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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Travel Light... The journey begins!

It's your turn, Seattle.

After a festive ribbon cutting at Mount Baker Station in the cool morning hours, and two Inaugural Trains (one northbound, one southbound) Sound Transit has officially launched service on Central Link, Seattle's first modern light rail system.

Link Light Rail Ribbon Cutting
Above: Mayor Greg Nickels cuts the ribbon to mark the grand opening of Sound Transit Central Link Light Rail.

KIRO radio host Dave Ross served as the master of ceremonies for the grand opening at Mount Baker Station, before the arrival of Mayor Greg Nickels.

Nickels and a host of speakers (Congressman Jim McDermott among them) spoke proudly of the years and years of hard work that made today possible, then, the great ribbon was cut, and a stream of politicians, reporters, and lucky Inaugural Train ticketholders made their way up to the platform.

Joni Earl signs a helmet
Above: Sound Transit Chief Executive Officer Joni Earl signs a bicycle helmet onboard the Inaugural Southbound Ride of Central Link.

I took the southbound train to Tukwila International Boulevard Station, passing through the Rainier Valley and on the aerial trackway above Interstate 5 and the Duwamish River. As we returned north, Sound Transit initiated service. We saw people getting on board trains at the Stadium Station, International District, Pioneer Square, University Street, and Westlake Center Stations.

I detrained a little bit ago and am now sitting in the plaza at Westlake Center enjoying the sunshine, and blogging about the launch of Central Link. I'll be heading south again shortly. I'm pleased to report that there are hardly any crowds and no lines at most stations, so getting on the trains is a breeze.

People waiting for the train at Westlake Center
Above: Riders wait for a southbound Link train to arrive at Seattle's Westlake Center platform in the Downtown Transit Tunnel.

I think Sound Transit and the media did an effective job of scaring people about overflow, so the morning has not been hectic at all for people wanting to ride, or event staff manning the Welcome Portals at the stations.

Things should probably pick up in the next few hours.

My advice: Come on down (or up!) to the nearest station as soon as you're able, and hop on board. It's easy, fast, and fun.

The trains are runnin' - come and catch one while the crowds are still light!

A train pulls away from Mount Baker
Above: A Link train leaves the Mount Baker Station, heading southbound for Columbia City, the next stop on the line.

BEACON HILL IS COOL: The Beacon Hill Station is arguably the coolest in the system, in part because it's buried underground. (Yes, pun intended!) The tunnel walls in the station are painted a dark blue. The station is decorated with sculptures and etched carpets that suggest an industrial, space theme. It's a beautiful, airy, comfortable station. Four speedy elevators provide a quick connection to the neighborhood over a hundred feet above.

View of the platform at Beacon Hill Station
Above: A Central Link train stops at Beacon Hill Station to offload and take on new passengers during Opening Weekend.

WHO NEEDS A SCHEDULE? I'm back at Mount Baker, uploading a few photos I shot this morning. It's fun to watch trains roll in and out of the station as they enter or exit the Beacon Hill Tunnels. They come so often that there's no need to check a schedule to find out when the next train is due. Just walk up to the platform and a few minutes later, a train will show up.

A Link light rail train pulls into Mount Baker Station
Above: View of a northbound train pulling into Mount Baker Station. Link trains run every seven and a half minutes during peak hours.

Sound Transit estimates there have been about 13,000 riders so far today. That's 13,000 in just a little over two and a half hours. Trains are full, lines are short, it's a nice sunny day... take a trip on Central Link and Travel Light!

NEW RIDERSHIP NUMBERS: As of 3 PM, Sound Transit estimates 30,500 or so riders have boarded a Central Link train so far today. Not bad. Have to wonder if they're being too conservative with the numbers... every single train I've been on today (more than a dozen!) has been standing room only. Seats are only widely available when boarding an empty train at Westlake or Tukwila.

Sound Transit's Bruce Gray reports that "Sunny skies and activities at neighborhoods along the line have combined to make a great start of service. Wait times have been minimal, generally in the neighborhood of fifteen to thirty minutes with longer wait times at the International District/Chinatown Station and Stadium Station immediately following the Sounders soccer match."


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