Light-rail passengers still get a kick out of the ride, a year later
The novelty has yet to wear off aboard Seattle's Central Link line, which opened from downtown to Tukwila a year ago Monday
Times transportation reporter
Light-rail anniversary swagSound Transit's Central Link turns 1
The agency plans a low-key celebration Monday, a year after service began from Westlake Center to Tukwila. On tap from 6 to 10 a.m.:
Snacks: Free breakfast bars from Costco at Beacon Hill, Mount Baker, Columbia City, Othello, Rainier Beach, Tukwila International Boulevard and SeaTac/Airport stations.
Tickets, news: Free copies of The Seattle Times, with a free-ride ticket for Tuesday attached, at the same stations.
Three children pressed their palms against the window during their first light-rail ride, heading south to the airport Wednesday night.
"Bacon Hill Station!" they yelled, after failing to notice the futuristic art of luminous playing cards inside the Beacon Hill Tunnel. Soon the train emerged from the tunnel to Mount Baker Station, where they somehow couldn't see the mountain. They giggled.
The novelty has yet to wear off aboard Seattle's Central Link line, which opened from downtown to Tukwila a year ago Monday. The SeaTac/Airport Station was finished in December, the end of a $2.6 billion, 16- mile line.
Sound Transit plans a low-key celebration Monday morning, distributing free breakfast bars, tickets and newspapers at several stations.
An estimated 6 million trips have been taken to date. Ridership has grown to an average 23,400 boardings per weekday in June, compared with 14,850 in September. Trains are noticeably more full.
At first it seemed Sound Transit would miss its 26,600 target by the end of this year, but that's now within reach.
Seattle transit analyst John Niles — who favors bus rapid transit over rail here — points to the bittersweet side of this story, that the regional rail system was conceived almost two decades ago, funded by voters in 1996, and has still reached only a startup phase.
Flawed estimating and enormous costs nearly killed the institution a decade ago, and it will take another dozen years, at an increased sales-tax rate, to finish three spoke lines into the suburbs.
Because of its limited reach, Link serves a fairly small niche, relative to 3 million people and all modes of travel in the Puget Sound area. The costs of Link are far out of scale to its benefit, Niles said.
Yet it also provides an extra tool for occasional users — not just airport patrons but especially baseball and soccer fans, who add a couple thousand trips on game days, or pack the trains if a premier foreign team comes to Qwest Field.
Safety has been a pleasant surprise.
Despite four miles at surface through Rainier Valley, crash rates lag far below the possible 28 per year predicted by an early environmental statement. There have been eight minor-injury tangles with cars, three minor-injury brushes with pedestrians, a collision with a dropped safe and one trackway suicide at Sodo.
Sound Transit designed a consistent layout for crosswalks and left-turn signals to avoid a debacle that happened in Houston, where there were more than 100 wrecks in the opening year.
"Any accident is one too many," spokesman Bruce Gray said. "We feel the public, for the most part, is doing a good job in obeying the rules of the road."
On the other hand, a nervous operator derailed a two-car train last fall, on overhead track near the Sodo maintenance base — where fortunately, no passengers were aboard.
Noise a problem
The stickiest problem to date has been noise, where measurements in north Tukwila have reached 83 decibels, akin to standing near a kitchen garbage disposal.
The agency recently reground the rails and is installing a mile of stiff rubber noise barriers along the elevated trackway, Gray said.
Wednesday, passengers raved about the clean trains and the mountain views.
"It's always on time," said carpenter Tony Futrell, of Beacon Hill, heading to a swing shift in Bremerton. "If they have a mess up or they're doing work, they let you know a couple weeks ahead of time, so you can change your schedule."
Late-night track work last winter caused trains to run less frequently, and rush-hour congestion from buses sometimes delays trains entering the shared transit tunnel downtown.
Except for scheduled maintenance, Gray said on-time performance is above 90 percent.
"It's great. Less crowded than a bus," said Nora Darlow, a barista. Her only gripe is with ORCA fare-card readers that fail, so she winds up paying an extra 75 cents.
The next phase is a $1.9 billion tunnel to Capitol Hill and Husky Stadium by 2016, and possibly a new south park-and-ride station that year, a mile beyond the airport.
Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or email@example.com
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.