Central Link

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Central Link
Sound Transit Link Light Rail logo.svg
2-car Central Link train in Tukwila.jpg
A two-car light rail train on an elevated guideway in Tukwila
Overview
Type Light rail
System Link light rail
Status Operational
Locale Seattle, Washington
Termini University of Washington (north)
Angle Lake (south)
Stations 16
Daily ridership 77,081 (July 2017, weekdays)[1]
Website soundtransit.org
Operation
Opened July 18, 2009 (2009-07-18)
Owner Sound Transit
Operator(s) King County Metro
Character At grade, elevated, and underground
Technical
Line length 20.35 mi (32.75 km)
Number of tracks 2
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Electrification 1,500 Volts DC, overhead catenary
Operating speed 58 miles per hour (93 km/h) (maximum)
Route map
(2024)
(2021)
University of Washington
Capitol Hill
First Hill Streetcar
Westlake
Seattle Center Monorail South Lake Union Streetcar
University Street
Pioneer Square
Colman Dock
International District/
Chinatown
Amtrak Cascades Sounder commuter rail First Hill Streetcar
(2023)
Stadium
Greyhound Lines
SODO
Beacon Hill
Mount Baker
Columbia City
Othello
Rainier Beach
Tukwila International Boulevard
Parking
SeaTac/Airport
Seattle–Tacoma International Airport
Angle Lake
Parking
(2024)

Central Link is a light rail line in Seattle, Washington, part of Sound Transit's Link light rail system. It serves 16 stations in the cities of Seattle, SeaTac, and Tukwila, traveling 20 miles (32 km) between University of Washington and Angle Lake. The line connects the University District, Downtown Seattle, the Rainier Valley, and Seattle–Tacoma International Airport. Central Link carried over 19 million total passengers in 2016, averaging 59,000 daily passengers on weekdays. It runs for 20 hours per day on weekdays and Saturdays, with headways of up to six minutes during peak hours, and reduced 18-hour service on Sundays and holidays. Trains are composed of two or more cars that can carry 194 passengers, including 74 in seats, along with wheelchairs and bicycles.

Central Link was approved in a 1996 ballot measure that was passed by voters, and began construction in 2003. The light rail line, which followed decades of failed transit plans for the Seattle region, opened on July 18, 2009, terminating at Westlake in Downtown Seattle and Tukwila International Boulevard. It was extended south to SeaTac/Airport in December 2009, north to University of Washington in March 2016, and south to Angle Lake in September 2016. The line is scheduled to be extended north to Northgate in 2021, followed by further extensions to Lynnwood and Federal Way in 2024. An intersecting line, East Link, will also open in 2023, connecting Seattle to the Eastside suburbs and forming a multi-line network.

History[edit]

Background and early transit proposals[edit]

Public transit service within Seattle began in 1884, with the introduction of the city's first horse-drawn streetcar line. By the end of the decade, the system had been replaced with a network of electric streetcars and cable cars, which spurred the development of new streetcar suburbs across modern-day Seattle.[2][3] Interurban railways to Everett, Tacoma, and the Rainier Valley were established after the turn of the century, giving the region an intercity passenger rail system to feed the streetcar lines.[4] By the late 1920s, however, the completion of U.S. Route 99 and the increasing popularity of automobile travel forced the interurban system to shut down; by 1941, the streetcars had been acquired by the municipal government and replaced with a trolleybus network.[3][5]

Various proposals for a rapid transit system in Seattle, to replace the streetcar—and later bus—networks, were published in the 20th century and rejected by city officials or voters due to their cost or other factors. In 1911, urban planner Virgil Bogue proposed a 41-mile (66 km) system of subway tunnels and elevated railways as the centerpiece to a comprehensive plan for the city, which was rejected by voters.[6] The Seattle Center Monorail, originally built for the 1962 World's Fair, has been the subject of several unsuccessful expansion proposals backed by Governor Albert Rosellini in the 1960s and Seattle voters in the early 2000s.[7] The Forward Thrust Committee of the late 1960s proposed a 47-mile (76 km) rapid transit system, to be funded with assistance from the federal government and connect Downtown Seattle to Ballard, the University District, Lake City, Capitol Hill, Bellevue, and Renton. The rapid transit initiative was presented to voters in 1968, failing to receive the necessary supermajority to pass, and in 1970, failing again due to a local economic downturn.[8]

