doesn’t. The system isn’t as good as it would be if we had a light metro system instead.
But no one is saying we should change over. That would be changing mid-stream. To go and change every station would be very disruptive and fairly expensive. It would be better in the long run, but is simply not worth it.
In contrast, this is a brand new line. This is exactly when we should change technologies. But to be clear, this is more than just high-floor trains. These are high-floor automated trains. That is definitely worth the change, especially if you have a new line.
By the way, Toronto did this. There is nothing wrong with the trains used in the Toronto Subway. You will find no one criticizing them. But the Ontario Line — being a different line — has the opportunity for smaller trains, running more often. Everything is being built from scratch, just like the Ballard line. By running automated trains, they can focus on maximum headways with smaller trains and smaller stations. That is exactly what they did. They will run the trains every 90 seconds. Remember, this is a line specifically built to handle capacity issues that have existed for decades. Yet they decided to go with smaller trains.
As for Surrey/Langley, there were really three choices:
1) BRT connection to SkyTrain
2) Tram connection to SkyTrain
3) Extension of SkyTrain
They rejected the tram idea not because there is anything fundamentally wrong with a tram, but because people didn’t want surface transit. They didn’t want something similar to Max (i. e. something that runs relatively slow). That doesn’t mean there is anything fundamentally wrong with Max, and it definitely doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with the Max cars. In fact, it is exactly what makes sense for a tram — a low floor, high-capacity light rail train. It is definitely cheaper, but they wanted elevated rail. They basically wanted what we have — a light metro. As an extension, it of course made sense to go with the same technology. No one is suggesting we change the trains as they head to Lynnwood, Everett, Federal way, etc.
But if they were building a brand new, completely grade-separated line (which is what Ballard Link well be) they sure as hell wouldn’t run light rail in it. They would run small, automated trains with stations specifically designed for maximum headways. They might be like the trains used on the Expo Line (the one that is being extended) they might be different.
Keep in mind, Vancouver actually did that! The trains on the Canada Line are completely different than the ones used on the rest of the line. With the Canada Line, they basically approached it with a clean slate. They ended up with trains that have conventional electric motors, rather than the linear induction motors on the other lines.
Whether we end up with trains like those, trains like those found on the Expo lines, trains like those going into Vancouver or trains like those found in Copenhagen misses the point. While those all have differences, they all share the same basic philosophy: they are automated, and the system is built around maximum headways. That allows for smaller stations, better stations and better headways all for a lot less money.
At the time of the decision to switch from LR to Skytrain tech the implementation of Skytrain tech was estimated to cost an additional ~$1B, even though it wouldn’t go quite as far in phase 1 of the project. Yet the change was made anyhow.
There were some arguments made about recouping some of those additional costs via lower
O&M costs resulting from the use of one tech, and also maybe some slightly higher ridership due to the elimination of the forced rail-to-rail transfer. But what really swung it back to Skytrain tech was equity.
The citizens of Surry felt they were being treated differently than the other, richer, parts of the city by being forced to accept LR tech and the added forced transfer. So the switch was made despite the cost, mainly due to equity.
For Seattle these arguments would be exactly the opposite. Skytrain tech would likely cost more due to its higher upfront cost and the loss of O&M efficiencies due to needing to maintain two techs.
Additionally, Ballard could claim that they are being treated inequitably by being forced to use smaller, more crowded trains with lower capacity. And by being forced to accept an additional rail-to-rail transfer that no other commuters in the city are being forced to do.
So I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for Skytrain in Seattle. Won’t happen.
I’m sorry Lazarus but what you say has never been studied. This isn’t a little option. It’s instead a way to save the public several billions dollars and save riders from having to negotiate mole tunnels and use multiple vertical devices that ST can’t maintain very well. The request is simply to put it forward as an alternative.
When the decision to stay with the current Link technology was made, the public was not made aware of the benefits of automation. Also DSTT2 was never studied and the effort to build it was deceptively or negligently present to elected officials and the public as if there is no cost problem or significant disruption.
As far as trains being smaller and more crowded, that’s totally ridiculous. Two car automated trains running every three minutes is the same as a four car train running every six minutes. Note that the RV capacity limits make it hard to run Ballard-Tacoma trains more frequently. Plus, if a train is too crowded, the next one comes in half the time. As an automated line, trains can also Toruń more frequently than every try here minutes. Two minutes is doable pretty easily if capacity demands it.
And maintaining two types of vehicles is not a noteworthy problem. If there was only five vehicles jt would be, but not a fleet of a few dozen. Besides, these automated vehicles won’t need drivers so hiring a few more maintenance people is still going to save money.
Your arguments have little sway. They read like an arrogant ST staff person who is mentally unable to see their own bias because they think anyone who questions ST choices is inherently stupid.
Skytrain first opened in 1985. Portland MAX first opened in 1986. At the time the idea of modern LR systems as transit in America was new and novel.
Only one of those two systems would go on to become the model for most of the new LR systems in America, and it wasn’t Skytrain.
ST studied Skytrain tech back in the late 90’s when they were selecting what to build for the first phase of LR in the Seattle area. And ST rejected Skytrain, partly due to issues with upfront costs. Nothing has really changed since then.
Additionally, if I was living in Ballard and ST was trying to force Skytrain tech on me I’d be pissed. Why should a Ballard resident be forced to accept a slower, less convenient transit experience than other transit riders in the region? And that is exactly what the result would be when you start adding all these unnecessary tech to tech transfers into the system. Those add time, and they add inconvenience.
What good is saving 3 mins with frequency if every transfer represents 6 mins of wasted transfer time? It makes absolutely no sense. It’s a losing proposition.
Switching tech at this point would be what they call an “unforced error”.
For whatever reason people on this blog seem to hate ST and spend their time hunting for new and novel ways to criticize them. Usually this involves bashing ST for failed escalators in the old Metro bus tunnel.
But now that ST has finally taken full control of the DSLRT, and is making very significant improvements in escalator availability, it almost seems like the cudgel de jour with which to attack ST is “automation”.
But it isn’t going to change anything. At the end of the day, WSBLE will look and operate an awful lot like 1 and 2-Link.
It’s just the way it is.
Lazarus, I agree with you that ST is not going to consider a different technology for Ballard Link.
Putting aside affordability, won’t there be transfers no matter what with two tunnels. Riders on East Link will have to transfer at Westlake to go south with the current design. Riders from the south will have to transfer at Sodo to go to downtown (unless they are going to the jail) or Capitol Hill/UW and areas north.
From what I can tell riders from the east and North Seattle get DSTT1 with the fewest likely transfers. Eastsiders won’t be taking Link to Ballard, West Seattle, or likely south and ST wants the increased frequency from East Link trains for line 1 north.
But all the rest look like they will have to transfer at Sodo or Westlake if they don’t want to go to Ballard or West Seattle. So there will be at least one Link to Link transfer for many riders, which with walking from station to station is around 10 minutes peak depending on Link’s frequencies.
More than elevators or automation my understanding is the biggest complaint about WSBLE and DSTT2 is the forced transfer from tunnel to tunnel, and who gets the “good” tunnel (which from the very beginning Al has called).
Lazarus, at the time the light rail decision was made, it met the needs of the regional transit lines as light rail is great for at-grade lines, I don’t think anybody is blaming Sound Transit for that decision.
I’m saying, now that we’re building more urban lines and decided to use separate ROW, we may want to take a look at what other transit providers around the world are doing in such case: use automated metro technology.
This is a separate line. If a different technology fits the requirements of that new line better, why not use it? Yes, you may not want to do this every time, but if the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, why not?
Montreal, Paris, London, they are all switching to automation at least for new lines, some cities even upgrade existing lines, why not do the same in Seattle if we want to continue to be a leader in rail transit?!?
“And ST rejected Skytrain, partly due to issues with upfront costs. Nothing has really changed since then.”
Really, Lazarus? You don’t think there has been any change in the political support to spend large upfront capital costs for transit since 1996?
Gee Lazarus, are you saying that Portland was the trend setter when San a Diego light rail opened five years earlier?
And are you saying that we should build Link like Max — at grade through CID, SLU and Ballard and West Seattle too? I mean you claim it to be the “model” system and why we should use similar vehicles .
And Max has more than two lines on many of those Downtown surface streets with four crossing the Willamette River? If Max is the model, we don’t need DSTT2.
That’s not to mention that technology has changed greatly since the 1986 Max opening date. Hybrids were and now EVs are the future of the car industry. There was no internet nor phone texting commonly going on in 1986. There were no real-time bus arrival systems being used in 1986. 1986 was 37 years ago now; no one heard a chorus saying that technology decisions from 1949 (another 37 years back) should drive decisions in 1986.
Dare I mention that Portland area voters rejected a measure in 2020 to add a new Max line?
Sure there is tremendous inertia among ST staff against automation. It was that way in Toronto. In Toronto’s case, it took provincial intervention (Ontario) to force the creation of the Ontario Line project — actually named for the province!
The ST staff prefer to “suffer” for many years in lawsuits, capital budget shortfalls resulting in construction delays, mitigation hassles around the densest portion of our area well past 2040 and possibly on to 2050. So the 32 year old engineer hired in 2017 will be 65 and probably retiring if it happens in 2050. That’s 37 years of telling each other about the good ole days and lamenting that the public isn’t as smart as they are. ST3: The ST Staff Lifetime Employment Act!
Honestly Lazarus, I think you care more about protecting ST staff than creating a more effective and frequent rail transit system for an affordable cost and a faster opening date with much less construction disruption.
Look, this whole post is about getting ST to merely study things. The case is very compelling. For ST staff to act like the issue has not been prominent in comments to even put it in the summary report speaks volumes about the level of denial.
@Lazurus — You keep implying that SkyTrain is the only option for automated rail. It’s not even clear what it is you’re talking about. There are two technologies used for SkyTrain:
1) Third rail (Linear motor) — Used by Expo and Millennium Lines
2) Conventional Third Rail — Used by Canada Line
These are very different. The rolling stock is completely different. From an operations standpoint, this is as different as having light rail and heavy rail. The only thing they have in common is that they are both automated. There are other automated systems as well. For example:
3) Overhead line, 1,500 V DC
Even though these are all standard gauge and all automated, they are all very different. Thus it is quite reasonable to reject linear motors or third rail, but decide to go with a different automated rail technology. Toronto did exactly that. They will have the third choice.
It is like we are pushing for an electric car, and you keep arguing that the old Nissan Leaf just doesn’t have enough range. That is only one type of electric car! There are many different automated train systems out there. SkyTrain isn’t the only one. The fact that a fellow Canadian city decided to not use the same technology just shows the range of options. No one is arguing for SkyTrain (of either type). We are simply arguing for smaller, automated trains (so that we can have smaller, cheaper, better stations).
Ah, the San Diego Trolley! Now you are speaking my language!
But, for the record, I never said that Skytrain and MAX were the very first, only that at the time modern LR systems were “new and novel”.
And there are very good reasons not to consider Phase I of the SDT when discussing early LR projects in America. Because the first phase of the SDT wasn’t even built for the real purpose of building transit. It was a ruse to divert funding to freight rail.
San Diego in the 70’s and 80’s was essentially congestion free. The freeways were fast and unclogged. The populace was fairly transit hostile. So why build a trolley line near a freeway that is free flowing? And build it through low density neighborhoods?
Because San Diego had lost heavy rail freight service to their port area south of the Coronado Bridge. In order to protect the port and maritime industries they needed funding to take over and rehabilitate the old line.
