Link Light Rail

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Sound Transit
Link Light Rail
Sound Transit Link Light Rail logo.svg
Locale Seattle metropolitan area
Transit type Light rail
Number of lines 2 existing
1 under construction
3 approved[1]
Number of stations 18 existing
2 under construction
20 approved
Daily ridership 33,878 (Central Link & Tacoma Link, Feb. 2014, weekdays)[2]
Began operation Tacoma Link:
August 22, 2003
Central Link:
July 18, 2009
Operator(s) Sound Transit
System length 17.3 miles (27.8 km)
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Electrification Tacoma Link:
750 V DC, overhead catenary
Central Link:
1500 V DC, overhead catenary
System map
Link Light Rail 2009.png

Sound Transit Link Light Rail is a rapid transit project in the Greater Seattle region, originally approved by a ballot measure in November 1996. Two lines are currently operating as of 2009: Tacoma Link, which uses 3 vehicles built by Škoda, and Central Link, which uses 35 vehicles built by Kinki Sharyo.[3] The University Link extension, extending Central Link northward from downtown Seattle to the University of Washington, began preliminary construction work in late 2008 with service slated to start in 2016. In addition, voters approved a November 2008 ballot measure to extend Link light rail north via Northgate to Lynnwood (with planning and property acquisition to support later extension to Everett), south to Redondo Heights Park & Ride in Federal Way (with route planning to support later extension to Tacoma and extensions of Tacoma Link to the east and west), and east via Mercer Island and Bellevue to Microsoft's main campus in Redmond (with route planning and right-of-way acquisition to support later extension to downtown Redmond).


In November 1996, voters in King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties approved increases in sales taxes and vehicle excise taxes to pay for a US$3.9 billion transit package that included $1.7 billion for a light rail system, including Central Link and Tacoma Link.[4] Over the next several years, debates raged over various issues surrounding the Central Link line.

In the late nineties and early 2000s, Sound Transit underwent a series of financial and political difficulties. The cost of the line rose significantly,[5] and the federal government threatened to withhold necessary grants.[6] In 2001, Sound Transit was forced to shorten the line from the original proposal, and growing enthusiasm for the proposed monorail brought rising opposition to the light rail from Seattle-area residents.

But by the end of 2002, Sound Transit decided on a route and became more financially stable. On August 22, 2003, the Tacoma Link light rail line in Downtown Tacoma opened and quickly reached its forecast ridership.[7] On November 8, 2003, a groundbreaking ceremony was held for the Central Link light rail line. Central Link opened between Westlake and Tukwila on July 18, 2009 and was extended to SeaTac/Airport on December 19, 2009.[8][9]



Tacoma Link trains currently run on the following schedule:[10]

Time Headway (min)
5:00 am – 6:36 am 24
6:36 am – 8:00 pm 12
8:00 pm – 10:00 pm 24
Saturday 7:48 am – 10:00 pm 12
Sunday 9:48 am – 5:48 pm 24

King County Metro, which operates Central Link, runs Central Link trains on the following schedule:[11]

Time Headway (min)
5:00 am – 6:00 am 15
6:00 am – 8:30 am 7.5
8:30 am – 3:00 pm 10
3:00 pm – 6:30 pm 7.5
6:30 pm – 10:00 pm 10
10:00 pm – 1:00 am 15
Saturday 5:00 am – 8:00 am 15
8:00 am – 10:00 pm 10
10:00 pm – 1:00 am 15
Sunday 6:00 am – 8:00 am 15
8:00 am – 10:00 pm 10
10:00 pm - 12:00 midnight 15

Travel times[edit]

Currently, it takes 10 minutes to traverse the entire length of the Tacoma Link light rail,[10] whereas it takes about 38 minutes to traverse the entire length from Sea-Tac Airport to Westlake Station in Downtown Seattle along the Central Link.[11]

Connecting transit[edit]

A King County Metro Electric Trolley Bus (ETB) in Downtown Seattle

Tacoma Link is located entirely within Pierce County, and most of the connecting transit is provided by Pierce Transit. Sound Transit also runs express buses that provide connections from Tacoma Link to places around the region, and Intercity Transit runs an Olympia express bus from the Tacoma Dome Station.