Light rail planning[edit]

Following the failed Forward Thrust initiatives, Metro Transit was created in 1972 to oversee a countywide bus network and plan for a future rail system.[9] In the early 1980s, Metro Transit and the Puget Sound Council of Governments (PSCOG) explored light rail and busway concepts to serve the region,[10] ultimately choosing to build a downtown bus tunnel that would be convertible to light rail in the future.[11] The PSCOG formally endorsed a light rail plan in 1986, recommending a system be built by 2020 and include a line between Seattle and Sea-Tac Airport.[12][13] An 1988 advisory measure on light rail planning was passed in King County, encouraging Metro Transit to accelerate the plan's timeline to open by 2000.[14] In 1990, the state legislature endorsed the creation of a regional transit board composed of politicians from King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties, with the goal of implementing the regional transit plan.[15]

The Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority, later renamed Sound Transit, was created in 1993 to write and present a regional transit plan for voter approval.[16] The agency proposed a 70-mile (110 km) light rail network as the centerpiece of a $6.7 billion transit ballot measure, with a surface line through the Rainier Valley and tunnels between Downtown Seattle, Capitol Hill, and the University District.[17][18] The ballot measure failed to pass on March 14, 1995,[19] and the light rail line was truncated to 25 miles (40 km), between the University District and Sea-Tac Airport.[20] The smaller, $3.9 billion proposal was approved by voters on November 5, 1996, along with increases to sales taxes and motor vehicle excise taxes across the regional transit district.[20][21] Sound Transit considered several routing options during a series of public hearings and studies early into the environmental impact study for the project,[22] which adopted the name "Central Link".[23] In 1999, Sound Transit selected the alignment for the light rail project, consisting of a line between the University District and Sea-Tac Airport, with surface segments passing through Tukwila, the Rainier Valley, and SoDo, and tunnels under Beacon Hill, First Hill, Capitol Hill, and Portage Bay.[24]

Budget issues and delays[edit]

The Central Link project was originally planned to open in 2006 and cost $1.9 billion, but the estimates were found to be unrealistic by auditors in November 2000. A revised plan, with an opening date pushed back three years to 2009 and costing $3.8 billion, was presented by new executives hired by Sound Transit to replace previous program directors.[25][26] Additionally, planning of the Portage Bay tunnel between Capitol Hill and the University District was suspended due to higher than expected contractor bids, attributed to difficult soil conditions.[27] The revised budget and schedule were adopted by Sound Transit in January 2001, including provisions to re-study routing options between Downtown Seattle and the University District, along with a $500 million federal grant agreement to fund the construction of an "initial segment".[28] The "initial segment" identified and approved by Sound Transit later that year shortened the line to 14 miles (23 km), between Downtown Seattle and a southern Tukwila station near Sea-Tac Airport. The remaining routes to the airport and University District were sent back to the planning stage, and re-organized into separate light rail projects.[29][30]

In November 2001, Sound Transit approved construction of the shortened Central Link light rail project, calling for a summer 2002 groundbreaking.[31] Property acquisition in the Rainier Valley began in March 2002,[32] but the groundbreaking was delayed by two legal battles. A lawsuit filed by light rail opponents, alleging that Sound Transit lacked the authority to shorten a voter-approved line, was ruled in favor of Sound Transit by the King County Superior Court in November 2002.[33] The approval of Tim Eyman's Initiative 776 threatened to repeal motor vehicle excise taxes needed to fund Sound Transit's budget, but was declared unconstitutional in February 2003.[34] An additional routing change requested by the City of Tukwila, placing light rail tracks along freeways in lieu of International Boulevard, was approved by Sound Transit and the Federal Transit Administration in 2002, moving the project closer to construction.[35]

Construction and testing[edit]

