North by Northwest View 06 – Comment Letter to Sound Transit Board, RE: Sounder North

Sounder North in the Rain in "Kodachrome"

My iPod Touch snap postprocessed to emulate Kodachrome, “Sounder North in the Rain in “Kodachrome”

Below is the body of my comments to the Sound Transit Board & King County Executive Dow Constantine, cc’ing the main Sound Transit e-mail addy & Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson regarding the ongoing Sounder North slide situation.  Figured I’d post here as an editorial.

Dear Sound Transit Board;

I am the statistical outlier who has been boarding Sounder North at Mukilteo Station to get to Everett Station in recent months.  I am relieved that King County Executive Dow Constantine promised in the Seattle Times that he would raise at the monthly Sound Transit Board meeting a better Sounder North safety policy.

I’m not so sure I’d get to comment on the matter orally so sending this e-mail of support for a Sounder North safety policy of… shutting Sounder North down if there has been serious rainfall in the previous 12 hours before a run.  I’m asking you do what your Interim CEO Mike Harbour wants which is, according to The Seattle Times, “if the weather and monitoring devices indicate a high risk” to send a blast e-mail as you do so helpfully :-) & put signs up at the stations of Sounder North cancellation.

I’m also going to ask that you please require ALL Sound Transit employees on Sounder North undergo lifeguard training as soon as possible – just Sounder North.  This is so in the event a Sounder North ends up in Puget Sound somebody can help pull folks back to shore until First Responders can arrive because when seconds count, First Responders are minutes away.

On a personal level, I don’t want to have to tell my Sedro-Woolley mother at 1900 Hours/7 PM from my cellular that somehow her son’s on a train and I knew the train was becoming unreliable if not unsafe until May but I took Sounder North anyway knowing I’d either be stuck behind a slide or taking some of Puget Sound home with me.  As such, I will be going back to Everett from the Future of Flight – where I do professional aviation photography and help the organization out via Everett Transit Route 70 at 84TH ST SW & 44TH AVE W, then Everett Transit Route 18 from the Mukilteo Ferry Terminal to make my Everett Station connection to Skagit Transit 90X and home.  My point is this: I really like the reliability, comfort and WiFi of Sounder North.  However I’m not exactly too gung ho about riding the rails against unstable slopes for WiFi.

Perhaps, if I may submit some business advice, it would be best to stand Sounder North down until slopes are reinforced or until May.  Or perhaps as one internet commenter on the Seattle Times story thought up:

There is another route for the Sounder, abit more expensive, and that is up the old North Interurban. It is a much better route in that it accommodates a much higher population density. But, because past politicians allowed it to be fragmented, reacquiring the land by Lake Ballenger and north of Alderwood Mall will be expensive. But it also gives a direct passenger rail access to Shoreline and Lynnwood…

Just something to consider, although I’m pretty confident my contact Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson would have an acutely different opinion.

Ultimately, I’m asking the Sound Transit Board to please prioritize rider safety over ridership statistics.  If that means a new express bus service to these four communities – I’m okay with that grudgingly.  If that means making Sounder North seasonal away from the wet season until safety measures are installed, okay.  But please put safety first and fiscal responsibility a close second – normally the two don’t contradict.

I got a thoughtful response from EmailTheBoard-AT-soundtransit-DOT-org pledging:

Thank you for your message to the Sound Transit Board. Your email is being distributed to all boardmembers for review, and will be responded to within three business days.

Thank you,

Sound Transit Board Administration

If true, and I have no reason to believe otherwise, I much appreciate.

If you’ve got thoughts about Sounder North, you just might want to send EmailTheBoard-AT-soundtransit-DOT-org your thoughts.  Here’s why:

King County Executive Dow Constantine, who is Sound Transit’s board chairman, said Friday he’ll bring up landslide matters at a transit-board meeting.

“The board’s first concern is safety. In light of this incident, and service interruptions during past winters, I plan to ask the board to discuss rainy-season operational challenges,” Constantine said in a statement.

Folks if you oppose Sounder North, if you support Sounder North, or if you just support reforming Sounder North chime in at EmailTheBoard-AT-soundtransit-DOT-org .

North by Northwest 37 – Sound Transit Deputy CEO Puts the Sounder North Situation in Stark Relief

Sounder North in the Rain in "Kodachrome" - Horizontal Perspective

Very recent iPod Touch snap of mine of a Sounder North approaching Mukilteo Station

Quoting verbatim the Sound Transit Deputy CEO Mike Harbour in his weekly Sound Transit CEO Report which anybody can subscribe HERE:

Mudslides and Seahawks

Unfortunately, mudslides continue to be an issue on our Sounder north line. On Wednesday evening, a slide came down in front of a Sounder train heading into Everett. Mud slid onto the tracks immediately in front of the train, which came to an emergency stop in the shallow mud and vegetation. There were no injuries or damage to the train equipment. The train waited about an hour while inspectors evaluated the conditions. Then the train proceeded slowly to Everett Station, pushing the debris off the tracks.

The slide knocked out north line service the rest of the week and we decided to cancel the Seahawks train that was scheduled to run this Sunday between Everett and Seattle. The forecast for new storms was making more slides likely and we didn’t want riders to be stranded trying to get back home. And then another slide hit this morning near Edmonds. The Sounder Seahawks trains on the south line between Lakewood and Seattle will run Sunday as planned.

We appreciate the patience of our riders when slides occur. Fortunately, during the shutdowns we are able to provide direct bus service from the train stations into Seattle and back.

The slide Wednesday was about a mile south of Everett and was the third in the Everett area this season. This part of the corridor is one of six project areas identified for the federally funded slope mitigation efforts underway by the state Department of Transportation and the BNSF Railway Company. Two slope mitigation projects near Edmonds and Mukilteo were completed in March and design on the remaining four is complete. The state DOT, BNSF and the City of Everett are discussing when to begin construction on the third project. Meanwhile, the state DOT is awaiting additional funding to begin construction on the remaining three projects.

The Seattle Times just posted a news story on the latest ongoing incident.  In it, they note Sound Transit is discussing the acute possibility of preemptively cancelling Sounder North services.  For a controversial, underperforming Sound Transit run it’s a lose-lose situation.  However, the greater loss would always be a Sounder train in Puget Sound for as King County Executive Dow Constantine aptly put it:

King County Executive Dow Constantine, who is Sound Transit’s board chairman, said Friday he’ll bring up landslide matters at a transit-board meeting.

“The board’s first concern is safety. In light of this incident, and service interruptions during past winters, I plan to ask the board to discuss rainy-season operational challenges,” Constantine said in a statement.

For those STB Readers like Mayor Jennifer Gregerson of Mukilteo that would like to have input – the next Sound Transit Board Meeting is December 18, 2014, 1:30 pm – 4:00 pm, Union Station, Ruth Fisher Boardroom, 401 S. Jackson St., Seattle, WA.  You can also e-mail the Sound Transit Board at emailtheboard-AT-soundtransit-DOT-org and EmailAllBoardMembers-AT-soundtransit-DOT-org regarding King County Exec Dow Constantine’s efforts on Sounder North safety, which is probably best since “Public comment is permitted only on items that are on the Board/Committee meeting agenda for final action, unless the Chair announces that comments will be taken on other items” according to the Sound Transit website.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Expect a full editorial on this to drop late Saturday evening.  Let’s just say since Wednesday’s slide was at a slope to get maintenance next year, I’ll be making some firm comments as they’ll also be my comment letter to Sound Transit.  I was going to do one on airports & land use, but that isn’t so timely now…