But the MetropolitanTransit System had a little bit of funding that they were using to run some buses. So the thought was that they could just raid the MTS budget and divert the funding to rail. Then this rail line would also serve heavy freight traffic to the port.
It was sort of a 2 birds with one stone approach that had the added advantage of paying a lot of the costs of the freight railroad with transit money.
How bad was the ruse? Pretty bad. In fact, it was so bad that they didn’t even bother applying for Federal funding. The thought the ruse was just too obvious.
So SDT Phase I was built as single track line through mainly low density neighborhoods outside the urban core. And max allowable headways were 20 minutes because of the need for timed arrivals at a few key passing points.
The other reason the Phase I SDT was built like it was is an unfortunate one: racism. San Diego is pretty conservative and there is a fair amount of racism. So the other selling point of the line was to bring in low skilled, poorer, primarily minority workers to their jobs in the CBD, and back again, without having to actually rub elbows with them. And not to waste any money doing it.
But an odd thing happened – the system was a success! And there is a lesson for inputs there: rail works!
Basically most people ditched the congestion free, express buses and switched to rail instead. Even at 20 minute headways the system worked. The local politicians were so stunned they tried to blame it on the data, but then quickly shifted to using the data to apply for more funding to build more.
Trust me, I was there. It was a really strange time.
As far as your baseless accusation that I’m just trying to protect ST jobs, you are incorrect. Going with automation would actually increase ST employment because of the need to design and maintain all that automation equipment.
The jobs that would be lost are Link operator jobs, which are provided by Metro. It there aren’t that many of them as compared to the need at Metro. And, no, I’m not a Metro employee. Never have been.
You are fundamentally misunderstanding the situation regarding Skytrain propulsion and car design.
The fact that Skytrain has moved to a more Link like vehicle design and is now operating a mixed fleet isn’t proof that the O&M penalty for mixed fleets doesn’t exist, it just means that they decided the cost penalty for mixed fleet operation was less than the cost penalty of a 100% LIM powered, third rail system.
This is pretty standard stuff, and it is well understood across multiple industries and supply chains.
Take for example the airline industry. Southwest is a low cost carrier, and that low cost comes partly from a lack of frills. But it also comes partly because they operate a fleet of a single aircraft type. They are very upfront and open about this as a source of cost savings.
Alaska Air is another example. They operate a two type fleet. A single type for regular type service, and a shorter range fleet for operation to smaller airports with limited infrastructure. A single fleet can’t serve both market types.
Alaska Air does have some Airbuses in their fleet that are in the 737 size. These came via merger and have existing contracts Alaska Air can’t break.
But what is Alaska Air doing with these Airbus airplanes? They are flushing them as soon their contracts expire! Why? To save money by consolidating their O&M on as few types as possible.
It is pretty standard stuff, accepted across multiple industries, all over the world. It is not a subject for debate.
“You are fundamentally misunderstanding the situation regarding Skytrain propulsion and car design.”
[Several paragraphs of information I already knew, already referenced (it is on Wikipedia) and is fairly easy to understand.]
So, no, Lazarus, I don’t fundamentally misunderstand the situation regarding SkyTrain. Nor do I fundamentally misunderstand other automated lines. Nor do I fundamentally misunderstand what Toronto did (which is a much better analogy) nor the many other cities that already have a mix of automated and non-automated systems (which is what this post is proposing). I think I have the fundamentals down fairly well. Your insistence on treating SkyTrain like it is one system, and the only automated system out there suggests you don’t.
I stand by my comments.
ST Link is already one of the most successful Light Rail systems in America
That is like saying you are the best AAA baseball player. Great, time to move up to the big leagues.
Your argument is bizarre, really. Compared to other light rail systems, we are doing great. Very true. But compared to other light metro systems, we are second rate. The obvious answer then, is to become a light metro system. (It will take more than that, but still).
And why change technology to something that is already antiquated? It makes no sense.
That is ludicrous. You are saying automated light metro systems are antiquated? Montreal and Toronto haven’t even finished their light metro lines, and you are saying they are already antiquated? Do you even understand these technologies and their advantages?
Look, light rail definitely has its advantages. They are basically really big streetcars. Any train can run on the surface, with surface stops, but a high floor train needs to build higher stops (or ask riders to step up to get onto the train, which is a really bad idea). This doesn’t sound like much extra money, but if you have a line like Max, with 94 stops, it adds up. It is just much easier and cheaper to run a tram/streetcar/light rail with a low floor stop.
But high-floor vehicles have advantages as well. They have more room. Step onto a Link train and you may notice the “bumps”. These are where the wheels are, essentially. Get on a high floor vehicle, and everything is built above that. High-floor trains can also make tighter turns. That is because you build everything above the “bogeys”. So high floor vehicles have more room, and can make tighter turns, but at the expense of being, well, higher. The thing is, if you are in a tunnel, or on an elevated line, it doesn’t matter. There is no advantage to a low-floor light rail train, and every disadvantage.
Automation is a different issue. But a separate line allows us to do both. We can automate it, while also providing better vehicles. They have more room, because they are high-floor and automated (no cab for the driver). Thus a train that takes up half the space actually has somewhere around 60% of the rider capacity (not 50%). Meanwhile, because they are automated, you can run them more often. The plans are to tie Ballard Link with Rainier Valley, which means the train will never run more than every six minutes (if that). In contrast, an automated light metro line can easily run every three minutes, providing more capacity, despite platforms that are half the size. This means:
1) Better stations
2) More capacious and frequent trains
3) Cheaper to build and operate
A huge percentage of new light rail lines being built across the world are automated.
To not consider automated is to keep Link in the technology world of the last century.
Imagine if all of our elevators still were manned. Imagine if we did not have automated train control because human controllers were “good enough” at one time.
To say we don’t need to automate is just like being an old fogey who doesn’t want to use new technology!
Frankly it’s not even new. SkyTrain and London’s DLR first opened over 25 years ago! The same is true with the automated trains at SeaTac!
I mean if the west Seattle and Ballard segments are completely grade separated why not automated them? They just can’t be automated because currently they interline with the existing at grade portions.
If it is separated there isn’t a reason not to automate it. Also the discussion here really isn’t about the technology about about the right of way.
Best light rail system? Under what metric? Farebox recovery is terrible. Although a different technology, BART leaves Link in the dust with its farebox recovery. Trains have killed people in the RV.
Then there is the ugly truth that no new extensions will improve farebox recovery like U-Link and Northgate Link offered. Link farebox performance is set to get structurally worse, especially with the light usage from most ST3 extensions except Ballard — Tacoma Dome, West Seattle, Downtown Redmond, Kirkland-Issaquah and Everett all have really terrible ridership forecasts given their costs to not only build but to operate.
I am late to this party, but I do have something to add since I was part of this.
The Surrey extension was initially going to be built as an LRT because the Surrey council wanted it that way. In the initial cost benefit study, LRT came last. It’s only a tiny bit cheaper than skytrain over time when higher operating costs lower fare revenue are considered (and in Vancouver, fare revenue is a big chunk of operating revenue), but the benefits were way lower because of the lower number of riders and the slower ride they got. After the cost benefit study came out, we all thought that LRT was off the table as its costs actually exceeded its benefits, whereas all the other options had positive ratios and skytrain the best. But for some reason Surrey council and particularly the mayor was obsessed with having street level LRT. However, no one else was really that keen and argued against it, including yours truly. And in the next municipal election where LRT vs Skytrain was one of the two main issues, the incumbents lost. Skytrain replaced LRT and everyone got on board. (The new council and mayor lost the next election, but no one ever suggested going back to LRT.)
As to your comments on mixed fleets, there is only one type of car on the Canada Line, and it is completely separate from the rest of the system. The rest of the system has several different models, but they are just updates on basically the same thing. And this is a result of time and growth. The first Mark 1 cars are from 1984. Nothing unreasonable to expect that we might be running newer models now. And Translink didn’t even pick the trains on the Canada Line. That was part of the bid process, and that consortium only won because they were the cheapest. Actually as part of the bid process, the other consortium that was going to use the same rolling stock as the rest of the system was not allowed to get a credit for that as it was thought to give them an unfair bidding advantage.
Finally, as to your statement:
“Skytrain first opened in 1985. Portland MAX first opened in 1986. At the time the idea of modern LR systems as transit in America was new and novel.
Only one of those two systems would go on to become the model for most of the new LR systems in America, and it wasn’t Skytrain.”
This maybe correct, but in the rest of the world, automatic metro systems have become the near universal choice.
Finally, there was some debate as to who though what first. I might step in here to point out that, ahem, I first sketched out a plan to have a automated metro to Ballard, with all the same arguments, here in 2017:
And I updated the plan last year:
I can’t help thinking that ought to have been pointed out.
Thanks for the informed response. It is nice to have someone with real knowledge of this issue join the conversation.
I can only infer from what I’ve read, but I’ve always thought that part of the original preference for LRT on the Surrey extension was due to its lower impact on the built environment. As planned it was a surface alignment, and thus less intrusive than fully elevated Skytrain.
But for the Ballard extension this is not an issue. Whether ST built a Link style extension, or a Skytrain/automated type extension, the line would pretty much look the same. I.e., this is not a question of surface LR like a streetcar vs. Skytrain. They would look, feel, and operate pretty much the same, but their LRVs wouldn’t be interoperable in any form.
And ST would certainly build them to the same standards – same station lengths, same general operating frequencies. There just is no believable data out there that says that there is a big difference in ridership, or operating characteristics, between 6 and 8 min headways. Even more so for operation between 3 and 4 min headways.
And this idea that you can save vast amounts of money by shrinking the stations is speculative at best. A lot of the cost of a station is fixed and not a function of platform length. And the small amount you might save in excavation costs is certainly not enough to cover the costs of automation.
As per automated metro type systems, we missed that opportunity in the 1960’s when we voted down the transit portion of Forward Thrust. Nobody is suggesting currently that we go back and revisit heavy rail, larger capacity type systems.
And finally, I have maintained for years that, if automation ever comes to Link, it will come in the form of Self Operating LRV’s and not in the form of Skytrain type automation. Aka, more Tesla like and less Skytrain like.
At that point the math gets pretty simple: the cost of retrofitting the automation into the fleet, vs the savings from losing the operator.
It should also be noted, that Self Operating LRVs are much more likely to appear on the scene before Self Driving buses. The mathematical problem is much simpler with the SO LRV because its location is known precisely at any given time regardless of weather (it’s on rails!), and the number of vehicles that would need to be retrofitted is much smaller.
> And this idea that you can save vast amounts of money by shrinking the stations is speculative at best.
For shrinking the stations that cost saving is mainly if building deep underground stations, which the current Ballard alternative has many from Chinatown, Midtown, Westlake, Denny Way and SLU and Ballard. Potentially the Chinatown one and SLU could be shallower and Ballard elevated but that still leave 3 deep stations.
https://transitcosts.com/ analyzed transit construction cost and station lengths for underground stations is a large factor in cost, driving the station cost up to a billion.
For at grade stations it’s pretty cheap like 60~70 million dollars https://www.soundtransit.org/sites/default/files/C-08_GrahamSt_FTemp.pdf
Lazarus, I think you underestimate the fundamental costs of bulk materials and labor that are dependent on station size. I’ll caveat that I’m not privy to ST’s actual construction costs and I don’t know if there have been published estimates of ST’s costs comparing different station size. However, I commonly support construction work, and do have some awareness of how costs scale with footprint.