The headhouse of Beacon Hill station, seen under construction in May 2009

Sound Transit received its $500 million federal grant agreement in October 2003,[36] and a groundbreaking ceremony was held in SoDo on November 8, 2003.[37] Construction contracts for various segments were awarded in 2004 and 2005, coming six percent under Sound Transit's estimates,[38] and work began along all parts of the system.[39][40] The first rails were installed on August 18, 2005, in the SoDo area;[38] a month later, the downtown transit tunnel closed for a two-year renovation to accommodate light rail service.[41] Excavation of the Beacon Hill tunnel and station began in 2005, and a tunnel boring machine was launched in early 2006 to bore the twin tunnels between SoDo and the Rainier Valley.[42]

The SODO and Stadium stations were completed in May 2006,[43] and light rail testing in the SoDo area began the following March.[44] Testing was extended to the re-opened downtown transit tunnel in September 2007, initially limited to weekends without bus service,[45] and further extended to the Rainier Valley after the completion of the Beacon Hill tunnel in 2008.[46][47] The elevated guideway in Tukwila, including crossings of major freeways and the Duwamish River, was completed in 2007 after the installation of 2,457 precast concrete segments and balanced cantilever bridges.[48] During construction in the Rainier Valley, Sound Transit and the City of Seattle offered $50 million in mitigation funds and development opportunities to affected businesses.[49] Construction of light rail along Martin Luther King Jr. Way South also resulted in utility lines moved underground, improved sidewalks, street crossings, and landscaping.[50]

Opening and later extensions[edit]

Central Link was opened on July 18, 2009, with a community celebration that attracted more than 92,000 riders over the first weekend of free service.[51] Trains began operating on 13.9-mile (22.4 km) segment between Westlake and Tukwila International Boulevard stations,[52] along with a bus shuttle to serve Sea-Tac Airport from Tukwila.[53] The 1.7-mile (2.7 km) extension to SeaTac/Airport station opened on December 19, 2009, replacing the shuttle and other bus services to the airport.[54] Sound Transit added lubrication equipment and rubber mats to segments in Tukwila and the Rainier Valley in 2010 to reduce noise levels of up to 83 decibels, surpassing federal safety standards and triggering noise complaints from nearby residents.[55] A contract dispute with the Rainier Valley construction contractor was settled in 2011, bringing the project's total price to $117 million below the $2.44 billion budget.[56] The opening of light rail service to the Rainier Valley spurred new transit-oriented development, which had initially stalled during the Great Recession but recovered in the mid 2010s.[57][58]

Central Link train service was increased to a frequency of six minutes during peak hours, from 7.5 minutes, in 2015 to prepare for the opening of the University Link extension.[59] The line was extended north to University of Washington station, via Capitol Hill station, on March 19, 2016, via a $1.8 billion, 3.15-mile (5.07 km) tunnel.[60] The extension opened six months ahead of its scheduled date, and the opening celebrations drew 67,000 people during the first day of service. Additional three-car light rail trains were deployed by Sound Transit to cope with higher ridership after the extension opened.[61] The line was extended 1.6 miles (2.6 km) south from Sea-Tac Airport to Angle Lake station on September 24, 2016, including the opening of a 1,120-stall park and ride.[62]

Route[edit]

A two-car light rail train traveling onto Martin Luther King Jr. Way South in Seattle on an elevated guideway

Central Link's northern terminus is University of Washington station, located near Husky Stadium and the campus of the University of Washington in northeastern Seattle. The line heads south in the University Link tunnel, crossing under the Montlake Cut of the Lake Washington Ship Canal and State Route 520 before taking a turn to the southwest. The tunnel climbs Capitol Hill and passes under Interlaken Park and Volunteer Park before turning due south to enter Capitol Hill station on the east side of Broadway.[63] The tunnel makes a gradual turn to the west, dipping as far south as East Union Street, and crosses under Interstate 5 at Pine Street.[64][65] It merges into the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel within the Pine Street Stub Tunnel, joining buses from Convention Place station.[66][67]

