Posts Tagged ‘Seattle light rail’

All aboard: Seattle’s Light rail service starts Saturday

July 17, 2009

Even though Seattle’s new light rail service has more in common with Vancouver’s SkyTrain, with many tunnels and viaducts, it still retains the all important ability to operate on lesser rights-of-ways or even trackshare with mainline railways. Seattle’s transit planners have much in common with Vancouver’s transit planners: the more costly the transit system is, the better it is. One hopes that transit planning matures in Seattle and that local transit planners learn from their mistakes.

All being said, one wishes Seattle’s ‘LINK’ LRT success!


The Classy Way to Ride

From the Seattle PI:

All aboard: Light rail service starts Saturday


Seattle, can you hear that train a-comin’?

Thirteen year after voters approved the taxes to build it, Sound Transit’s Central Link light rail opens for service Saturday. Trains will run every 71/2 minutes from stations along the 14-mile line between Westlake Center in Seattle and the massive, glass-encased station in Tukwila at South 154th Street and Tukwila International Boulevard.

Passengers can ride for free during the inaugural weekend. Sound Transit officials had no predictions on opening day ridership, but are ready for up to 100,000. Their best reference is Phoenix, Ariz., where the city’s new Metro light rail logged 90,000 riders when it opened last December, with some waiting in lines for two to three hours.

Still under construction is a 1.7-mile segment from Tukwila to SeaTac Airport, which is set for completion in December. On Monday, a bus shuttle will begin taking passengers from the Tukwila station to the airport until construction is finished. The shuttle service won’t be available on opening weekend.

This week, it came down to final details, including elevators and escalators at light rail stations passing final safety inspections, spokesman Bruce Gray said.

“Light rail is going to be great,” said Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, who is Sound Transit’s board chairman and a longtime advocate for light rail. “It’s going to be a big step forward.”

It took seven years to build Seattle’s light rail, and several tries over the last century to build a rail transit system in Seattle. The Central Link is the most complex light rail line in the country because it runs in all different types of environments, with tunnels under downtown and Beacon Hill, elevated tracks in Tukwila, and 5 miles of grade-level tracks in the Rainier Valley, said Joni Earl, Sound Transit’s chief operating officer.

Plus, Seattle is the only place in the world where passenger rail and buses will share a tunnel simultaneously, Earl said.

“I just hope that when the public rides it — as the owners of this system — that they can take pride and feel pride that our region was able to bring this high-capacity transit system into being,” she said. “To me, it’s a regional pride, not just pride for Sound Transit.”

You should know

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you go this weekend:


  • Trains will run from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Normal Monday-Saturday service, from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m., begins next week. Regular Sunday hours are 6 a.m. to midnight.
  • Fares, from $1.75 to $2.50 for adults, don’t go into effect until Monday. Loading platforms are “barrier-free,” so riders pay on an honor system with no turnstiles. Fare inspectors will soon be patrolling trains and platforms for violators. A fare-evasion ticket costs $124.
  • Sound Transit will loop bus shuttles between light rail stations Saturday and Sunday for people who don’t want to wait to ride. The downtown transit tunnel, however, will not be running King County Metro bus routes in anticipation of large crowds, according to Metro Transit.
  • Click here for more information on Metro bus routes that connect with light rail stations. Metro plans route changes in September to better accommodate light rail. Bus transfer slips can be used on light rail until the end of this year as transit officials phase in new ORCA cards.
  • The city’s Restricted Parking Zones don’t take effect around light rail stations until Monday. After that, permits will be required to park for more than two hours within a quarter-mile of stations between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. Tukwila is the only park-and-ride station with 600 spaces, although most of the space will be occupied this weekend for festivities.
  • Sound Transit plans family-friendly music and entertainment at stations this weekend. Plenty of police will be on-hand, as well as volunteers to answer questions.


What you voted for, what you’re getting

Link light rail was part of Sound Move, a $3.9 billion, 10-year regional transit package that voters in King, Snohomish and Pierce Counties approved in 1996. A $6.7 billion rail and transit proposal had failed the year earlier. Prior to that, Seattle voters had rejected rail transit three times, including the Forward Thrust initiatives of 1968 and 1970, and a plan in 1912 by city planning director Virgil Bogue to build a rail system with a central terminus in South Lake Union.

Initially, Link light rail’s first segment was planned as a 21-mile, $1.7 billion line from the University District to the City of SeaTac. But waning public confidence, and cost overruns and delays nearly derailed the entire project. A $500 million federal grant was temporarily withheld after an unfavorable report from the Office of the U.S. Inspector General.

Sound Transit retooled and brought in new management, with Earl taking over in 2001. The plans and schedule for the first segment were revised to the current 14-mile line and completeion date. Construction of a second phase, a 3.15 segment through twin tunnels to Capitol Hill and the U-District, was put off until this year.

Those were the “dark days,” Earl said, although she pointed out that the plan mapped out 8 years ago has since been on time and under budget.

“I don’t think we ever lost sight of where we were getting to, but I would say that was our riskiest time. I look back at that as a pretty defining time and it marks my view of how huge this accomplishment is,” Earl said.

Nowhere was construction as disruptive as Martin Luther King Jr. Way South in South Seattle, where roads were ripped up and utility lines moved underground to make room for trains to run in the median. Now, the street is repaved and lined with trees.

