Link light rail

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Link light rail
Sound Transit Link Light Rail logo.svg
Seattle - Pioneer Square Station July 2009.jpg
Northbound Link train at Othello Station (31003193486).jpg
Tacoma Link 1003 at Convention Center Station.jpg
Clockwise from top: Line 1 at Pioneer Square station, Line T at Convention Center station, and Line 1 at Othello station in Seattle
OwnerSound Transit
LocaleSeattle, Washington, U.S.
Transit typeLight rail
Number of lines2
Number of stations25
Daily ridership82,783 (2019, weekdays)
Annual ridership26,010,646 (2019)[1]
Began operationAugust 22, 2003 (2003-08-22)
Operator(s)Sound Transit, King County Metro
Number of vehicles217
System length26.25 mi (42.25 km)
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) standard gauge
ElectrificationOverhead catenary;

Link light rail is a light rail rapid transit system serving the Seattle metropolitan area in the U.S. state of Washington. It is managed by Sound Transit in partnership with local transit providers, and consists of two non-connected lines: Line 1 (formerly Central Link) in King County, which travels for 25 miles (40 km) between Seattle and Seattle–Tacoma International Airport; and Line T (formerly Tacoma Link) in Pierce County, which runs for under 2 miles (3.2 km) between Downtown Tacoma and Tacoma Dome Station. The system carries 24.1 million passengers annually, primarily on Line 1, and runs trains at frequencies of 6 to 24 minutes.

The Link light rail system was originally conceived in the 1980s following several earlier proposals for a heavy rail system that were rejected by voters. Sound Transit was created in 1993 and placed a ballot measure to fund and build the system, which was passed on a second attempt in 1996. Tacoma Link began construction first in 2000 and opened on August 22, 2003, costing $80 million. Central Link construction was delayed because of funding issues and routing disputes, but began in November 2003 and was completed on July 18, 2009. Central Link trains initially ran from Downtown Seattle to Tukwila International Boulevard station before being extended south to the airport in December 2009, north to the University of Washington in March 2016, and further south to Angle Lake station in September 2016.

Sound Transit plans to expand the Link light rail network to 116 miles (187 km)[2] and 70 stations by 2044, using funding approved by voters in 2008 and 2016 ballot measures. An extension from the University of Washington to Northgate opened on October 2, 2021. Suburban extensions to Bellevue, Redmond, Lynnwood, and Federal Way are scheduled to open between 2023 and 2024. Later projects will expand the system to cover the metropolitan area from Everett to Tacoma, along with branches to Kirkland, Issaquah, and the Seattle neighborhoods of Ballard and West Seattle.


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.[3] 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,[4] and the federal government threatened to withhold necessary grants.[5] 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.[6]

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 Station and Tukwila on July 18, 2009,[8] and was extended 1.7 miles (2.7 km) to SeaTac/Airport on December 19, 2009.[9]

In November 2006, the U.S. Federal Transit Administration approved Sound Transit's plan for University Link, a project to extend light rail 3.1 miles (5 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. The line opened, including the University Link Tunnel, on March 19, 2016.[10]

In September 2019, Sound Transit renamed Central Link to the Red Line and Tacoma Link to the Orange Line as part of their update to transit branding.[11] Two months later, the agency announced that it would consider a new name for the Red Line after complaints because of the similarity of the "Red Line" with redlining as well as confusion over King County Metro's RapidRide system (which utilizes red bullets for its service routes).[12] A new naming scheme will come into effect in 2021, using "Line 1" (green) for the existing line in Seattle, "Line 2" (blue) for East Link, and "Line T" (orange) for Tacoma Link. Future light rail extensions will use "Line 3" (magenta) and "Line 4" (purple), alongside new names for Sounder and bus rapid transit services.[13][14]

Since December 2020, the Link light rail system has been running fully on carbon emissions-free renewable energy through Puget Sound Energy's wind electricity purchase program and Seattle City Light's fully carbon-neutral power supply.[15]


Line 1[edit]

Line 1 train in Tukwila

Line 1, formerly Central Link, is a light rail line serving Seattle, SeaTac, and Tukwila, using trains of two to four cars that each carry 194 passengers. It connects Northgate, the University of Washington, and Downtown Seattle to the Rainier Valley and Seattle–Tacoma International Airport, using tunnels, elevated guideways, and surface-running sections. The line carries 23 million passengers annually and 72,000 on an average weekday, making it the busiest transit route in the Seattle region.