Also, there is often consternation on this blog on ST’s obsession with mezzanines, because it increases the physical size (and therefore cost) of stations. That’s not a function of platform length per se, but is indicative of costs scaling with bulk.
As far as I’m aware, the significant “fixed” costs of stations are vertical conveyance (which is dependent on grade separation), ticketing machines (today, ORCA card dispensers), fare collection (ORCA readers), safety mechanisms that are a function of estimated station utilization, and operational controls for trains entering/exiting the station.
All other major costs in the construction and maintenance of a station seem to scale (either linearly or geometrically) with the physical size of the station, which is driven by the platform length in one dimension, and grade separation in the other. For very basic stations (like simple at-grade stations), you’re probably right that the platform length scaling costs are probably some minor % of the basic costs of a station, but for the kinds of grandiose, grade-separated stations that ST prefers to build, station construction costs are very likely dominated by the physical size of the station, which is a direct function of platform length.
> And I updated the plan last year:
I think unfortunately since it was on Page Two, many including me never saw these posts.
> This proposal doesn’t go under the 99 tunnel. Stays east the whole way. The only thing that really needs to be avoided is the sewer main that I think is under Dexter.
I’m pretty happy someone else had the same idea before me about just digging the new tunnel east of the 99 tunnel. I have no idea why the route was chosen to pass underneath both of the 99 tunnel and also the original DSTT. The sewer main is an issue but it still allows for shallower stations (80 feet) versus the one under the 99 tunnel at (120 feet)
I was actually hoping to even avoid tunneling under DSTT itself by shifting the new tunnel onto 2nd avenue and just having connections at university street station but there’s also a ancient sewer on 2nd avenue so perhaps not feasible.
WL, but who south of University does a Second Avenue tunnel serve? The gentle rise on Union quickly becomes a mountain by Spring. Yes, there are all those great new condos along the waterfront, but they would be better served by the CCC with more and closer stops.
Second Avenue is neither employment fish nor residential fowl. Who would be its riders?
Nobody is saying that station costs don’t scale at all with station length, because clearly they do to some extent. But the scaling is not direct (1 to 1) with length, and the fact of the matter is that small savings in station cost for a few cut-and-cover stations won’t offset the increased costs due to systemwide automation.
As per mezzanines, it’s not just ST, you see mezzanines in most places. Even Metro did it with 3 out of 4 stations in the old bus tunnel.
So why continue with mezzanines?
It probably depends on the individual station, but often the depth of the station is set by the running depth of the TBM building the tunnels. TBM’s don’t like to run too near the surface due to soil stability issues, and sometimes they approach the station box by passing under existing structures (CHS, UDS, RS) or water (UWS). Increased depth in these situations reduces construction risk somewhat, and with increased depth comes more mezzanines.
Additionally, certain pedestrian flow issues related to siting and side vs center platforms often necessitate consideration of mezzanines.
But the scaling is not direct (1 to 1) with length, and the fact of the matter is that small savings in station cost for a few cut-and-cover stations won’t offset the increased costs due to system wide automation.
Ha, funny. You think it costs more to run automated trains? That is absurd. Even the capital costs are likely to be a lot less. This is why Toronto switched. They were all ready to just build more of the same, but went with completely different trains that are automated. They did so with the expectations that the trains would run a lot more often. As a result, it really did save money. Quite a bit. That is why they did it. This is the entire basis of this argument. The world is moving to automated trains where they can. They still use light rail for lines that are mostly on the surface, but they are transitioning to automated rail, even if it means a mixed stock.
You keep backing away from previous assertions, while you throw numerous straw men arguments at us. For example you wrote:
this idea that you can save vast amounts of money by shrinking the stations is speculative at best.
Much later you wrote:
Nobody is saying that station costs don’t scale at all with station length, because clearly they do to some extent.
This is basically a reversal of what you wrote prior, which makes sense, given all of the evidence we threw at you. But rather than leave it there, you try desperately to discredit the proposal by claiming something we didn’t:
But the scaling is not direct (1 to 1) with length
Right, except no one said that. You arguments just don’t make any sense any more. You are defending your position while finally acknowledging the key points (station costs scale with station length) while trying to make up artificial claims.
Consider your fixation with SkyTrain. First you attack the technology as outdated. You completely ignored the fact that there are two different technologies involved — two completely different train sets (linear motor and 750 V DC third rail). It is still not clear which technology you are attacking. You then make some sort of bizarre argument over the Surrey extension, as if Vancouver no longer likes the hugely successful trains. You completely ignore Toronto, or other systems in the rest of the world that have automated trains (of various types) and then end up with different train sets. Then, after previously claiming that it would be a terrible idea to have a mixed set of train sets, you write:
it just means that they decided the cost penalty for mixed fleet operation was less than the cost penalty of a 100% LIM powered, third rail system.
Yes, exactly! That is what we have been saying all along. Of course it is less than ideal to have two different types of trains. But as with Toronto, it will be worth it if building the line is so much cheaper. In the case of Vancouver, it wasn’t even about the stations — it was a given that it would be automated.
In between you see accusations of naivety, along with the funniest part of all, your defense of light rail. To begin with, you mention how “ST Link is already one of the most successful Light Rail systems in America”, without acknowledging that other systems (that are not considered light rail) are far more successful. It is really a bizarre argument. “We have the most successful monorail in the country — therefore, we should build more monorail”. It is a completely backwards argument. You ignore the fact that other systems (including light metro) are far more successful. The only reason our system is so popular is because we have built so much in the way of grade-separated right-of-way — something that runs counter to the chief advantage of low-floor light rail in the first place. You still haven’t actually addressed its advantages or disadvantages, other than (it is what we used before).
Now you make the claim that America has gotten on the light rail bandwagon, and it has been a huge success. You ignore the fact that when it comes to transit, we lag the rest of the world. The fact that we use light rail in places where it doesn’t make sense is one reason why.
It is just bizarre how you continue to defend your argument in the face of overwhelming evidence. What we are asking for is fairly simple. Just study this thing. See if running automated trains and making the stations smaller will yield significant savings, the way it has the world over. You seem convinced that it won’t, with no evidence to actually support your case. What cities automated their system — or better yet, a part of their system, which is what we are proposing — and then regretted it? I can’t think of one.
Lazarus, what are the “systemwide costs” of automation that wouldn’t be recovered by a few months — not “years” — of labor savings? There is already a “TCC” which tracks trains by “block” and “control points”. Full automation would require some kind of real-time position connection, but that can be a simple cell connection.
GPS doesn’t work underground, of course, so visual location indicators will have to be marked on the tunnel walls. That’s already done for maintenance records.
Sorry, “TCS” (“Traffic Control System”).
I am 100% in support of this proposal. The current ST3 plan provides zero value add as the midtown station is useless, so it’s basically forcing transfers at Westlake anyway.
We desperately need rapid transit in SLU and Seattle Center now. Not in another 15 years. With Amazon returning to office and Sonics likely coming back in 2025-2026, this area of the city is poorly served by rapid transit.
The more I think about the approach presented here, the more I like it. It’s an elegant way to avoid the huge expense of a second tunnel without needing to figure out how to punch a new hole in the existing tunnel. I don’t think it’s essential that Ballard have a one seat ride to every inch of downtown when both lines are running very frequently, and, as RossB said, most people going downtown would be getting of at Westlake anyway.
That said, I have zero confidence that ST would even consider something out of the box line this, rather than reject it out of hand, but hey, one can dream.
I agree on all your points. I wasn’t too enthused about this proposal initially, but the more I think about, the more I like it. The automation is a huge benefit, but so too is not building a second tunnel. It opens up the possibility of going to First Hill (and beyond). It is actually a better pattern, really, than previous ideas for serving First Hill. There have been two other ideas that came close to happening, making this the third:
1) Serve First Hill between Westlake and Capitol Hill. This was the original idea, and it would have been great. But it also would have meant a lot of twists and turns, and only two stations east of the freeway.
2) Serve First Hill with the new tunnel, between CID and Westlake. This works as well, bus still leaves us with only one new station in that area. Again, the train curves up and down.
3) Serve First Hill south of Westlake, and just keep going the same basic direction, to serve Yesler Terrace and similar places. Bingo! We have winner! You maximize coverage in what can easily be called “greater downtown”. You can keep going to make other connections (to rail and the buses) and greatly improve transit in the region.
As folks have mentioned, this is basically a “Metro 8”, but intersecting at Westlake instead of Capitol Hill.
I would quibble with that “has to be level for 600 feet” figure.
ST might want them level for that distance, but many MAX stations are not level at all. Park Avenue, Lents/Foster Road, Parkrose/Sumner are all sloped a bit, and few of the surface stations in downtown Portland are not 100% level because the entire street grid slopes towards the river. SE Fuller Road is almost level, but starts the uphill climb over Johnson Creek Blvd in only about 70 feet. Flavel Street starts climbing for the crossing of SE 92nd immediately after leaving the station. They couldn’t physically do it any other way other than an expensive elevated station (which would have been nice but isn’t how TriMet does stuff).
Having just been to Atlanta, it’s interesting to note how soon after a station some of the MARTA tracks start ascending or descending.
Obviously you can’t have a station on a 15% grade going up to First Hill, but there is a bit of leeway in making things absolutely level. ST might save a bit if they went off of what is apparently allowable rather than what is ideal.
Ya, I don’t understand that 600 ft claim at all. And I don’t think it is really true anyhow.
For example, the platform at the new Roosevelt Station isn’t actually level. It actually has a slight slope to it.
But why does it even matter? If you are using a TBM to access an underground station, then the TBM can run straight and level for as long as you want. And if you are building an elevated station then it is essentially the same. So who cares?
And ST has yet to build either an elevated or a cut and cover station directly in the street right of way anyhow. Maybe they will in the future, but they haven’t done it yet. So I wouldn’t panic first and start making changes to a highly successful system..
Additionally, if the argument is that straight stretches of street that long just don’t exist in Seattle, then I would direct the reader to a street map of Seattle. The vast majority of Seattle streets are straight, and straight for long distances. Because they, you know, form a grid. Ya, they turn on occasion and at certain spots, but the bulk of their runs are arrow straight. Plenty of options for nice, straight LR stations.
And, if the argument is one of surface disruption for cut and cover stations, then I’d remind the reader that the only local transit agency that has placed cut and cover stations in the street right of way is….…wait for it…..Metro. That is the approach Metro used for the old bus tunnel.
But I don’t think this claim of 100 ft on each side of a station is correct anyhow. And, if it was true for whatever reason, I’m pretty damn sure the requirement wouldn’t change because of automation.
Let’s stick to the facts folks.
But why does it even matter? I’m pretty damn sure the requirement wouldn’t change because of automation.
You missed the connection. Just to back up here. Look at the proposals for the stations. They are terrible. Now look at the costs. They are extremely high. So terrible stations and very high costs. Why? Because the stations are huge. The stations are huge because the platforms are huge.
If, on the other hand, the stations are half the size, the stations can be much smaller. They are also cheaper. Smaller stations, cheaper stations, better stations. Automation makes that possible because we can run the trains twice as often.
So, to review here: Much better stations, much cheaper stations, more frequent trains. Got it now?
That is an overly simplistic line of thought that doesn’t hold up in the real world.
While some costs certainly do scale with length, many don’t. In fact, some of the most expensive items don’t scale with length at all.