Central Link is located entirely within King County, and therefore most of the connecting transit consists of buses provided by King County Metro. Metro buses and Link Light Rail share the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, making bus-train transfers easy. At Westlake Station, one may transfer to the South Lake Union Streetcar or to the Seattle Monorail. Commuter buses to Snohomish County are provided by Community Transit, and Sound Transit runs several express buses from Downtown Seattle and the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to points in King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties, as well as the Sounder commuter rail service to all three counties. Three Amtrak intercity rail routes run from Seattle's King Street Station to points around the country, and the intercity bus depot is located a block east of Stadium Station. Finally, ferry services are provided from Colman Dock on the waterfront in Downtown Seattle by Washington State Ferries and by the King County Ferry District.


Main article: Central Link § Fares

Central Link fares are distance-based, with a flat rate starting at $2.00 plus 5 cents per mile, rounded to the nearest quarter. This results in a maximum cost of $2.75 for a one-way trip from Downtown Seattle to Sea-Tac Airport, compared to fares (as of January 2010) of $2.00 (off-peak) to $2.75 (peak) for the same route on the 194 Metro bus.[12] Maintaining the ride-free area downtown for light rail would have resulted in fares 25 cents higher.

The ORCA card enables contact-less fare payment and automatically calculates transfer credit between Link Light Rail and Sound Transit, King County Metro, Community Transit, Pierce Transit, Everett Transit, Washington State Ferries, and Kitsap Transit.[13]

Tacoma Link is fare-free throughout its entire route in Downtown Tacoma.[14]

Rolling stock[edit]

The rolling stock fleet consists of two types of vehicle, for a total of 38 vehicles. Tacoma Link has three, while Central Link has 35.

The Tacoma Link cars were manufactured in the Czech Republic by Škoda in 2001-2002, under a partnership with Inekon, another Czech company. The three cars are model 10T, the same type used by the Portland Streetcar (the latter's cars 001-007). They were delivered to Sound Transit in September 2002, prior to the 2003 opening of Tacoma Link. They typically operate as single cars (not coupled in trains), and are 66 feet long, 8 feet wide, and have two articulations in the middle. They have a total capacity for 157 people, with 30 seated and 127 standing.[15] The cars draw their power from 750-volt overhead wires.[16]

Central Link cars are manufactured by Kinki Sharyo in Japan and the United States. The first vehicle arrived in November 2006, and two more per month began arriving in May 2007. The cars are 95 feet long and 105,000 pounds, with the ability to be coupled into four-car trains. They use 1500-volt electrical power drawn from a single overhead catenary wire, and have a capacity for 200 passengers, including 74 seated.[17]

Current lines[edit]

Tacoma Link at the Tacoma Dome Station

Tacoma Link[edit]

Main article: Tacoma Link

Tacoma Link is a free light rail line running through the densest parts of Tacoma. This light rail system connects the Tacoma Dome Station (a regional hub for local and express bus, and commuter train service) with downtown Tacoma. It has stops at the Tacoma Dome Station, S. 25th Street, Union Station, the convention center, and the Theater District. The Union Station stop is next to the University of Washington's Tacoma campus and several museums. As of fourth quarter 2009, Tacoma Link has a daily ridership of 3,900,[18] surpassing the prediction that by 2010 it would have ridership of 2,000 per day.[19]

Light Rail Testing

Central Link[edit]