The initial 13.9-mile (22.4 km) segment of the line was opened on July 18, 2009, connecting the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (a facility shared with buses until 2019) to Tukwila International Boulevard station. The line has since been expanded four times and spans 24.65 miles (39.7 km) as of October 2, 2021. [16]

Line T[edit]

Line T car in Downtown Tacoma on Pacific Avenue

Line T, formerly Tacoma Link, is a streetcar line running through downtown Tacoma and surrounding neighborhoods. This line connects the Tacoma Dome Station (a regional hub for local and express bus, and commuter train service) with downtown Tacoma, making stops near the city's convention center, theater district, the University of Washington's Tacoma campus and several museums. The 1.6-mile (2.6 km) line was completed in 2003.

Future extensions[edit]

Sound Transit's 2008 ballot measure, named Sound Transit 2, approved several light rail projects, extending Link northward to Northgate and Lynnwood by 2021 and 2024, respectively, and east to Bellevue and Overlake in 2023. It also extended the existing line one new station in Angle Lake, which opened September 26, 2016. Other improvements in the package included Sounder commuter rail improvements and expansion of Tacoma Link.

Sound Transit 3, passed in 2016, funded new extensions of Link that will open between 2024 and 2044. Several deferred or truncated projects from Sound Transit 2, including extensions to Federal Way and Downtown Redmond, were funded and accelerated by the plan.

Project Status Description Length Expected Opening
  Hilltop Tacoma Link Extension[17] Under construction Extends Line T north and west from downtown Tacoma to the city's Stadium District and Hilltop neighborhood. 2.4 miles (3.9 km) 2023
  East Link Extension[18] Under construction Creates Line 2, which runs east from downtown Seattle to the Judkins Park neighborhood, Mercer Island, Bellevue, Overlake and Microsoft's campus in Redmond. The project also includes route planning to support a later extension to downtown Redmond, which was approved in Sound Transit 3. 14 miles (23 km) 2023
  Downtown Redmond Link Extension[19][20] Under construction[21] Extends Line 2 northeast from Overlake to Redmond at two new stations: SE Redmond and Downtown Redmond. This project was approved in Sound Transit 3 and will be the first ST3 project to open. 3.7 miles (6.0 km) 2024
  Lynnwood Link Extension[22] Under construction Extends Line 1 and Line 2 north from Northgate in Seattle (northern terminus of the Northgate Link Extension) to North Seattle, Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood, a major transit center. 8.5 miles (13.7 km) 2024
  Federal Way Link Extension[23] Under construction Extends Line 1 south from Angle Lake (southern terminus of the South 200th Link Extension) to Highline College and downtown Federal Way. 4.8 miles (7.7 km) 2024
  West Seattle Link Extension[24] Drafting environmental impact statement Creates Line 3, traveling southwest from downtown Seattle to West Seattle. 4.7 miles (7.6 km) 2032[25]
  Tacoma Dome Link Extension[20][24] Drafting environmental impact statement[26] Extends Line 1 south from Federal Way Transit Center to Tacoma Dome Station, with stops in Federal Way, Fife, and East Tacoma. 9.7 miles (15.6 km)[20][26] 2032[25]
  Ballard Link Extension[24] Drafting environmental impact statement Extends Line 1 northwest from downtown Seattle to Ballard via South Lake Union and Lower Queen Anne. The project includes a new downtown transit tunnel with a stop in Midtown connecting at the current ID/Chinatown Station. 7.1 miles (11.4 km) 2037/2039[25]
  Everett Link Extension[24] Initial planning Extends Line 3 north from Lynnwood Transit Center to Everett Station via Paine Field. 15.4 miles (24.8 km) 2037/2041[25]
  Tacoma Community College Link Extension[24] Planned Extends Line T from Downtown Tacoma to Tacoma Community College and includes modifications to existing and planned Tacoma Link infrastructure. 3.5 miles (5.6 km) 2041[25]
  South Kirkland–Issaquah Link Extension[24] Planned Creates Line 4, extending from Bellevue to Issaquah and southern Kirkland. 11.8 miles (19.0 km)[27] 2044[25]