Communications, ingress/egress, fire suppression, smoke evacuation, etc. These are all expensive systems that don’t scale with length. Regardless of whether or not your station is one for long, or 1000 feet long, the cost is roughly the same.
Call it “station overhead” if you will. But regardless of how long your station is, you still need to pay the piper.
Skytrain is not a magic bullet. If it was it would be copied all over North America. It hasn’t been, and even in VanBC they debate with every new line whether or not to finally give up on Skytrain tech, or whether to switch to LR. Usually they stick to a “sunk cost” type argument and just stick with it, but that doesn’t mean we should.
Fire suppression and smoke evacuation would scale with volume, which functionally is the same as length for a station box.
Yes, there are some costs that are per-station, but the cost of a station very nearly scales linearly with length. The international data supports this.
These systems support the tunnel too, and tunnel volume does not change station length.
For example, the smoke evacuation fans at Roosevelt are sized to evacuate the tunnel tubes.
Skytrain is not a magic bullet. If it was it would be copied all over North America.
But they are! Not SkyTrain specifically, but automated trains. Both Toronto and Montreal are doing exactly what is proposed here. Toronto is an especially good example, since they changed things at the last minute. But the results were shockingly good. Just look at the chart: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relief_Line_(Toronto)#Successor:_Ontario_Line. Twice as long, almost twice as many stations, and not much more money. This is Toronto, mind you — a massive city compared to Seattle.
No one is saying this is a magic bullet. Stop with the straw men. But station costs are related to platform size. It is why Toronto basically switched technologies at the last minute. This wasn’t an easy decision, but it was the right one. It is a fairly well understood idea. So much so that it is rarely debated. For example, look at these threads about the Ontario Line:
https://urbantoronto.ca/forum/threads/toronto-ontario-line-m-s.6155/page-1412 — “Smaller but more frequent trains means smaller stations which means faster and cheaper construction.”
https://urbantoronto.ca/forum/threads/toronto-ontario-line-m-s.6155/page-1366 — “Also, the largest chunk of ‘savings’ in overlapping segments of the O/L an d Relief Line aren’t from any changes in alignment, they are from smaller stations and lower capacity rolling stock.”
https://skyscraperpage.com/forum/showthread.php?p=9312606 (an Ottawa website) — “The other big advantage is cost savings from smaller stations. This is also why the Ontario Line is going this route in Toronto. We wouldn’t have needed to build 120m long underground platforms if we designed a system that can run trains every 1.5 mins through the the core.”
It really isn’t a controversial point. It is like a deep bore tunnel versus cut and cover. It is well accepted that cut and cover is cheaper, it is just that it is usually a lot more disruptive (and sometimes you can’t follow the street grid). Same here. Everyone accepts that smaller stations are cheaper, but in some cases you need big stations to have big trains. In this case though, you can have the same capacity with trains that are half as long, but run twice as often. Even more so, when you go with higher floor trains that are automated. We aren’t talking about running trains every 90 seconds (like Toronto), just by running the trains every 3 minutes we exceed the capacity of a Ballard Link/Rainier Valley train.
This isn’t really arguable: Shorter trains means smaller stations, maybe not half the size, but way shorter, underground, where every foot costs a lot of money.
The length of the latest Siemens Link cars is 81.4 ft – 95.4 ft. We spec some extra room around them when building a station. Use two of them instead of 4, running exactly twice as often, and you will have precisely the same system capacity, with the same total number of train cars, but significantly shorter platforms, thus shorter stations, thus fewer environmental impacts and lower cost of construction… all good things.
Yes, you will still have emergency access, ventilation, elevators, all the rest. That comes with any underground station.
The expected platform wait time with this scenario is half what it would be with the 4 car trains running half as often. This is also a good thing. The smaller scale seems like a better fit for both West Seattle and Ballard. It’s got to be a better fit for our budget.
> Skytrain is not a magic bullet. If it was it would be copied all over North America.
USA has a huge aversion to elevated rail — much more than Canada/other countries. It is not about the automation that is the problem but elevated rail. I mean for most US cities if they were amenable to elevated rail, many more metro lines could have been built decades ago aka Geary in SF, Wilshire in LA etc…
In this case RossB is proposing automated in subway stations so that isn’t quite as relevant. (Though I’m more in favor of elevated personally).
He wrote “straight and level” but of course they don’t have to be 100% level. Nor do they even have to 100% straight. But if they are curved too much, you get issues. Likewise, if they slope too much, you get issues. The main point is that with smaller stations we have a lot more flexibility.
There is another issue, although it is likely a small one. Light metro trains tend to have a better turning radius than light rail trains. It has to do with the bogeys. So again, this gives a light metro the opportunity to do things our light rail can’t. We don’t know if it matters, but it could. Clearly the size of the platform matters, but having more flexibility in terms of the turns could also make a difference. Engineers planning these things work within the constraints of the city, and the constraints of the system they are dealing with. Give them more flexibility, and there is a very good chance that many of the terrible proposals made so far would be reversed.
What “issues”? Please be specific.
“ We don’t know if it matters, but it could. “
We shouldn’t be advocating for a wholesale change of tech and design without knowing the “why?” Without knowing what issues we are trying to solve?
I get it. People on this blog, for whatever reason, don’t like ST. But arguments for change need to be specific. Without specific reasons and justification for change, the argument for change comes across as a weak one.
The station itself has to be level though it can be at a slight angle. The new Republican West station for example would slop .5%.
While we have plenty straight streets, we may want to switch streets between Mercer and Republican for example, then station size becomes a factor, but it is even more a factor when you consider that the station box cannot interfere with the foundations of existing major buildings. A larger box makes it more challenging. I bet this part of the reason Sound Transit ended up on 15th or 14th Ave in Ballard rather than closer to Ballard core. A smaller station box would make a location on 56th St easier to build.
This is a tight radius curve in downtown Portland around which MAX trains operate some 120 times per day. Even if you could go around a sharper curve, I’m not sure you would want to.
My point here isn’t to quibble with statements made in the article exactly. My quibble here is with the SoundTransit construction specifications, which seem to be excessive to the actual system needs and capabilities of light rail trains.
TriMet is building the entire Better Red project, including adding two station platforms and an entire mile of track with a bridge over an active freeway and active railroad tracks, at approximately the cost of the 130th Street Station. It seems to indicate to me that there is considerable savings in not just station platform length, but also basic design constraints such as grades and curves. I really don’t have any basic insight into what is causing Link to be so expensive, but there are definitely curves and grades TriMet seems to think are acceptable that SoundTransit does not.
@Lazarus — Just to back up here. The proposed stations are crap. This is fairly well understood in the transit community. The Urbanist, Seattle Transit Blog, this blog — they all reacted to the station plans by essentially saying “they are crap”.
Everything proposed here — smaller platforms, tighter turns — they all give us more tools to use in trying to improve those stations. We don’t know how it will all work, just like we didn’t know they would propose such crap. But with more appropriate technology, we have the chance of improving the system. It is common around the world for agencies to do what Toronto just did. They looked at the task at hand, and then chose the trains based on it. The result is a much better system for the money. By making this a separate line, we can do the same.
Building next to existing foundations is not necessarily a big deal in modern construction. It is happening right now at multiple locations across this fine city, and it is happening in my very neighborhood as I type.
Prime example? The new Rainier Square Tower. Currently the second tallest building in Seattle, it was built on two sides of the old Rainier Tower which is currently the #19 tallest building in Seattle.
The old Rainier Tower is the one with the beaver chewed base. They were able to excavate around its base and build the new, taller tower with zero problems.
Additionally, Westlake Ave and Mercer are both very wide streets. It should be no problem at all to build an underground station beneath either one of them.
And ST always could do what Metro did with the old bus tunnel. They could move the stairs and escalators to the ends of the platforms to narrow up the footprint. It’s a design trade, not a design fault.
@Lazarus, yes, Mercer is plenty wide, but Republican is more constrained. Yes, you can build NEXT to foundations, but some foundations extend at an angle under the street ROW, then station size matters.
Sound Transit explained for example the reason the 15th Ave Ballard station on the Safeway parking lot gets so expensive is the fact that they need to drill/mine the tail track under the Target store. A smaller station box and shorter tail track should fit on the parking lot.
Despite what some others may say, there could easily be a station depth advantage by going automated.
1. The shorter vaults provide more options to position a station. If 200 feet can be added by going to the far end of the vault position at two consecutive stations (400 feet total), that alone would enable an additional 20 feet towards a shallower station.
2. I believe that shorter automated trains can be a percent or two steeper than existing technology too. Of course it is in the details but it seems possible that ST could get steeper grades out of it.
3. The design of the vehicles may allow for the line to be built without so much catenary ckearance. ST might be able to do things like be squeeze in a crossing above the current DSTT tracks or above the 99 tunnel. There may be other things like underground water, sewer and electrical that would be lesss disrupted that would allow for shallot stations.
ST did a ridiculous very deep station study for the CID that made no sense to even study. This in contrast screams to be studied!
Yes, on all three points. It is worth noting that the Ontario line has some very steep sections, which probably would not have been possible with the older trains.
How do we get Sound Transit to consider the automated train for the Ballard extension and abandon the second tunnel? Or is it way too late and we are all stuck with a broken spine two tunnel vaporware for 2040?
That’s an uphill battle but one worth fighting. This happened with the MAX West Hills tunnel: TriMet absolutely didn’t want to build it, but to stick with the baseline plan of a surface line along highway 26.
Getting the powers that were to change from that default was a long and tiresome process. Many probably still feel the tunnel was a mistake. Ultimately persistence from a large number of people won out.
You’ll have to get a bunch of different groups working together, including the CID group opposing a new staton there, people along the Ballard line (the depth of the proposed station and its access issues should help), etc.
Right – get folks to support Option B mostly as a way to oppose Option A.
Needs to come from the Board. Or more broadly, needs to come from a coalition that board members will listen to, which is Glenn’s point.
That is the most important question, SLUer! ST has gotten dozens if not hundreds of requests to study automated in recent years. They bury those requests. They even wrote a dismissal memo about West Seattle gondolas — yet ignore this because it’s a much more useful option but doesn’t have an advocate.
So the key question is this: What elected official is willing to advocate for this? Harrell? Some of the new Council candidates? A King County Council member? A legislator?
Perhaps if pressure from business groups in SLU could force the issue. Perhaps Amazon on Expedia can. Perhaps some of the Downtown skyscraper owners who don’t want 2+ block long station vaults in front of their building can. Maybe CID stakeholders that don’t want a second station can.
Who dares to save us from the boondoggle known as WSBLE with old technology? I’m willing to support any candidate who makes this Issue #1!
“What elected official is willing to advocate for this? Harrell? Some of the new Council candidates? A King County Council member? A legislator?”
Nobody we’ve seen yet.
To me, this is a variation on the previous idea. Just to back up here:
1) No new tunnel.
2) Build a branch off of the existing tunnel to serve Ballard.
1) No new tunnel.
2) Run a new line from Ballard to Westlake, with a possible future extension to First Hill. Use modern technology (smaller automated trains) to reduce cost, improve station location and increase frequency.
Both A1 and B1 have two very big things: No new CID station, and no new Midway station. The former is huge. Lots of people in the CID — as well as the mayor — have big concerns about tearing up the CID. This would avoid all that, while still giving the area much better transit than what ST has proposed.