The downtown transit tunnel, shared between light rail trains and buses,[68] travels west under Pine Street through Westlake station, and south on 3rd Avenue through University Street and Pioneer Square stations in Downtown Seattle.[67] It terminates at International District/Chinatown station, adjacent to King Street Station (served by Amtrak and Sounder commuter rail),[69] with buses continuing onto the SODO Busway and other streets. Central Link parallels the busway through Stadium and SODO stations, traveling through several gated crossings.[44] From SODO station, the track ascends to an elevated guideway traveling east along South Forest Street,[64][70] passing the line's railyard and maintenance facility.[71] The elevated trackway passes over Airport Way and comes to rest on an embankment under Interstate 5, entering the Beacon Hill tunnel.[72][73]

The Beacon Hill tunnel travels approximately one mile (two kilometres) under Beacon Hill, serving a station at Beacon Avenue South.[74] Trains exit the tunnel on the east side of the hill, turning southeast and approaching the elevated Mount Baker station at the intersection of Rainier Avenue South and Martin Luther King Jr. Way South.[75] Light rail trains descend from Mount Baker station onto the median of Martin Luther King Jr. Way South, running at-grade with signal priority.[76] Central Link passes through the Rainier Valley and serves three at-grade stations, Columbia City, Othello, and Rainier Beach, before leaving Seattle.[64][77]

The line enters Tukwila and crosses west over Interstate 5 and a mainline railroad at Boeing Access Road, near Boeing Field, before making a southward turn over East Marginal Way South. Central Link continues south over the Duwamish River, traveling non-stop through Tukwila on a 4.7-mile (7.6 km) elevated guideway.[78] The guideway runs along the west sides of State Route 599 and Interstate 5 towards Southcenter Mall, where it turns west along State Route 518. The line passes through Tukwila International Boulevard station, home to a 600-stall park and ride facility, and turns south into the median of the Airport Expressway towards SeaTac. Light rail trains continue along the east side of Seattle–Tacoma International Airport, stopping at SeaTac/Airport station near the airport's terminals, before reaching Angle Lake station, where it terminates.[64][70]

Central Link, while officially a "light rail" line, has also been called a "light metro" hybrid due to its grade separated sections and use of larger trainsets than typical American light rail systems.[79] Out of the line's 20.35-mile (32.75 km) length,[80] only 6.4 miles (10.3 km) are at-grade, including grade separated segments along freeways.[81]:6–7

Stations[edit]

Central Link stations are spaced approximately one mile (1.6 km) apart in most areas,[82] and are built with 380-foot-long (120 m) platforms to accommodate four-car train sets.[81]:6 Some stations are grade separated, with underground or elevated platforms connected to surface entrances by stairs, escalators, and elevators, while others were built at street level.[81]:6 The line's sixteen stations include bus connections,[83]:16 ticket vending machines, public art, and bicycle parking.[84] As of 2016, there are only two stations with park and ride facilities (Angle Lake and Tukwila International Boulevard), with Sound Transit and local governments encouraging alternative means of transportation to and from stations.[85][86]

Station Image Opened Connections and notes[83][84]
University of Washington
University of Washington Station entrance, Aug 2016 (29979336625).jpg
March 19, 2016
Capitol Hill
Capitol Hill Station platform on opening day, March 19, 2016 - 01.jpg
March 19, 2016 Connects with First Hill Streetcar
Westlake
Link Light Rail at Westlake Station (10873527453).jpg
July 18, 2009[n 1] Connects with Seattle Center Monorail and South Lake Union Streetcar
University Street
Link trains at University St station in 2010.jpg
July 18, 2009[n 1]
Pioneer Square
Seattle - Pioneer Square Station July 2009.jpg
July 18, 2009[n 1] Connects with Washington State Ferries, King County Water Taxi, and Kitsap Fast Ferries
International District/Chinatown
Both levels of International District-Chinatown station (2010).jpg
July 18, 2009[n 1] Connects with Amtrak, Sounder commuter rail, and First Hill Streetcar
Stadium
Stadium Station ORCA readers.jpg
July 18, 2009 Connects with Greyhound
SODO
Seattle Central Link 2.jpg
July 18, 2009
Beacon Hill
Beacon Hill Light Rail Station two.JPG
July 18, 2009
Mount Baker
Mount Baker Station east side plaza.jpg
July 18, 2009
Columbia City
Platform View Columbia City Station View.jpg
July 18, 2009
Othello
Othello-New Holly Station SEA Link (4575069147).jpg
July 18, 2009
Rainier Beach
Rainier Beach Station (Sound Transit Central Link).jpg
July 18, 2009
Tukwila International Boulevard
Tukwila Int'l Blvd Station - 01.jpg
July 18, 2009 Park and ride: 662 stalls
SeaTac/Airport
SeaTac light rail station from airport parking garage (2010).jpg
December 19, 2009
Angle Lake
Angle Lake Station on opening day, September 24, 2016.jpg
September 24, 2016 Park and ride: 1,120 stalls