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.[28][29] 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.[30] 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.[31]

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.[30] As part of Sound Transit 3 in 2016, the Washington State Legislature mandated that Sound Transit reserve at least 80% of the surplus land surrounding light rail stations for affordable housing developments.[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Q4 2019 Service Delivery Quarterly Performance Report" (PDF). Sound Transit. February 27, 2020. Retrieved July 30, 2020.
  2. ^ "Sound Transit 3".
  3. ^ David Schaefer (November 8, 1996). "Voters Back Transit Plan On Fourth Try". The Seattle Times. Retrieved February 26, 2007.
  4. ^ "Light-rail cost soars $1 billion". The Seattle Times. December 13, 2000. Retrieved February 28, 2007.
  5. ^ Andrew Garber (March 30, 2001). "Federal aid in jeopardy for light rail". The Seattle Times. Retrieved April 21, 2007.
  6. ^ Grass, Michael (March 23, 2016). "With Seattle's Long-Awaited Transit Expansion Now Reality, It's Full Steam Ahead". Route Fifty. Atlantic Media. Retrieved April 12, 2016.
  7. ^ "Sound Transit:Tacoma Link". Archived from the original on October 24, 2008. Retrieved January 6, 2009.
  8. ^ "Countdown to a new era: all aboard Link light rail starting July 18" (Press release). Sound Transit. April 20, 2009. Retrieved March 20, 2016.
  9. ^ "Countdown to airport connection: Link light rail to Sea-Tac Airport starts Dec. 19" (Press release). Sound Transit. November 13, 2009. Retrieved March 20, 2016.
  10. ^ Yardley, William (April 4, 2016). "Seattle continues quest to get greener as it grows with 'transformative' light-rail expansion". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 12, 2016.
  11. ^ Netzler, Kat (September 18, 2019). "Link light rail debuts line colors". The Platform. Sound Transit. Retrieved September 18, 2019.
  12. ^ Martinez-Vasquez, Jackie (November 14, 2019). "Sound Transit will drop the "Red Line" name". The Platform. Sound Transit. Retrieved November 14, 2019.
  13. ^ Shaner, Zach (April 9, 2020). "New line names coming in 2021". The Platform. Sound Transit. Retrieved April 9, 2020.
  14. ^ "Transit line naming: Frequently asked questions (FAQs)" (PDF). Sound Transit. April 2020. Retrieved April 9, 2020.
  15. ^ "Sound Transit light rail trains are now running on clean energy" (Press release). Sound Transit. December 1, 2020. Retrieved December 1, 2020.
  16. ^ "Northgate Link Extension | Project map and summary | Sound Transit".
  17. ^ "Downtown Redmond Link Extension". Sound Transit. Retrieved September 19, 2017.
  18. ^ a b c Newcomb, Tim (August 5, 2019). "Sound Transit Exploring Options for Tacoma Dome Extension, Hires JV for Downtown Redmond Link Extension". Engineering News-Record. Retrieved September 28, 2020.
  19. ^ "Downtown Redmond light rail project breaks ground". KING. October 24, 2019. Retrieved November 29, 2019.
  20. ^ a b c d e f "Sound Transit 3 Draft System Plan" (PDF).
  21. ^ a b c d e f "Realigned Capital Program Pursuant to Sound Transit Board action of August 5, 2021" (PDF). Sound Transit. August 12, 2021. Retrieved August 13, 2021.
  22. ^ a b "We are planning ahead for this fall: stay tuned for updates on environmental review and station design concepts and access". Sound Transit. Railway Technology. September 10, 2020. Retrieved September 28, 2020.
  23. ^ "South Kirkland–Issaquah Link". Sound Transit. Retrieved August 13, 2021.
  24. ^ "Project Summary: LINK Light Rail". King County Department of Transportation. September 17, 2003. Archived from the original on October 13, 2006.
  25. ^ Regional View Newsletter. Puget Sound Regional Council. July 2001. Archived December 4, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  26. ^ a b Transit Oriented Development
  27. ^ Online TDM Encyclopedia - Transit Oriented Development
  28. ^ Cohen, Josh (May 8, 2018). "Seattle Raises the Equity Bar on Transit-Oriented Development". Next City. Retrieved March 27, 2019.

External links[edit]

Route map:

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