Main article: Central Link

Service has begun on Sound Transit's 13.9-mile (22.4 km) Central Link light rail line. The trains began carrying passengers on July 18, 2009, stopping at 12 stations and running 4.4 miles (7.1 km) on elevated tracks, 2.5 miles (4.0 km) in tunnels and 7 miles (11 km) at grade. To support the line, Sound Transit retrofit the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel and four of its existing stations for joint use by both light rail trains and buses. Sound Transit also built new light rail stations in the following locations (listed here from north to south): Near CenturyLink Field and Safeco Field, in the Sodo district at Lander Street just south of downtown Seattle; on Beacon Hill at Beacon and Lander, in the Mount Baker neighborhood at McClellan and Rainier; in the Columbia City neighborhood at Edmunds and Martin Luther King Jr. Way (MLK); near Othello Street and MLK; in the Rainier Beach neighborhood at Henderson and MLK; and in Tukwila on Tukwila International Blvd. Sound Transit extended the line another 1.7 miles (2.7 km) to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, adding a thirteenth station on December 19, 2009.[9] [20]

University Link[edit]

Main article: University Link

In November 2006, the US Federal Transit Administration approved Sound Transit's plan for extending the light rail 3.1 miles (5.0 km) north to the University of Washington after completion of an Environmental Impact Study. A grant was approved in November 2008, which allowed University Link to begin construction in December 2008. Actual construction, to include the University Link Tunnel, will last until approximately 2016.[21]

Airport Link[edit]

See Angle Lake

In 2011 Sound Transit made the decision to accelerate plans for the construction of a station at S. 200th Street and 28th Ave S., just south of SeaTac International Airport, as an extension of Central Link. The new station is expected to open in 2016, concurrently with the Capitol Hill and UW Stations. It will serve as a connection to the future South Link.[22]

Future extensions[edit]

Link Light Rail: Future Extensions
North Link (7 stations)
Mountlake Terrace
185th Street
145th Street
U District
University Link (2 stations)
Lake Washington Ship Canal
Capitol Hill
East Link (12 stations)
Redmond Town Center
SE Redmond
Overlake TC
Overlake Village
Bellevue Transit Center
East Main
South Bellevue
Lake Washington
Mercer Island
Lake Washington
Central Link (13 stations)
Westlake connection to Monorail, Streetcar
University Street
Pioneer Square connection to Ferries
Int'l District connection to Sounder
Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel
Beacon Hill
Mount Baker
Columbia City
Rainier Beach
Tukwila Int'l Blvd
South Link (7 stations)
Angle Lake
Highline CC
Redondo/Star Lake
Federal Way TC
South Federal Way
Port of Tacoma/Fife
Tacoma Dome
to Tacoma Link

Sound Transit's Phase 2 plan, under the name of ST2 (Sound Transit 2), is the plan for the second phase of Link Light Rail expansion. ST2 was put before voters in November 2007 as part of the "Roads and Transit" measure, which included hundreds of miles of highway expansion along with the light rail, but failed to pass. Sound Transit then put another ST2 plan on the ballot in November 2008. The measure passed by large margins. The plan will extend light rail to Lynnwood Transit Center in the north, S. 272nd St. in Federal Way to the south, and Downtown Bellevue and Overlake Transit Center to the east.[23]

Northgate Link Extension[edit]

Northgate Link Extension is a future extension of Central Link partially approved by voters in November 2008. It will connect the University Link project currently under way to a central University District station, Roosevelt, Northgate, and points north. Once Northgate Link Extension is complete, the major urban centers of downtown Seattle, Capitol Hill, the University District, and Northgate will be connected via light rail. It is a top priority for Sound Transit as it will add over 40,000 daily riders to Link Light Rail by 2030, easing pressure on the Interstate 5 corridor.[24]

Lynnwood Link Extension[edit]

Proposition 1, the measure on the ballot in 2008, included extensions of Central Link north to Lynnwood Transit Center, via the stations described above and Jackson Park, Shoreline, and Mountlake Terrace. The ballot measure also includes funding for a study to develop possible routes for a future extension of Central Link to Everett. As the extension to Lynnwood Transit Center will be finished in 2023, it can be assumed that an extension to Everett would not be completed until well after that year. An extension to Everett would require a separate, future measure.