The case from an overall transit perspective of either proposal is very good. The case from a CID neighborhood perspective of either proposal is ideal. We can (and should) make an effort to advance this on both fronts. We should try and reach out to the CID community to let them know this is a real possibility — that we don’t need a new tunnel or a new station at CID.
Ironically I feel most likely it’d be East King/South King/Pierce/Snohomish board members most likely to support the initiative as it’d mean no longer breaching subarea equity.
I would take this 1000x over the multi billion deep bore second tunnel which is will have way worse minimum egress times and who’s transfers are simply poor.
That tunnel is the exact opposite of prioritizing rider experience and because physical constraints make it impossible to be any shallower than the most shallow option presented to date (which is still over 140ft deep in our most important CBD) the best course of option for prioritizing rider experience is not building a second tunnel at all
Now of course getting ST to understand this or our elected officials is an entirely other thing entirely. These people aren’t methodical technocrats. They’re politicians who have very little understanding of either transit service or engineering and construction of transit (if you don’t believe me look at how much ST relies of consultants for every little task)
That’s encouraging to hear. I think a lot of folks might feel the same way once they understood this concept. The transfers at Westlake can be very high quality. Although this concept does introduce transfers at Westlake for trips that would not otherwise have them, those transfers would be between two very frequent lines.
The automated line would be frequent from day one… It could be every 2 minutes, no problem.
The existing transit tunnel would have basically triple the service it has today, I think. East Link is coming soon, which doubles existing service, and then West Seattle can be added to the existing tunnel, further reducing headways.
Elected officials who are not transit experts do understand money, or the lack thereof. I don’t think we have the money to build the version of WSBLE most people want (or are willing to tolerate), which means cost cutting, changes, or going back to the voters… or delaying everything by additional years to accumulate more tax revenue. A revised plan that is cheaper than the current plan and more effective at the same time deserves a hearing, and stands some chance of getting one.
What is really required is for leadership, e.g. in Seattle since this is a Seattle project, to see enough light to be ready to take some heat, for the good of us all.
It’s a bit unclear exactly what this post is proposing. I do love the idea of automation but what is the exact route proposed here?
Secondly if one does build a stub line (tunneled) I don’t see why not just continue the tunnel down 2nd avenue so it doesn’t need to dive under the existing tunnel and connect with the West Seattle line and also make that portion automated. Then you can just have a separate Ballard to West Seattle line and don’t need to interline 3 trains in the original tunnel.
For the elevated approach I’d say I’d do a Y with the original candidate suggestions with coming from West Seattle one line going up 1st avenue then splitting near pike place with one going up Westlake Ave to Fremont and another continuing to interbay then Ballard.
Ross clarified it in one of the first comments. The automated line would be Ballard-Westlake. West Seattle, Tacoma Dome, and Redmond would all go through the existing downtown tunnel to Northgate or beyond. There wouldn’t be a second downtown tunnel.
That is correct, This post proposes a (smaller scale, automated) stub instead of the 2nd downtown tunnel. This meshes with the notion of interlining West Seattle trains in the current tunnel.
I happen to believe such a plan, with the addition of First Hill, would work very well. However, it is a substantial departure from what is currently being planned. As such, it is difficult to figure out how to fit such an idea into the current planning regime.
There’s another variation that is much less of a departure from the status quo, and that is to stick with the automated, smaller scale concept, and construct the 2nd downtown tunnel and its associated new stations at this smaller, more neighborhood friendly scale — that still has high capacity (more than we need for West Seattle, for sure.)
This doesn’t have to be carried to West Seattle, but probably should be, because the automated line is cheaper, smaller, with higher frequency.
Sound Transit’s choice of 400 foot long light rail trains may be an OK fit for Bellevue and Redmond which are content to retain at-grade crossings, but they are difficult to site in our crowded, built-up city where we need the high capacity service.
So maybe we need yet another “case”:
The case for a separate (and extendable) automated line from Ballard to West Seattle that is smaller scale, cheaper to construct, with more frequent service.
Lines 1 and 2 would continue to use the current tunnel with this approach. All stations planned in ST3 would be served, including Avalon which would be cheaper and smaller with less reason to skip it. Transfers to this line from buses on Delridge etc. would be less painful with the high frequency the automated service would allow.
Surely a far easier sell to the ST Board than something involving First Hill, though I do love that idea.
Keeping the 2nd downtown tunnel might be feasible with even 3-car trains stations as long as it is on 2nd avenue not on 5th.
I might need to write up a blog post with a map, but the current problem with 2nd transit tunnel is that it traverses past 3 obstacles:
1. the 99 highway tunnel
2. the DSTT at westlake
3. sometimes again the DSTT or 1-line near chinatown
This is why the SLU Mercer alternative is only 85 feet deep rather than the Harrison 120 feet deep — it doesn’t need to pass under the 99 tunnel as much, but still has to be moderately deep to prepare to pass under at Westlake. If the tunnel from Seattle Center goes up to Mercer St, down Westlake Ave and then along 2nd avenue it doesn’t actually need to pass under the 99 highway nor the DSTT. It does need to go below the Great Northern tunnel but that is similar to the existing DSTT.
Then either it can just continue onto 1st avenue or down to 4th avenue as before. Plus if the route goes from Ballard to West Seattle there’s no need for the rail to go ‘over/under’ the existing 1 line to reach the Seatac route and can just stay on the west of it.
Sorry for a separate post (can’t edit)
> I happen to believe such a plan, with the addition of First Hill, would work very well. However, it is a substantial departure from what is currently being planned. As such, it is difficult to figure out how to fit such an idea into the current planning regime.
I think crossing over i-5 will be hard and I am a bit unsure what route you are suggesting, east-west along Denny Way as a branch line?
> The case for a separate (and extendable) automated line from Ballard to West Seattle that is smaller scale, cheaper to construct, with more frequent service. Lines 1 and 2 would continue to use the current tunnel with this approach. All stations planned in ST3 would be served, including Avalon which would be cheaper and smaller with less reason to skip it.
Yes I think a separate line would work and that is exactly what I am proposing. The only additional modification I made was to move the tunnel to 2nd avenue since why have the tunnel go underneath the existing one if it will stay to the west of it anyways.
The 4th obstacle to a tunnel on 2nd is the BNSF Railway tunnel, which roughly runs 4 north to Yesler, NW between 3rd and 4th to Speing, then diagonally under Benaroya Hall, Target and and Pike Place Market.
However, seeing how DSTT1 got under the thing twice, it seems like there should be some way of getting around it for a line on 2nd or 1st.
The biggest hurdle with a Ballard-West Seattle line is avoiding a Tacoma Dome-Everett Line, which would take 2 1/2 hours from end to end and ST thinks that’s too long for drivers to go without a break. That’s why the original plan of a Ballard-West Seattle line was abandoned in December 2015, and the Spine was split to connect Everett to West Seattle and Tacoma to Ballard. So you’d have to do something like Everett-Stadium, Mariner-Redmond, and Northgate-Tacoma.
> The 4th obstacle to a tunnel on 2nd is the BNSF Railway tunnel, which roughly runs 4 north to Yesler, NW between 3rd and 4th to Speing, then diagonally under Benaroya Hall, Target and and Pike Place Market.
Yeah I mention it as the *Great Northern Tunnel, but yes it is shallower than the DSTT and also the DSTT already goes under it so I have zero doubts about another new rail tunnel under it. The only real complicated part is possibly continuing on 2nd Avenue over to 4th Avenue near King Street. But if that is truly infeasible then when 2nd Avenue gets to Pioneer Square continue down 1st avenue instead (where the 99 isn’t tunneled on 1st anymore) and exit somewhere in sodo to reach the West Seattle segment.
*This is also why I want to show a map it’s a bit complicated just describing it.
The biggest problem with the second downtown tunnel is that doesn’t add coverage, is very expensive, and provides for poor transfers. In contrast, ending at Westlake saves a huge amount of money, even if the transfers aren’t great. Extending to First Hill would add coverage (even if the transfers aren’t great).
The stations in the second tunnel manage to be worse than the existing stations in every respect, yet they provide no new coverage. That is a weird thing to pull off. It means that everyone who used to use the existing tunnel (folks from Rainier Valley, Tukwila, SeaTac) will be worse off, and yet no one (anywhere) actually benefits.
I think crossing over i-5 will be hard and I am a bit unsure what route you are suggesting, east-west along Denny Way as a branch line?
It is basically this: https://seattletransitblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/WSBLE-proposed-2-1-1536×1185.png. Obviously you would have to study that, to see whether that particular approach makes sense, but that is the basic idea. Notice that it actually looks like a real subway system, unlike the downtown configuration for ST3. You are covering more of downtown with your rail system, instead of building a largely redundant new tunnel (with worse stations).
> The biggest hurdle with a Ballard-West Seattle line is avoiding a Tacoma Dome-Everett Line, which would take 2 1/2 hours from end to end and ST thinks that’s too long for drivers to go without a break. That’s why the original plan of a Ballard-West Seattle line was abandoned in December 2015, and the Spine was split to connect Everett to West Seattle and Tacoma to Ballard. So you’d have to do something like Everett-Stadium, Mariner-Redmond, and Northgate-Tacoma.
You can add turnback junctions one north of Northgate (exiting the tunnel) for a fraction of the cost. And for the south of downtown Seattle just add a turnback in Sodo around here https://goo.gl/maps/PZ2yYfu9zhSzAr1MA. Sure you might need to build a slight rail bridge somewhere, but it’s not that expensive. Or alternatively add a turnback around Seatac if sodo turnback isn’t desired…
I mean that is basically what the existing West Seattle proposal is a 2~3~4? billion dollar turnback for trains from Everett, but you don’t really need a bridge to West Seattle if you just want to turn the trains around.
> So you’d have to do something like Everett-Stadium, Mariner-Redmond, and Northgate-Tacoma.
That sounds fine to me. That is also probably how the 1/2 line is going to run for a couple years/decades anyways before the new transit tunnel is built, I don’t see why it can’t continuing those routes.
>It is basically this: https://seattletransitblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/WSBLE-proposed-2-1-1536×1185.png. Obviously you would have to study that, to see whether that particular approach makes sense, but that is the basic idea. Notice that it actually looks like a real subway system, unlike the downtown configuration for ST3. You are covering more of downtown with your rail system, instead of building a largely redundant new tunnel (with worse stations).
I’m not against the idea and it definitely adds a lot more coverage but I think it’ll be too hard to change the route so drastically and the original second tunnel idea was contingent on the ‘regional’ rail so it could breach subarea equity. That’s why I was suggesting moving the tunnel over to 2nd avenue to avoid tunneling below DSTT and smaller stations.
There’s already a pocket track at Stadium for short runs. In earlier operation plans ST had three lines with a daytime-only one ending at Stadium. Currently ST only uses it for special extra service, and it may be reluctant to use it full time, but that’s probably the easiest lift to convince them of. At Northgate I assume there’s a turnback, at least ST said, “Any train entering at CID would have to go through to Northgate”, implying there would be a turnback there. And another of the early ST2 operational plans had Line 2 terminating at Northgate off-peak (extending to Lynnwood peak hours). It later extended all Line 2 trains to Lynnwood thinking it would need the capacity, but hopefully there’s still a physical turnaround at Northgate in case it’s wanted later.
All the advantaged cited for a Westlake (+ First Hill) terminus of a stub line are true. But not to be forgotten is that this idea basically relies on interlining West Seattle in the current tunnel, which does have operational risks, will surely present political challenges, and commits us to long headways forever on the West Seattle branch, long term.