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Stations in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel originally opened as bus-only facilities on September 15, 1990, with light rail service commencing on July 18, 2009.[87]

Service[edit]

Central Link light rail trains run 20 hours per day from Monday to Saturday, from 4:00 am to 1:00 am, and 18 hours on Sundays and federal holidays, from 6:00 am to 12:00 am.[88][89] Trains operate most frequently during weekday peak periods, running every six minutes from 6:00 am to 9:30 am and from 3:00 pm to 6:30 pm. Trains run every 10 minutes during midday and evening hours on weekdays and all day on weekends. Train frequency is reduced to 15 minutes during the early morning and late night hours of all days.[88]

End to end travel from University of Washington to Angle Lake takes 48 minutes,[90] while trips between SeaTac/Airport and Westlake in Downtown Seattle take 38 minutes.[88] The SeaTac–Westlake corridor was formerly served by King County Metro bus route 194, which took 32 minutes to travel between the two areas and used bus stops that were closer to the terminal. The bus route, however, ran at less frequent intervals, was subject to traffic delays, and had shorter hours of operation.[91][92]

Ridership[edit]

Annual Passenger Ridership
Year Passengers
2009 2,501,211
2010 6,989,504 +176.5%
2011 7,812,433 +11.8%
2012 8,699,821 +11.4%
2013 9,681,432 +11.3%
2014 10,937,883 +13.1%
2015 11,530,411 +6.9%
2016 19,121,621 +65.8%
Source: Sound Transit[93]

In July 2017, Central Link carried an average of 77,081 passengers on weekdays, 57,037 on Saturdays, and 45,017 on Sundays.[1] The trains carried over 19 million total passengers in 2016, averaging 59,118 riders on weekdays.[94] Ridership is measured by on-board infrared passenger counters that automatically record the number of people entering and leaving the train.[51][95]

Ridership on Central Link has risen significantly from the beginning of service in 2009, when it averaged 15,500 per weekday.[96] In 2010, ridership fell below projected levels due to the ongoing economic downturn, with only 21,611 daily riders on the line.[97] Ridership increased significantly in the following years, surpassing 25,000 daily riders in 2012,[98] 30,000 in 2014,[99] and 35,000 in 2015.[100]

The opening of the University Link extension in March 2016 increased daily ridership by 66 percent in its first month of operation,[101] and averaged 66,203 daily riders during the last quarter of the year.[102] A single-day ridership record of 82,361 estimated boardings was set on April 8, 2016,[103] driven by a Seattle Mariners home opener and the Emerald City Comicon.[101] The record itself was surpassed five months later on September 30, estimated at 101,000 riders, fueled by a Washington Huskies football game and Mariners game on a weekday.[104]

Fares[edit]

Central Link uses a proof-of-payment system, requiring valid payment before boarding and lacking a turnstile barrier at stations. Fares can be purchased as paper tickets at ticket vending machines at stations,[105] credit or passes loaded on an ORCA card, or through a mobile ticketing app.[106] Fare inspectors and transit police officers randomly board trains to check for proof of payment and issue warnings and fines to passengers who do not have a valid ticket or a properly validated ORCA card.[83]:14[107]

