Link Light Rail

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Not to be confused with the LINK Train in Toronto.
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 41,728 (Central Link & Tacoma Link, Aug 2015, 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 scheduled to start on March 19, 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 Station 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 6
8:30 am – 3:00 pm 10
3:00 pm – 6:30 pm 6
6:30 pm – 9:00 pm 10
9:00 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 am 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 $2.25 plus 5 cents per mile, rounded to the nearest quarter. This results in a maximum cost of $3.00 for a one-way trip from Downtown Seattle to Sea-Tac Airport.

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.[12]

Tacoma Link is fare-free throughout its entire route in Downtown Tacoma.[13]

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.[14] The cars draw their power from 750-volt overhead wires.[15]

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.[16]

Current lines[edit]

Tacoma Link[edit]

Tacoma Link at the Tacoma Dome Station
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,[17] surpassing the prediction that by 2010 it would have ridership of 2,000 per day.[18]

Central Link[edit]

Light rail testing
Main article: Central Link

Service began on Sound Transit's 13.9-mile (22.4 km) Central Link light rail line on July 18, 2009, serving 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 retrofitted 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] [19]

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.[20]

Future extensions[edit]

Link Light Rail: Future Extensions
Lynnwood Link (4 stations)
Mountlake Terrace
NE 185th Street
NE 145th Street
Northgate Link (3 stations)
U District
University Link (2 stations)
Lake Washington Ship Canal
Capitol Hill
East Link Extension (12 stations)
Downtown Redmond
SE Redmond
Redmond Technology Center
Overlake Village
Spring District/120th
Bellevue Downtown
East Main
South Bellevue
Lake Washington
Mercer Island
Lake Washington
Judkins Park
Central Link (13 stations)
Westlake connection to Monorail, SLU Streetcar
University Street
Pioneer Square connection to Ferries, Water Taxi
Int'l Dist/Chinatown connection to Sounder, FH Streetcar
Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel
Beacon Hill
Mount Baker
Columbia City
Rainier Beach
Tukwila Int'l Blvd
South 200th Link (1 station)
Angle Lake
Federal Way Link (3 stations)
Kent/Des Moines
S 272nd Street
Federal Way TC

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.[21]

Naming convention[edit]

As of 2015 the future extensions are all named "... Link Extension". In mid 2015, Sound Transit announced that all the lines, including the extensions, will be renamed as colors in the future, probably in 2016 before the extensions are completed.[22]

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.[23]

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.[24]

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.[25] 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%.

South 200th Link Extension[edit]

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 Angle Lake Link 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.[26]

East Link[edit]

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 Judkins Park Station (Rainier Avenue) and Mercer Island Station; in Bellevue at South Bellevue Station, East Main, Bellevue Downtown Station, Wilburton Station, and on the Bel-Red corridor at Spring District/120th Station and Bel-Red/130th Station; and along SR 520 at Overlake Village Station and Redmond Technology Center Station, adjacent to Microsoft. South Bellevue, East Main, and Wilburton stations will be elevated and the Bel-Red corridor, Overlake Village, and Redmond Technology Center stations at-grade. The Bellevue Downtown Station 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 (October 1, 2015). "August 2015 Service Performance Report" (PDF). Retrieved October 3, 2015. 
  3. ^ "Link Light Rail Projects". Sound Transit. Archived from the original on June 3, 2007. Retrieved June 4, 2007. 
  4. ^ David Schaefer (November 8, 1996). "Voters Back Transit Plan On Fourth Try". The Seattle Times. Retrieved February 26, 2007. 
  5. ^ "Light-rail cost soars $1 billion". The Seattle Times. December 13, 2000. Retrieved February 28, 2007. 
  6. ^ Andrew Garber (March 30, 2001). "Federal aid in jeopardy for light rail". The Seattle Times. Retrieved April 21, 2007. 
  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 April 20, 2009. 
  9. ^ a b "Sound Transit: Countdown to airport connection: Link light rail to Sea-Tac Airport starts Dec. 19". Sound Transit. November 13, 2009. Retrieved November 14, 2009. [dead link]
  10. ^ "ORCA Smart Card". Community Transit. Retrieved January 17, 2009. 
  11. ^ "Tacoma Link Light Rail Fares". Sound Transit. Retrieved January 13, 2009. 
  12. ^ "Streetcar model Škoda 10T". Škoda. Retrieved April 21, 2009. [dead link]
  13. ^ "Tacoma Link Light Rail Train Specifications". Sound Transit. Retrieved January 14, 2008. 
  14. ^ "Link Light Rail Train Specifications". Sound Transit. Retrieved January 14, 2008. 
  15. ^ American Public Transportation Association, Light Rail Transit Ridership Report[dead link], First Quarter 2008.
  16. ^ "Tacoma Link: The Little Tram That Could". Light Rail Now!. February 2004. Retrieved July 14, 2007. 
  17. ^ "Link Light Rail Fact Sheet, June 2006" (PDF). Sound Transit. Retrieved July 14, 2007. 
  18. ^ Meghan Erkkinen (November 28, 2006). "Feds give light rail green light". The Daily. Retrieved July 14, 2007. 
  19. ^ Mike Lindblom (November 5, 2008). "Sound Transit calls Prop. 1 a gift "to our grandchildren"". Seattle Times. Retrieved January 14, 2009. 
  20. ^ Project update: Northgate Link Extension, Sound Transit, June 30, 2015 
  21. ^ "North Link Light Rail". Sound Transit. Retrieved January 14, 2009. 
  22. ^ "Conversion of Tacoma Link to Central Link Technology" (PDF). Sound Transit. Retrieved January 14, 2009. 
  23. ^ "Expanding Link light rail". Sound Transit. Retrieved August 7, 2009. [dead link]
  24. ^ "South 200th Link Extension". Retrieved March 31, 2015. 
  25. ^ "East Link Project Update" (PDF). Sound Transit. January 2012. Retrieved December 6, 2012. 
  26. ^ "Potential Tacoma Link Extensions - West" (PDF). Sound Transit. Retrieved January 13, 2008. 
  27. ^ "Sound Transit 2: A Mass Transit Guide - Plan Details". Sound Transit. Archived from the original on October 10, 2008. Retrieved January 13, 2008. 
  28. ^ Lindblom, Mike (September 17, 2009). "McGinn wants light-rail line on Seattle's west side". The Seattle Times. Retrieved February 22, 2010. 
  29. ^ "Ballard transit expansion study". Sound Transit. Retrieved June 17, 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]