I could live with those things, but an alternative that simply modifies WSBLE to be a separate, smaller scale, but equal capacity automated line, running much more frequently, sounds like an lot easier sell to the ST Board.
Redundant is not the same as useless. Redundancy yields resilience to some extent. This has perceived value to elected officials and the public.
An automated line from Ballard to West Seattle – with new stations at Midtown and CID as planned, but scaled down all the way from Ballard to the Junction – seems like it ought to be in the mix. Lines 1 and 2 can turn around at Stadium or wherever. Easy problem to solve. I think the cost savings would be quite substantial with all the stations that get about 200 feet shorter. And the high frequencies to West Seattle make that line a lot more useful.
No doubt that a valid unbiased assessment of automated technology is needed, Mr Dubman. I could see Ballard attaching to West Seattle. One other advantage is that a new line like that would not require low floor vehicles which could really help operations.
I could also see Ballard attaching to East Link! Outside of some pedestrian crossing issues at Judkins Park, East Main and Marymoor as well as the short surface segment in western Overlake, it’s pretty much fully separated. It may ultimately be better for the Lake Washington bridge to have two car trains anyway. I’m not sure how best to interface East Link in this situation but I thought I’d just throw that out there. Plus the East OMF would be set up perfectly to automate the Kirkland – Issaquah line if it ever happens .
The biggest obstacle to running on 2nd is that the main city sewer for downtown runs down 2nd. And it is really old. And it is made out of brick.
Run anything underground down 2nd and you are likely to need to open up the street for its entire length. It would cost much, much more than running on 4th or 5th.
The old bus tunnel goes under the Great Northern Tunnel near 4th and Washington, and then goes over the Great Northern Tunnel near Benaroya hall.
The two tunnels actually cross each other twice.
Yeah I know the current DSTT crosses the Great Northern twice, I viewed them on https://www.openrailwaymap.org/
> The biggest obstacle to running on 2nd is that the main city sewer for downtown runs down 2nd. And it is really old. And it is made out of brick. Run anything underground down 2nd and you are likely to need to open up the street for its entire length. It would cost much, much more than running on 4th or 5th.
Checking https://gisrevprxy.seattle.gov/wab_ext/DSOResearch_Ext/ you are unfortunately probably correct it will be a large undertaking. Unsure if it will be more expensive than 4th/5th avenue though if we could replace all the stations with shallower cut-and-cover (still tbm tunnels).
Is the entire span of the street’s sewer actually made of brick? The map says the 2nd avenue one is made of concrete installed 1969. The clay section of 2nd avenue seems to be only from Cherry to James street? Though feel free to correct me.
@WL I’m not against the idea and it definitely adds a lot more coverage but I think it’ll be too hard to change the route so drastically and the original second tunnel idea was contingent on the ‘regional’ rail so it could breach subarea equity.
Just to be clear. No one is suggesting the train go to First Hill now. That is more of a long term thing. Build it so that it ends at Westlake, with tracks headed to First Hill. Make it future-proof, if you will.
As far as subarea equity, that is a political issue. But keep in mind, this would likely be a lot cheaper than what they have planned now. Less tunneling. No new CID station. No new Midtown station. Smaller stations. If Seattle pays for a bigger portion of the costs, so be it. The other subareas will be thrilled. It is still likely Seattle comes out ahead (a bigger piece of a smaller pie).
Again, it all comes down to convincing people that the second tunnel is a bad idea. This is not that easy. People are convinced it is necessary, even though they can’t really say why. They mention (capacity) and haven’t considered what that actually means. We don’t need it now, but they think we might it in the future. That approach is a bad idea. It means spending money on the wrong things.
People are also ignoring alternatives. In the unlikely event that we have crowding, we could:
1) Run the trains more often. We need to explore the technical challenges, to see how expensive it would. (And yes, this would be something everyone pays for.)
2) Resurrect the express buses. Folks seem to ignore this part. The main reason we expect decent ridership headed downtown is because we expect to eliminate the express buses. Bring back the express buses and the trains and there is plenty of room during rush hour. Our express buses are faster than our trains — at least to downtown. This makes us different than Vancouver. Vancouver doesn’t have a freeway running next to each line, right into the center of town. You could run express buses, but they would be slower than the train. We are the opposite. The express buses are popular because they are faster *and* they avoid a transfer.
That brick sewer on 2nd is actually good news.
Portland replaced a significant part of its version of that with a deep bore tunnel. Considered a vital safety improvement because the brick sewer would collapse in an earthquake, and take most of the streets with it..
Replace the sewer with a deep bore tunnel for earthquake safety, and put a shallow transit tunnel in its place.
For the many of us who live along North Link, our lives will not exactly improve with the current WSBLE plans. Getting to West Seattle, a delightful place I don’t often visit, will be easier. But getting to the airport will probably now involve a deep underground transfer in which I roll my luggage onto additional elevators downtown… not so fun. Sure, I’ll have access to some more places on the Ballard line, but I may have to wait some time for that train.
However, if Ballard remains a separate line, folks on North Link (from at least Northgate south) gain quick access to West Seattle in ADDITION to everything on Lines 1 and 2. Nothing is lost, and much is gained. Everyone gains short headways through the core of the city. This is a major benefit that comes from interlining West Seattle trains, in addition to sparing the entire CID by avoiding the need for a 2nd downtown transit tunnel.
Meanwhile, very short headways on this “automated stub” line to Ballard (or First Hill!) make it worthwhile to descend a little deeper at Westlake to access that line. Everyone on the Ballard line enjoys shorter headways on that line, whether they are transferring from Lines 1 or 2 or not.
It seems pretty easy to craft an intuitive argument that this is an objectively superior approach than the one ST is currently pursuing, with or without the addition of First Hill… which, by the way, I totally support as a logical addition to the line that couldn’t be more consistent with long term planning dating all the way back to the mid 1990s.
The hard part is getting from a great solution in one’s head to building public consensus around one. Bold ideas are more easily received when they align with what is already happening where possible, e.g. by continuing to assume the general alignments already under analysis north of Westlake.
That is a very good point. There are winners and losers for every idea, but consider each group:
1) Capitol Hill, UW and everything north: Much Better. Get one-seat ride to all destinations other than Ballard. Transfer to Ballard involves less waiting.
2) South end: Better. One seat ride to Capitol Hill, UW and Northgate. Transfer to Ballard is not ideal, but at least frequent.
3) West Seattle: A little better. Transfer to Ballard is not ideal, but at least frequent.
4) East Side: A little better. Reverse direction trip to south end is better (just go up and over at CID). Transfer to Ballard is not ideal, but at least frequent.
5) Ballard: Better in some ways, worse in others. More frequent, but no one-seat connection to south end of downtown, Rainier Valley or SeaTac.
Overall, it is just better. The heart of our system is UW to downtown. All trains are sent there.
We don’t even need Skytrain tech for the automated Ballard extension. We can use the same Link trains just two cars shorter and automated. This will also reduce maintenance issues and keeping everything compatible.
I don’t see why Sound Transit would be opposed to this. It saves so much money.
This article gives us something concrete to rally around and press politicians on. We can make it known we’re looking for candidates who will press for automated trains. ST said in the run-up to ST3 it would look into automated technology for Ballard and other new lines, so it’s not a completely new idea to ST. But we never heard any followup on that. ST just doesn’t like change, it seems.
I’m not sure why anyone thinks the only automate system is SkyTrain. It isn’t. There are plenty of alternatives. The point being that automated trains can be more frequent, while providing better capacity for their size (no driver cabin on each end).
Montreal, Paris, Honolulu… use Alstrom Metropolis automated trains: https://rem.info/en/rolling-stock whereas SkyTrain uses different manufacturers, the last ones from Bombardier and Hyundai Rotem, Siemens claims theirs is “for cities of the future” (designed by BMW) https://www.mobility.siemens.com/uk/en/portfolio/rail-solutions/rolling-stock/metros.html and used in Vienna, Munich, Bangkok, Riyadh – plenty of options!
There is another huge task ahead of ST for WSBLE: FTA funding. Nothing is going to be build without massive FTA funds.
ST must have a Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) to start construction. They would have to extend ST3 takes many more years to come up with the local shares or return to the voters for more $$ to build WSBLE as planned.
Money eventually talks when it comes to large government projects.
I’ve been amazed thus far that the FTA funding hurdle seems to concern no one on the Board. Maybe the staff and Board are in denial. There is this belief that money is no object — and yet FTA could easily deep six things due to bad cost-benefit and little user travel time savings. Especially with a future crazy Republican President eager to run on “government wastefulness”.
And even if a Seattle supplemental measure goes on the ballot, the opponents can easily pitch a pretty successful “Why not automate to save money” campaign.
ST does not have a clear path to their current WSBLE preferred alternative — even though they act like they do.
With a $31 trillion national debt I would think/hope WSBLE as designed would be a poster child for wasteful projects. With annual interest payments now over $800 billion/year and low interest debt rolling off for higher interest debt massive tax increases or spending cuts — or both — at the federal level are mandatory and responsible. I think if local jurisdictions were responsible for the full costs of more of these projects wiser and more cost efficient decisions would be made. We simply have to get away from the “other people’s money” way of thinking.
My guess: don’t hold your breath for a lot of federal funding for infrastructure in the near future despite the infrastructure bill, whether roads or transit. If anything any federal funding needs to address our bridge issues.
> I’ve been amazed thus far that the FTA funding hurdle seems to concern no one on the Board. Maybe the staff and Board are in denial. There is this belief that money is no object.
They are basically in denial, at least the Sound Transit spokespeople I talked to at the Chinatown (feb 7/8) meeting. I asked them about cost overruns and they were basically we are still under budget??? Even after asking for clarifications after the increase from 7 to 12 billion they are not seriously looking into cheaper alternatives and are only prioritizing minimizing construction impact over transit.
I just wanted to add that the automated Ballard – Westlake line combined with three lines between Northgate and CID would offer riders train service every three or four minutes from early morning to later in the evening. The system benefits would be amazing!
The next hurdle beyond an automated Ballard-Westlake line is the logistics of three lines in DSTT1 to add West Seattle. ST thinks the current reliable maximum is 3-minute frequency (20 trains per hour). There’s a potential capital project to increase this to 1.5-2 minutes (30-40 tph), but ST passed on it in ST3 and is reluctant to do it now. If the 3-minute maximum remains in effect long term, then two 6-minute peak lines would use it all up. But ST is now only planning to run lines 1 and 2 at 7.5 minute peaks (16 tph). Having three lines at 7.5 minutes would require 2.5 minute capacity (34 tph). Lowering all three lines to 9 minutes would fit a 3-minute constraint, but then everyone from Judkins Park east or Stadium/SODO south or west would have to wait 9 minutes for a peak train. Or we could leave Redmond and Tacoma at 7.5 minutes and give the remaining 4 runs to West Seattle, but that would give West Seattle 15-minute frequency, and I’m not sure how easy it would be to guarantee even headways in the shared segment.
I think asking the Eastside to make any kind of sacrifice whatsoever for “Seattle’s” benefit is going to be a very tough sell. I also believe ST staff and board both would be very wary of the operational risk of interlining West Seattle in the current tunnel even though it has real advantages for riders.