Fares are calculated based on distance traveled, ranging from $2.25 to $3.25 for adults.[83]:14 ORCA card users are required to tap a reader before and after exiting a train to calculate the fare.[108] Reduced fares are available to elderly passengers, persons with disabilities, persons under the age of 18, and low-income passengers enrolled in ORCA Lift.[109][110] Transfers from other modes, including buses, ferries, and streetcars, are only accepted using ORCA cards.[111]

Rolling stock and equipment[edit]

Interior of a Kinkisharyo-Mitsui light rail vehicle, operated by Sound Transit on Central Link

The current Central Link fleet consists of 62 low-floor light rail vehicles manufactured in Japan by Kinkisharyo.[83]:8 The Kinkisharyo vehicles, built through a joint venture with Mitsui & Co.,[112] has 74 seats and can carry a maximum of 194 total passengers. Individual railcars are 95 feet (29 m) long and 8.7 feet (2.7 m) wide, and feature dual cabs to allow for reverse travel.[113] The interior is 70 percent low-floor and includes four doors on each side of the train, fold-up seating areas for wheelchairs, and two bicycle hooks above a luggage storage area.[114][115] Central Link trains are typically arranged into two-car and three-car sets, but station platforms are built to accommodate four-car trains.[116][117] The trains have a top speed of 58 miles per hour (93 km/h), but typically operate at 35 miles per hour (56 km/h).[113][118]

Trains are supplied electricity through an overhead catenary that is energized at 1,500 Volts direct current and converted to three-phase alternating current through on-board inverters.[114] While other North American light rail systems use 750 V technology, Sound Transit chose to use 1,500 V in order to reduce the number of electrical substations, which are spaced approximately one mile (1.6 km) apart.[114][119] The initial order of 31 light rail vehicles was ordered by Sound Transit in 2003,[112] and later increased to 35 vehicles in 2005 for the extension to SeaTac/Airport station.[120] The cars were assembled in Everett, in compliance with Buy America requirements,[121] and delivered from 2006 to 2008.[122][123] An additional 27 vehicles were ordered for the University Link extension in 2009 and were delivered from 2010 to 2011.[122] The Central Link fleet is stored and maintained at a 25-acre (10 ha) operating base in SoDo, between SODO and Beacon Hill stations, that was opened in 2007 and has a capacity of 104 light rail vehicles.[124][125] Central Link trains are operated and maintained by King County Metro.[126]

In September 2016, Sound Transit approved a $554 million order to Siemens Mobility for 122 S70 light rail vehicles to be delivered from 2019 onward to serve planned extensions to Northgate, Lynnwood, the Eastside, and Federal Way.[127] An additional 30 vehicles were added to the order in April 2017, bringing the total to 152 vehicles.[128] A satellite maintenance facility, with a capacity of 96 vehicles, is planned to be constructed in Bellevue by 2020 to accommodate part of the new fleet.[129]

Future plans[edit]

The passage of Sound Transit 2 in 2008 and Sound Transit 3 in 2016 enabled Sound Transit to plan future extensions of the Link light rail system, scheduled to open in stages between 2021 and 2040. The Northgate Link extension is scheduled to open in 2021, extending service north to Northgate Transit Center, followed by the East Link Extension in 2023, creating a new line to Bellevue and Redmond. Central Link will be re-branded as the "Red Line" between Northgate and Angle Lake, while "Blue Line" trains will travel between Northgate and Redmond on East Link, sharing tracks between Northgate and International District/Chinatown.[130][131] The Red Line will be extended south and north to the suburbs of Federal Way and Lynnwood, respectively, in 2024.[132][133] In 2030, a branch of the Red Line to West Seattle will begin service, temporarily operating between Alaska Junction and SODO station.[134] The opening of an extension to Ballard in 2035, traveling via a new tunnel through Downtown Seattle,[132] will split Central Link between two lines: the Red Line, operating from Lynnwood (and later Everett) to West Seattle; and the Green Line, operating from Ballard to Tacoma via the Rainier Valley and Sea-Tac Airport.[133][135] Two infill stations along the current route of Central Link are planned to open in 2031 at South Graham Street in the Rainier Valley and Boeing Access Road in northern Tukwila.[136]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]

Route map: Google

KML is from Wikidata