Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

LIVE from Link: First end to end test run of Sound Transit's new light rail system

Good morning! I'm liveblogging from onboard the first end to end test run of Sound Transit's new Central Link light rail system.

Link Train in Downtown Transit Tunnel
Above: A Sound Transit Central Link train passes by the platform at Westlake Station in Seattle's Downtown Transit Tunnel

We are currently traveling through the Rainier Valley on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, having started our journey at Westlake, the northern terminus of the line.

If you're wondering how it's possible for me to liveblog from a train, it's all thanks to the magic of mobile broadband... Internet service provided from cell phone towers, which allows NPI to cover breaking news wherever it happens.

Inside Link Light Rail in Motion
Above: View of the interior of a Central Link light rain test train heading southward to Tukwila International Station

We've traveled through the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, through Sodo, through the Beacon Hill Tunnels, and are now cruising through Columbia City.

On this test train are Sound Transit personnel, reporters from a number of different media outlets, and Sound Transit Board members (Greg Nickels, Larry Phillips, and Dow Constantine, who all coincidentally are running for office this year).

This is honestly a blast - it feels like we're flying through Seattle. Except we're on the ground. The ride is unbelievably smooth - a stark difference from the jolts and bumps that can be felt when riding the bus.

View of Mount Rainier from Central Link
Above: A glimpse of Mount Rainier from inside Link, taken as we climbed into the air on the elevated trackway north of Tukwila

Mayor Nickels has been narrating the test ride with trivia as we go along, sharing stories from the various phases of construction and information about each of the stations. As I type this we are approaching the last station in the Rainier Valley - Henderson Street. (When I began this post we had just left the Beacon Hill Tunnels). Shows you how quick and efficient Link Light Rail is going to be when it finally launches. What fun this is! (And yes, pictures, are coming soon!)

Another Link train approaches on parallel tracks
Above: A shot of the elevated trackway just north of Tukwila International Station, showing another approaching Link train on parallel tracks

UPDATE: We turned around at Tukwila International Station (well, more like walked around to the other car coupled behind us, and started up again in the other direction). We've passed back into the Rainier Valley. The whole journey, from Westlake Station to Tukwila International Station, took just thirty two minutes, counting our simulated stops, or dwells.

Looking inside the cab of a Link light rail train
Above: A view inside the driver's window from the platform at Tukwila International Station, showing the train's controls

We got up to a top speed of fifty five miles an hour along the stretch of track that parallels Interstate 5. (And we did pass by cars and trucks on the highway).

Mayor Nickels joked on the way down that in a few weeks people are going to jealously watch the trains go by with riders during rush hour and wish they were on board. Until SeaTac service begins at the end of this year, Tukwila International Station will be the southern terminus of Central Link.

Doors of a Link light rail train
Above: Looking inside a train car from the Tukwila International Station platform. Note the route map above the door.

There's nothing quite like riding the rails. There's been no light rail for decades in Seattle to ride, but starting on July 18th, there finally will be!

HELLO AGAIN: We're in Sodo - South Downtown. We're waiting to enter the Downtown Transit Tunnel, to be more precise. I'm told by Sound Transit safety personnel that trains won't normally have to stop at lights in the Rainier Valley for more than thirty seconds, which is pretty cool. They've got a whole set of procedures to follow in case of a collision or other mishap.

New development in the Rainier Valley
Above: Colorful shot of new development in Seattle's Rainier Valley from inside a moving Central Link train

Although a collision can delay trains, most of the tracks in the Rainier Valley are raised in the median. The only place where trains and cars are supposed to cross paths is in the intersections, and there aren't that many intersections. Most of the line is in its own exclusive right of way, which is a good thing.

Looking over the train driver's shoulder
Above: A view over the driver's shoulder of the elevated track ahead

WE'RE BACK: Just detrained at Westlake. Less than a minute after we were all off, the train left the platform, to make way for buses behind us going northbound. Seattle is, incidentally, the only city in North America where trains and buses share a transit tunnel with stops.

(Pittsburgh has a transit tunnel, but there are no stops in it.)

Being one of the first people to ride the whole line from the northern terminus to the southern terminus and back was amazingly cool.

One of the best parts was watching the bemused expressions on people's faces as they watched our train come to a stop at the Downtown Transit Tunnel Stations. No doubt they were wondering why the train was packed full of people since there are signs posted on the windows explaining the trains are not in service.

Inside a Central Link Train in the Transit Tunnel
Above: View of the interior of a Central Link light rain test train heading north through the Transit Tunnel to Westlake Station

But perhaps some of them could tell from all the video cameras and cameras we were carrying that it was a media tour.

I think it's safe to say that everyone who came along for today's adventure thoroughly enjoyed themselves. We certainly made good time!

Speaking of cameras, I took a few hundred photographs with our Olympus and will post some of the best shots up here on The Advocate shortly. I've got video too, although that will take longer to put together.

POSTSCRIPT: I've added selected photos taken this morning throughout this post depicting the Link trains and surrounding scenery. Enjoy!


Blogger Daniel Kirkdorffer said...

Another benefit I'd hope the train has over buses: A/C

Can you confirm that?

June 3, 2009 8:14 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Thanks for your question, Daniel. I can confirm that yes, the trains have air conditioning. You can see for yourself that air conditioning is listed as a feature of the Kinkisharyo vehicles at this page on Sound Transit's website.

June 3, 2009 8:56 PM  
Blogger Daniel Kirkdorffer said...

On days like these that's a must. Nice write up. I look forward to riding it when it comes online next month.

June 3, 2009 10:37 PM  
Blogger Brian Bundridge said...

The best thing about the a/c on the train is that it doesn't have to wait until its out of the tunnel! AC or heat will run all the time, regardless if it is in the tunnel or not. The hybrid buses can't run hvac at all until they are out of hybrid/electric mode (meaning, Convention Center Station or after the International District Station. Trust me, it makes a HUGE difference since I had to take the 150 back to Kent instead of Sounder.

June 4, 2009 7:06 AM  
Blogger John Thacker said...

Thirty-two minutes? That's not really less than the 194, though. The fact that they'll run more often is the big thing.

I've seen some of these test trains go back and forth. The bell/horn of the train is pretty annoying, but I guess necessary.

June 4, 2009 12:19 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Nice coverage, Andrew. Link light rail will be PACKED when it officially runs next month. This is the future of mass transportation in North America; electric trains.

June 4, 2009 2:42 PM  

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