South Link[edit]

Sound Transit plans to connect the south end of Central Link, SeaTac Airport, to the Tacoma Dome Transit Center. The proposed route will have stations at South 200th Street, Highline Community College, Redondo/Star Lake Park-and-Ride, Federal Way Transit Center, South Federal Way Park-and-Ride, and Fife. The length of this connection will be aerial, mostly following Highway 99. There are many stakeholders, including the Washington State Department of Transportation, so many agreements must be made before it is built. The line, which has a projected daily ridership of 38,000, would fulfill one of the main goals of Sound Transit: to connect Seattle and Tacoma via light rail. It will not be possible to extend Central Link on Tacoma Link's tracks unless Tacoma Link is retrofitted with Central Link technology. Tacoma Link currently runs on 750 volt power, while Central Link runs on 1500 volt power. It uses different types of cars and has much shorter station platforms as well.[25]

The November 2008 Proposition 1 included a portion of South Link, extending Central Link as far south as Redondo/Star Lake Park-and-Ride, and passed by a vote of about 57% to 43%. The extension to South 200th Street is scheduled to open in 2016. Highline Community College is scheduled to open in 2020, with the Redondo/Star Lake extension following it in 2023.[26] The whole extension all the way to the Tacoma Dome was on the ballot as part of the previous 2007 Roads and Transit package, but that measure failed 56% to 44%.

East Link[edit]

Main article: East Link

In November 2008, voters approved the construction of an East Link light rail line connecting the city of Seattle to Mercer Island and the Eastside communities of Bellevue and Redmond as part of the Proposition 1 measure. This line will split from Central Link just south of the International District/Chinatown Station in downtown Seattle, extend across the I-90 bridge express lanes through downtown Bellevue and serve the Overlake Transit Center, including Microsoft headquarters.

It will provide stations on I-90 at Rainier Avenue and Mercer Island; in Bellevue at South Bellevue Park-and-Ride, East Main, Bellevue Transit Center, Overlake Hospital, and on the Bel-Red corridor at 120th and 130th; and along SR 520 at Overlake Village and Overlake Transit Center, adjacent to Microsoft. South Bellevue, East Main, and Overlake Hospital stations will be elevated and the Bel-Red corridor, Overlake Village, and Overlake Transit Center station at-grade. The Bellevue Transit Center in the middle of Downtown Bellevue will be in a tunnel underneath 110th Avenue, a plan that the board decided upon in July 2011.[27]

East Link also includes right-of-way preservation work for later service extension from Overlake Transit Center to downtown Redmond, with stations in SE Redmond adjacent to Marymoor Park and in Downtown Redmond adjacent to Redmond Town Center.

Tacoma Link extensions[edit]

Sound Transit is considering several extensions of Tacoma Link Light Rail. One of these proposed extensions would extend the line west to Tacoma Community College. The proposed route would be at grade, and would serve key destinations including Stadium High School, MultiCare Mary Bridge Children's Hospital & Health Center, MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital, and the University of Puget Sound. It is projected to boost the daily ridership of Tacoma Link by 8,000 people.[28] The ballot measure in 2008 included matching funds for this and possibly other Tacoma Link extensions.[29]

Other proposed extensions[edit]

Former Seattle mayor Michael McGinn (2010-14) proposed building a new light rail line in western Seattle, and had promised to hold a public vote on the matter in 2011. This vote did not take place. The new light rail line would be built as a joint project between Sound Transit and the city of Seattle, and could serve districts including but not limited to Ballard, West Seattle, Fremont, and Belltown.[30] This would fill a key gap in the Link's currently-planned service area. As of June 2014, Sound Transit is studying rail connecting Ballard and downtown Seattle, including five possible routes.[31]

Land-use impacts[edit]

An expressed purpose in building the Link Light Rail system has been to support a "smart growth" approach to handling the region's population growth and development.[32][33] By concentrating new development along light rail lines (a practice known as "transit-oriented development"), more people can live more densely without the increases in automotive commuting traffic that might otherwise be expected. In addition, the concentration of residents near stations helps maintain ridership and revenue.[34] Climate change activists also point out that compact development around light rail lines has been shown to result in reductions in residents' CO2 emissions, compared to more conventional suburban automotive commutes.[35]