I like the Westlake / First Hill stub concept, but the alternative of a totally separate line from Ballard all the way to West Seattle would allow for smaller stations in West Seattle… which would be very well received in West Seattle, and would reduce the cost of the project, and make the transfers more time efficient by significantly reducing headways. I gotta say, as much as I think the 2nd downtown tunnel is redundant, a Ballard – West Seattle separate automated line seems lower risk and more affordable than what is being planned now, and intuitively it seems politically viable to me because it kind of fits within the current planning constructs.
You could continue to use the fewer of same cars, more frequently, with more drivers on a brand new line, but since it’s entirely grade separated, running it as an automated line would be a lot cheaper over the long term.
As for First Hill, if it can’t be served at this time (which again, I like), maybe there an approach that serves both First Hill and Belltown in a subsequent phase.
Here’s something for the First Hill fans (myself included):
Build a new, separate automated line (West Seattle to Ballard) such that there is a wye (a triangular junction, a branching point) from day one on each side of Westlake station. The wyes would initially be unused.
Then, in ST4 or what have you, we can come back and add a separate line from Belltown to Westlake to First Hill and beyond, using compatible technology. The wyes might be used just to move trains to the Interbay maintenance base, and then this could be run as a distinct line – while sharing the New Westlake platforms, and serving all neighborhoods of our center city.
How’s that for a subway vision?
Redundancy isn’t all bad in transportation systems. In the long term, having two transit tunnels through downtown could arguably be useful. ST Board certainly thinks so now and a lot of people have put a lot of political capital on the line behind that. If you do assume a second downtown tunnel, smaller is better than bigger, and more frequent is better than less frequent, and automated is better than manual.
> The next hurdle beyond an automated Ballard-Westlake line is the logistics of three lines in DSTT1 to add West Seattle. ST thinks the current reliable maximum is 3-minute frequency (20 trains per hour)
I was going to write some stuff but mainly just agreeing with what Jonathan Dubman said:
> I like the Westlake / First Hill stub concept, but the alternative of a totally separate line from Ballard all the way to West Seattle would allow for smaller stations in West Seattle
I will say there is one additional advantage of the separate West Seattle/Ballard line, it can sidestep the Chinatown issue if really necessary just going from 2nd Avenue down to 1st avenue (once past the 99 highway) and just keep a westlake/’midtown’ station on 2nd avenue instead.
For OMF’s if on 4th avenue it can reach the original one. Or if on 2nd avenue then just build a track in sodo to reach the OMF
20 trains per hour is Rainier Valley and Eastside both at 6 minute headways, which is the limit of the Rainier Valley and beyond the 8 minute headways planned for the Eastside.
As low as the ridership estimate is for West Seattle, it seems like the (both) trains per hour West Seattle needs could fit in the remaining slots.
And I only say that partly in jest. Pre-pandemic 2040 ridership of West Seattle is estimated to be about 15,000 riders per day.
The fact West Seattle is getting a system designed to carry more people per hour than their stations look like they will carry in a day definitely says something. I’m not sure what.
If you are interested in this idea, consider making a public comment at upcoming board meetings. You can either submit a written comment or (preferably) speak in-person or remotely live.
There is a Board of Directors meeting on Thursday, February 23rd at 12pm.
There is a System Expansion committee meeting on Thursday, March 9th at 1pm.
Information on how to comment is here: https://www.soundtransit.org/get-to-know-us/board-directors/public-comments
“In Person Public Comment: Individuals who would like to provide public comment in person can sign up outside of the Ruth Fisher Board Room before the meeting begins.
Virtual Public Comment: Individuals who would like to provide public comment virtually via phone or computer must sign-up in advance on the meetings calendar event on the Sound Transit Events Calendar. The sign-up form will be available on the day of the meeting between 8:00am and the posted start time of the meeting.
Written Public Comment: Written comments should be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments received up to one hour before the meeting will be provided to Board members electronically before the meeting. Comments received after that deadline will be provided to Board members after the meeting.”
I am inclined to speak in person to the Board. I have a lot of experience doing that kind of stuff. I can handle cameras pointed at me, but I want attention to the ideas. As much as I like the idea in this post, I’m inclined to use my time to advocate for a more modest proposal that I think has a greater chance of adoption, because it’s friendlier to their current thinking, and less of a departure from the previous steps in the environmental process.
I think ST should evaluate constructing West Seattle to Ballard as a separate, automated system, using trains that are half the length, coming twice as often, serving platforms that are half the length.
This approach yields stations that are smaller, with much less excavation, reduced costs, reduced environmental impacts, and yet exactly the same system capacity.
I also think ST should study the proposal described in this post. I would like to see those two fairly evaluated against what is being proposed right now.
I agree. The whole point is to achieve the Ballard extension faster and more cost effectively than DSTT2. Siemens is also launching autonomous versions of their LRV in the next couple of years. So we don’t necessarily have to cross different train systems.
The ST3 DSTT2 is using funds from the outer subareas; could a WS-Ballard line use funds from the outer subareas?
It’s not ethical to use funds from other transit subareas in Seattle even if it was legal (I doubt it is) The 2nd tunnel was politically pushing things already, so no, Pierce County would sue (and likely win).
So cancel the 2nd tunnel, give the money back too the transit hatin’ heathens in the hinterlands and figure out the best way forward for Seattle.
A big reason I never supported Sound Transit is it’s built on one of the biggest lies in America. “We can build it with other people’s money!” Seattle has always looked at the Federal money and the taxes from other subareas as “play money” they could use to build “shared assets”. Pierce County voters told Seattle they really didn’t have an interest in owning part of a subway tunnel under Seattle in the ST3 vote. But their votes were crushed by the “free money!” votes in Seattle.
It’s not transit, but it is simular dysfunctional local government…. the King County Regional Homeless Authority (KCRHA)…. an organization to built “fix” homelessness in King County…. a good idea except Seattle pays like 80% of the budget and King County pays 20%…. and every other City government in County wants services (and veto power) without paying anything.
I like redundancy, but I’m not convinced that serving West Seattle by rail is a good idea. Have you looked at Sound Transit’s current plans for the guiderails? It calls for a 2 mile long 80+ feet high viaduct crossing first the West Seattle bridge approach, then the Duwamish, and then Pigeon Point and then taking out quite some housing before entering a tunnel. Yes, automated trains would require smaller stations and may climb a bit faster potentially reducing the height of some of the structure, but others are fixed.
Another challenge with this proposal is how to connect with the other lines. If I want to travel from West Seattle to Rainier Valley/Seatac or Eastside, where do I transfer?
I would rather invest in grade-separating RV and/or a Duwamish bypass to serve SW Seattle and continue with buses for West Seattle or add gondola capacity at some point.
For now a stub to Ballard would work, but I like the option to extend it towards First Hill.
Because “Comments received up to one hour before the meeting will be provided to Board members electronically before the meeting”, it’s probably most effective to do that — AND to speak at the meetings, if possible.
Sometimes Board members miss comments in real time. Submitting them in writing means the real-time comment may come as a reminder rather than a surprise, and that may make it much more effective.
I have found that if you are persistent enough in getting a message out there, it gets out there.
Assuming full ST3 buildout, and a separate, automated WSBLE, here are the lines you might have. I don’t see why this wouldn’t work just fine. Seems pretty easy to understand.
Existing transit tunnel:
Everett to Stadium
Mariner to Redmond
Northgate to Tacoma via Sea-Tac
New transit tunnel:
Ballard to West Seattle (and back!)
Transfers at Westlake, CID, SODO
The other question is how soon could a Ballard extension line be started (at least from Smith Cove to Westlake) if we didn’t have to deal with a DSTT2?
Could we reasonably see it open at same time as West Seattle or even earlier?
Could it open at the same time? Yes. But frankly, I think it’s far more likely West Seattle will end up waiting for Ballard than the other way around. I don’t think that would be a tragedy if it makes the system far better. Some of the delays in our schedule are budget related, and if we can shave enough off of that, maybe we can pull the whole thing slightly back in. Still, changes to the plan generally make delays more likely, not less.
The first West Seattle project should just be a rail convertible transit bridge. That would give West Seattle more than its light rail line and satisfy its transit needs for 20 years. After that, then start talking about light rail and making everyone transfer at The Junction when before they had a single seat bus to downtown Seattle.
I just don’t see anyone in West Seattle jumping up and saying “please make everyone’s transit trips worse” once a dedicated bus bridge exists.
Glenn, we have a huge West Seattle bridge, just adding a separate offramp towards the bus express lane would be all we need to improve bus capacity and much easier to integrate into the existing road network.
But I don’t think there’s any way of stopping that at this point.
By starting with the bridge and making it for buses at first you at least get some improvements for a while before having to deal with all the station construction. Maybe with the bus bridge West Seattle will realize just how much worse having light rail will make their travel and oppose its conversion?
I don’t think you can get FTA funding for such project nor am I sure Sound Transit can obtain funding for their current stub.
The DEIS would need to be supplemented and a whole new comment process would have to be started. Add two years — but we already are looking at a year because of the significant changes being talked about.
On the other hand the financing and the FTA funding agreement would seem more attainable. Plus, the difficult design planning between Westlake and SODO would go away.
So while some could argue that it doesn’t save time I think it would.
I would see this less about making it ‘faster’ as it is in making it ‘feasible’. Currently the DSTT2 is really a pipe dream — there’s been little economizing to make it feasible to build with too much money planned to be spent on tunnels and deep mined stations. The preferred alternatives all require ‘additional funding’ on top of them as well.
For warning example look at CAHSR’s troubles with spending too much money or Honolulu’s Rapid Transit changing their route to much harder alignments to avoid construction impacts that they’ve basically cut half of it.
The case for automated light metro technology for Ballard and SLU is strong. The case for applying it to West Seattle is similarly strong, for the same reasons – the stations are all smaller, cheaper, with lower construction and environmental impacts, the capacity is the same, and the service is better, with double the frequency.
Half-length stations (more or less) means DSTT2’s three downtown stations (New Westlake, Midtown, and new CID), somewhat redundant though they may be, can be built for a lot less money and fewer impacts. Their depth would be mitigated by the fact that your wait would always be very short at those lower level stations.
An automated system has reduced labor costs, and thus lower operational costs, versus what is currently planned now, forever. This also makes it easier to afford. This system would require a special maintenance facility, for which the Armory site is an obvious first choice, but whatever rail vehicles serve West Seattle and Ballard have to be maintained somewhere whether they are automated or not.
First Hill absolutely deserves better transit, and again, I like this stub idea, and favor studying it. But the board has repeatedly deprioritized First Hill, given the chance, even earlier on this very project, not all that long ago. It is out of scope on this project, or these two projects (West Seattle, Ballard.) At some point, one has to accept that asking ST to revisit too many assumptions starts reducing the odds of convincing elected officials to actually make a change.
And so I plan to make a case to the Board for applying the automated light metro approach to a separate West Seattle — Ballard line, with frequent service and smaller stations. I wonder how many others would agree this is worth a look.
Such a technology seems a much better fit for filling in the gaps in our most urbanized parts of Seattle where it’s not so easy to site a 400 foot platform. The frequency helps make up for the depth – which is true in many other cities around the world.
> This system would require a special maintenance facility, for which the Armory site is an obvious first choice, but whatever rail vehicles serve West Seattle and Ballard have to be maintained somewhere whether they are automated or not.
The trains don’t necessarily have to be some special alternative with say rubber wheels or different track sizes etc… They can be the same form factor just have automation installed in the trains instead. Even worst case just keep the cabin too. If it connects at 4th/5th it could potentially just connect to the existing rail and then all the existing OMF locations.