“We also hope that this will be a catalyst for redevelopment and transit-oriented density. Already, wer’re seing some tremendous changes in the Rainier Valley, which is an area that has been under-invested in, in my mind,” she said.

She credited the patience of businesses and residents during the construction.

“I’ll be forever grateful to the people who still talk to us now that it is finished,'” she said.

Is LRT becoming the new Light-Metro?

May 20, 2009


A metre gauge tram in Germany is still considered LRT.

Since the early 1970’s, the term LRT or light rail transit, has been in common use describing streetcar or interurban type rail transit. The first generation of modern LRT were German ‘Stadtbahn’ (City railway) style of tram, generally articulated and heavier built than trams or streetcars of the age. The first generation of North American LRT lines used the Duewag or Siemens, BN of Belgium, now Bombardier Inc., licensed built versions of ubiquitous ‘U-2’s’. These vehicles acted both as a streetcar and as an interurban, proving very successful in operation in cities including San Diego, Portland, Calgary and Edmonton. The original concept of LRT was build it cheap and build lots and it will be successful and LRT was.


Lille VAL light-metro.

During the same period, several proprietary transit systems were developed including Ontario’s Urban Transportation Development Corporation (UTDC) ICTS and France’s MATRA VAL system. These proprietary transit systems were labeled Intermediate Capacity Transportation Systems (ICTS) or simply ‘light-metro’; though poor sales led the UTDC to rename SkyTrain ALRT or Advanced Light Rail Transit in the late 70’s. ICTS was supposed to bridge the gap of what a streetcar could carry and that which would justify a full fledged metro, but ended up costing as much as a heavy-rail metro, while having the same potential capacity of LRT. ICTS was designed to be elevated as speed of a transit system was the ‘flavour of the month’ and thought essential for a successful transit system. Sadly for the companies developing and marketing ICTS or light-metro, LRT and with articulated cars, priority signaling at intersections, and the concept of the reserved rights-of-way,  proved superior to its much more expensive light-metro cousin. Light-metro became another dead branch on the tree of railway evolution.

The legacy of ICTS or light-metro lives on and despite overwhelming evidence that there is little benefit of very expensive grade separated transit systems, much political, bureaucratic, and academic prestige is still wedded to the notion that speed trumps all for a successful transit system. To increase the commercial speed of a transit system, the number of stations per route km. must be reduced. Thus light-metro systems have one half to one third the stations or stops than a comparable LRT system.

Manila, Philippines.

With 4-car trains and carrying over 500,000 passengers a day, Manilla’s LRT systems justifies the need for grade separation.

Grade separation of a transit line is very expensive and propels LRT into the category of light-metro, complete with its failings. Of course, when ridership demand, such as Manila, or Kuala Lumpor is very high, then it’s quite right to build LRT as a light metro; yet operating as a light-metro, the elevated (or underground) light-rail still maintains the ability to operate on much cheaper, at-grade rights-of-ways.

Seattle LRT

Seattle’s new LRT has more in common with light-metro, than light-rail.

There is a disturbing trend in North America to build LRT on miles of viaduct or tunnels (subways), with Seattle being a good example of masquerading light-metro as light-rail! The result is a very expensive transit system, which despite their much higher costs, will attract the same or fewer passengers than at-grade LRT. Many planners have blurred the definition of LRT and plan for light-metro, while still calling it LRT, with TransLink’s Evergreen line light-rail proposals being a good example. More confusion is sewn, by calling ‘rail’ transit systems the meaningless ‘rapid transit’ or ‘mass transit’, which do not define transit mode at all.


There are several reasons:

  1. Because the huge sums involved, politicians turn light-rail projects into make work mega-projects, spreading the taxpayers money to many more politically friendly companies and organizations.
  2. Local officials desperate for funding, try to fool more frugal Senior governments by building a politically prestigious metro by calling it LRT.
  3. The auto lobby wants all transit up in the air, out of sight, leaving the roads for cars.
  4. Land next to light metro lines tends to be rezoned for higher densities, giving windfall profits to landowners.
  5. Transit bureaucrats can hire more employees with light-metro, enhancing their departmental ‘prestige’.
  6. Planners do not understand the difference between metro, light-metro, and light-rail and lump them together as ‘rapid transit’.

Despite the much higher cost of light-metro, there is little evidence of superior operation. Cities that build hugely expensive light-metro and/or LRT built as light-metro, tend to have smaller networks with higher operating costs. Higher transit costs means new taxes must be found (carbon tax?) to fund the light-metro and taxes curbs the appetite for ‘rail’ transit expansion. Smaller ‘rail’ systems mean a much smaller modal shift from car to transit and in the time of global warming and peak oil, one wants to get the biggest bang for their transit buck.

In the U.S.A., planners now consider LRT as a variant of a metro and what once was called LRT, is now being labeled fast streetcar! In Europe, a tram can be the simplest of streetcar or a commuter train (Karlsruhe’s Two-system LRT).  A dichotomy has appeared; in Europe transit planners strive to simplify and reduce costs of LRT, while in North America planners do the opposite, making LRT far more complicated and expensive than it need be! 

Have American and Canadian transit planners lost their way?

One wonders if transit planners should get back to the basics and again plan for user and taxpayer friendly transit systems that were so popular, successful, and affordable thirty years ago. Maybe the old adage: “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it!” should be remembered by those advocating turning LRT into a metro.


Calgary’s C-Train LRT in the transit mall. 90% of the line is at-grade.