Environmentalists, transportation groups and some affordable housing advocates have sought greater government regulatory support for transit-oriented development along Link Light Rail, and in 2009 a bill was introduced in the Washington State Legislature that would have raised allowable densities (as well as lowering parking requirements and easing some other regulations on development) in station areas.[34] The bill did not pass, but supporters vow to bring it back in 2010.[36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sound Transit: Projects & Plans
  2. ^ Sound Transit Operations (3 April 2014). "February 2014 Service Performance Report". Retrieved 15 April 2014. 
  3. ^ "Link Light Rail Projects". Sound Transit. Archived from the original on 2007-06-03. Retrieved 2007-06-04. 
  4. ^ David Schaefer (1996-11-08). "Voters Back Transit Plan On Fourth Try". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2007-02-26. 
  5. ^ "Light-rail cost soars $1 billion". The Seattle Times. 2000-12-13. Retrieved 2007-02-28. 
  6. ^ Andrew Garber (2001-03-30). "Federal aid in jeopardy for light rail". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2007-04-21. 
  7. ^ Sound Transit:Tacoma Link, retrieved 2009-01-06 [dead link]
  8. ^ "Countdown to a new era: all aboard Link light rail starting July 18" (Press release). Sound Transit. April 20, 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-20. 
  9. ^ a b "Sound Transit: Countdown to airport connection: Link light rail to Sea-Tac Airport starts Dec. 19". Sound Transit. 2009-11-13. Retrieved 2009-11-14. [dead link]
  10. ^ "Sound Transit proposes fares for Link light rail, seeks public input". Sound Transit. Retrieved 2008-01-14. 
  11. ^ "ORCA Smart Card". Community Transit. Retrieved 2009-01-17. 
  12. ^ "Tacoma Link Light Rail Fares". Sound Transit. Retrieved 2009-01-13. 
  13. ^ "Streetcar model Škoda 10T". Škoda. Retrieved 2009-04-21. [dead link]
  14. ^ "Tacoma Link Light Rail Train Specifications". Sound Transit. Retrieved 2008-01-14. 
  15. ^ "Link Light Rail Train Specifications". Sound Transit. Retrieved 2008-01-14. 
  16. ^ American Public Transportation Association, Light Rail Transit Ridership Report[dead link], First Quarter 2008.
  17. ^ "Tacoma Link: The Little Tram That Could". Light Rail Now!. February 2004. Retrieved 2007-07-14. 
  18. ^ "Link Light Rail Fact Sheet, June 2006" (PDF). Sound Transit. Retrieved 2007-07-14. 
  19. ^ Meghan Erkkinen (2006-11-28). "Feds give light rail green light". The Daily. Retrieved 2007-07-14. 
  20. ^ "Airport Link Extension". Retrieved 2011-09-27. 
  21. ^ Mike Lindblom (2008-11-05). "Sound Transit calls Prop. 1 a gift "to our grandchildren"". Seattle Times. Retrieved 2009-01-14. 
  22. ^ "North Link Light Rail". Sound Transit. Retrieved 2009-01-14. 
  23. ^ "Conversion of Tacoma Link to Central Link Technology". Sound Transit. Retrieved 2009-01-14. 
  24. ^ "Expanding Link light rail". Sound Transit. Retrieved 2009-08-07. [dead link]
  25. ^ "East Link Project Update". Sound Transit. January 2012. Retrieved 2012-12-06. 
  26. ^ "Potential Tacoma Link Extensions - West". Sound Transit. Retrieved 2008-01-13. 
  27. ^ "Sound Transit 2: A Mass Transit Guide - Plan Details". Sound Transit. Retrieved 2008-01-13. [dead link]
  28. ^ Lindblom, Mike (2009-09-17). "McGinn wants light-rail line on Seattle's west side". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2010-02-22. 
  29. ^ "Ballard transit expansion study". Sound Transit. Retrieved 17 June 2014. 
  30. ^
  31. ^ [1][dead link]
  32. ^ a b Transit Oriented Development
  33. ^ Online TDM Encyclopedia - Transit Oriented Development
  34. ^ Futurewise - Transportation

External links[edit]