I don’t know if this would help the case but potentially if it a separated Ballard to West Seattle tunnel, this also means you no longer need to have the seatac line to ballard aka this semi-removes the ID station issue. You could just have the tunnel skip ID or go partially on first avenue and Eastsiders to the Airport still can transfer at ID in the existing configuration.
I would say that Copenhagen is probably the model to follow if we were to go the automated light metro route. The stations are more or less built the same throughout the entire system. With some variation for trench and elevated station, but still very simple and austere in design. They all use platform screem doors and separate escalator banks for up and down with a small mezzanine for ticketing and bike storage. They’re also vaulted in a manner that allows for cheaper construction costs. They also don’t have announcement white noise galore. Just telling people when the next train is arriving, final destination, and platform. “This is a M2 Line on Platform 2 for Copenhagen Airport” and that’s it.
Also be curious if this is also the way to deal with the white elephant, that is the Issaquah-Bellevue-Kirkland line. Because that’d be a good candidate for such a line in the first place.
> Also be curious if this is also the way to deal with the white elephant, that is the Issaquah-Bellevue-Kirkland line.
The Issaquah-Kirkland line does have some at-grade crossings. Though honestly it should have been built as BRT, the rail alignment never made much sense.
There is a bigger argument for Totem Lake to be on rail than Issaquah.
Nothing will happen on the ERC, because the people of means and influence don’t want the unwashed masses in their mass transportation conveyances
In Their Backyard
Even though BRT through that whole corridor would have been an option, and a viable alternative to putting those busses on the freeway, as is currently the plan.
quiet electric bus with trail along side
Sure there is an argument for Totem Lake, but they are only building to South Kirkland, by the time they reach Totem Lake it’ll be 2060. On that time scale they could have had a BRT line running for 40 or at least 30 years before the rail line.
That is a very large problem with converting rails to trails+transit. That once converted to trails it is politically hard to actually use it for transit. Actually the city of Kirkland did want to use BRT on the the ERC it was ironically sound transit that forced light rail on them.
There are lots of reasons to keep transit on the streets and not the trail corridor.
It avoids closing the trail for years of construction. It preserves trees alongside the trail. It avoid the need to build lots of concrete. It avoids the need for fencing which would cut people off from the trail.
Then, a transit route were to use the trail, it would have to be either express or local. If it’s express, it would replace the planned STRIDE route with something much slower, as you cannot have buses safely traversing the trail corridor at 60 mph. If it’s local, it would have to replace either the local service of the 250 or 255 parallel corridors, which would mean a loss of coverage.
Meanwhile, congestion on the nearby roads is not that bad during rush hour, and nonexistent outside of rush hour. The need for transit on the trail just isn’t there.
“The need for transit on the trail just isn’t there.”
An interesting OPINION.
but it was never studied in direct comparison to the other transit options in the I-405 corridor
The trail is a unique Eastside asset. We need pedestrian corridors and wooded areas as well as transit. Two asphalt lanes would dominate the right of way and make it look like a street, and a trail next to it would be like a sidewalk, with just a narrow row of trees next to it. There are two streets on either side of it where we can enhance transit.
“The need for transit on the trail just isn’t there.”
“An interesting OPINION…. but it was never studied in direct comparison to the other transit options in the I-405 corridor”
They’re different corridors. Eastrail/108th would serve downtown Kirkland and probably terminate at Kirkland or Totem Lake. 405 Stride bypasses downtown Kirkland and goes all the way to Lynnwood. So Stride has a last-mile problem with Kirkland but makes Bothell-Bellevue and Lynnwood-Bellevue trips fast. Eastrail/108th would go directly to downtown Kirkland. Since 108th is right next to Eastrail and rarely has congestion, there’s no reason not to use it for the route to downtown Kirkland. Eastrail really is a major pedestrian corridor and wooded oasis that we shouldn’t get rid of. I’d add bike corridor too but I don’t remember offhand how good it is for bikes; is it all dirt or gravel?
All well and good Mike,
The ERC was studied and compared to the Freeway Bus that was chosen.
The ERC was removed from that study.
It never made it to the cost/benefit analysis.
The decision was purely political.
Mike, it’s a great bike trail, packed gravel, but supposed to be paved soon: https://eastrail.org/
What does paving a trail in East KC have to do with an automated line from Ballard to Westlake? If you don’t understand the Eastside don’t suggest transit ideas for the subarea, especially on a thread that has nothing to do with EKC.
Yeah, this has definitely drifted off-topic. The first paragraph is definitely on-topic. There are a bunch of different automated lines in the world (I’m not sure why folks assume SkyTrain is the only one).
In contrast, the second paragraph is off-topic. It is a reasonable suggestion, and somewhat related (“If we are going to automate one, how about we automate the other”) but it quickly drifts into areas that are clearly off-topic (like whether we need that line at all). The conversation has been civil, so I won’t get rid of the existing comments. If there was an easy way to move them, I would.
Not sure quite sure who’s replying to who now, but to bring it back on topic I do like ZachB’s idea of downscaling the trains to 2/3 cars possibly just running higher frequency for Kirkland-Issaquah taking similar idea from West Seattle/Ballard. Currently the train has a hard time actually reach downtown kirkland due to the large station sizes or if tunneled would be pretty expensive so a smaller one would potentially make it easier to exit the ERC to reach there or make it more affordable to reach destinations beyond South Bellevue by 2040. Though I am just a bit unsure that alignment could actually be automated and it’d have to run with the other manually eastside driven trains to Seattle. We can talk about it more in the news roundup open thread.
If the board ends up picking the County Jail option as the North CID stop, then I think we need to really rally against building DSTT2 entirely. $20 billion and 20 years to build a redundant tunnel with a jail stop and nothing else, while at the same time making everyone transfer to get to Seatac from the rest of the region or to UW from the South End. It’s like burning money.
Sorry I didn’t read through the discussion this time…
An automated line would be perfect for the pie-in-the-sky Seattle Subway/45th St line (current route 44).
First Hill Improvement Association is asking folks to oppose removing Midtown, arguing it was promised as access to light rail for First Hill residents who lost out on their station way back when.
I’d argue that’s a reason to push for extending to First Hill with this Ballard stub concept, personally. One hop to Westlake, transfer to everything.
That’s a good point: If we would at least build one station, a good Westlake transfer station is justified and it can be extended later to Mt. Baker.
If Sound Transit would just focus on Ballard and put West Seattle aside, the current tunnel would certainly support both lines as is for years to come and tunnel ventilation and signaling could be improved later.
Maybe we add a WS bridge offramp for buses so that they have a dedicated bus lane. We can always add a gondola line to add capacity, but a West Seattle line to SODO would inconvenience most riders, cause disruption, generate 614,000 tons of carbon, and cost almost $4 billion which we desperately need elsewhere to reach new transit riders to reduce VMT.
And a line which, once completed, will make many trips much worse as the majority of riders will have to transfer at least once before leaving West Seattle.
And a pre-pandemic ridership estimate of 16,700 riders.
The latest ridership data from ST about the West Seattle segment is buried in here:
It shows 13,400 boardings for the three West Seattle stations if added together (5,800 + 1,200 + 6,400). If you double that you get total ridership of 26,800. There is likely some double counting for intra West Seattle trips so I’d put their forecasts at about 26K for 2040.
I agree that it’s a lot of money for pretty low usage.
I think you didn’t count both directions in that 16,700. Note too that the latest forecasts are already 20 percent lower.
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The resistance to using this obvious technology suggests that promises were made to unions along with the contractors. I just returned from a trip to Florida, and the Tampa airport train goes faster than Link did on my recent trip to and from Sea-Tac! It topped 45 mph, whereas Link was sub-40 except for about 50 feet before the turn in South Seattle going south, turn before the turn that goes up the hill. It barely reached 40 mph. On the way back, the train stopped twice in-between stations for extended periods. I subscribe to ST’s email notices, and I’ve been getting several emails per day for at least month about single-tracking for various reasons. I am starting to realize another place-besides operating at grade in some parts-that ST cut costs. Obviously, automated trains would cut costs, and since ST is flat out not taking this up, just like with the money pit aka Sounder North, there have to be promises made to people who are financially benefiting by the results of those promises. i would love to be proven wrong.
“There’s an invisible cat on this chair.”
“I don’t see a cat.”
“That’s because it’s invisible.”
Several people have accused ST of making decisions in order to throw money at contractors, unions, or operations staff, but have never shown any evidence of it. What’s driving ST’s projects is city and county governments demanding the service. The reason Link is going to Everett and Tacoma is that Snohomish County, Pierce County, Everett, and Tacoma are insisting on it. That’s not because those governments singlemindedly want to give money to certain construction companies, but because they think it will help those cities mobility and attract employers and jobs beyond construction. The reason Sounder North persists is ST thinks that’s the will of Snohomish cities and voters. “Voters approved it, so they expect it to continue forever.” The one way you’re vaguely right is that years ago when ST chose manual light rail technology, it was partly to ensure living-wage jobs in transportation. But that seems to be a small factor now. The main reason ST hasn’t considered automated trains is inertia: it’s easier administratively to continue with existing technology. That and so that all vehicles are interchangeable rather than having separate maintenance processes and facilities. ST can hardly have “chosen against” this article’s recommendation when this article was only published four days ago.
From my time on ST staff, there were several senior leaders who believed automating Link was impossible. In my professional opinion, those people are wrong and should retire, but I never saw anything that suggested ‘financial promises.’ Mike’s general comment about administrative inertia is far more plausible that secret collusion or corruption.
These are basically the same reasons that voters approved the Seattle Monorail Project four times, 1997 thru 2003, for the Ballard to West Seattle route. It was planned to be a fully automated line. And with the difference in grade between 3rd and 2nd Ave at University Street station, transferring from the tunnel on 3rd to elevated on 2nd would have been relatively smooth (compared to the deeper stations being considered for this line now).
Agreed, the automated light metro with smaller cars is in essence a resurrection of the green line proposal for the monorail https://www.seattlemonorail.org/smp/greenmap.html
I’m not sure who needs to hear this but:
Siemens is working on a fully automated tram for Potsdam.
In the event that somehow there is a question about having to adopt SkyTrain car styles to get fully automated operation. Car type and operation type are two exclusively different decisions.
Metro Vancouver has a population around 2.5 million and SkyTrain ridership was 526,000 per day, so in terms of attracting ridership as a percentage of population what they are doing seems extremely popular and is worth noting.
This is essentially what I’ve been saying for awhile now. If automation comes to Link (and it probably will *someday*), it will come more in the form of self operating LRVs and not Skytrain type automation.
Think more like Tesla and less like Skytrain.
And the big automation question for the future isn’t train/station length. That issue is a red herring, as is this fixation on ultra low headways.
The big automation question for the future, at least locally, is:
“Why are we splitting Federal Way to Everett Link into two separate lines with forced transfers when an automated LRV can traverse the entire route without taking a union mandated break?”
Lazarus, autonomous cars have very different challenges: walkers, bikers, other cars, construction sites, traffic cones, police cruisers – than automated trains on a dedicated right of way. You may need Tesla/Waymo/Cruize/ Aurora technology if you want to automate streetcars or eShuttles, but for automated rail you can use central train control only slightly more sophisticated than what Sound Transit already uses to keep their trains at a safe distance.
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