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Thursday, December 17, 2009

LIVE from Link: Taking the train into SeaTac

This morning Sound Transit was kind enough to invite representatives from local media outlets (including NPI!) aboard for a special ride to preview Airport Link, which will inaugurate service in just forty eight hours.

The trip began at Tukwila International Boulevard Station, which will soon relinquish its title as terminus of the line. We simply walked on an arriving train after the paying passengers got off. Ironically, as we did so, the loudspeakers blared This train is going out of service. For the public, yes, but not for us!

View of the terminal skybridge from the station mezzanine
We got underway and three minutes later, we had cruised into our destination: SeaTac Station. The entire Tukwila to SeaTac segment is aerial track, which means the train can run pretty swiftly since it's in its own right of way.

Unlike Tukwila, the SeaTac Station's platform is the center (between the tracks) so catching a train is really straightforward. Until South Link opens, trains will only run northbound. Eventually it'll be possible to take the train south from SeaTac into Des Moines, Federal Way, and beyond. (South Link is part of the Sound Transit 2 package, which voters approved last year).

Artwork inside the new SeaTac Station
The SeaTac Station is large, open, and airy. It offers great views of its surroundings. There's a clear view of the road going into the terminal, so any future traffic backups will be visible to riders on their way to or from the station. Two skybridges provide convenient access for riders; one connects to the airport's mammoth parking garage and the other connects to a small parking lot on the other side of International Boulevard.

The station includes a corral for luggage carts so that riders can easily transport their bags into the terminal after getting on or off the train. There are plenty of ORCA kiosks and card readers to facilitate fare payment, plus seats for those who get weary of standing.

Entrance to the terminal skybridge at SeaTac Station
The walk from the station to the terminal through the parking garage is neither as long or as onerous as critics of Link have suggested. Strolling at a leisurely pace, it only takes two and a half minutes to get from the station's mezzanine level to the first terminal skybridge, which leads directly to United Airlines' ticketing counter (on the upper level of the terminal) and baggage claim (on the lower level).

The walkway between the terminal and SeaTac Station
And the walk is on an entirely level and surprisingly smooth surface. There are no stairs, no ramps. It's true that riders will have to go up either an escalator or an elevator to reach the station platform from the mezzanine, but then, the same is true for moving about through the airport.

Compared to other cities, we've got it good.

The passageway is well lit, wide, and segregated from the parking garage by a sturdy mesh metal barrier which stretches from floor to ceiling. It's very comfortable and pleasant to walk through.

Coming from the terminal, there's a sweeping and panoramic view of the station, so it's easy for would be riders to see where they're walking to.

The Port of Seattle really did an outstanding job on the project... we really have to hand it to them. We do think there should be more signage within the terminal itself with directions on where to go to get to the station. There's some already, but there should be more. For Saturday's inauguration of service, Sound Transit plans to have staff and volunteers stationed to help people find their way.

A Link light rail train on its way into SeaTac
We're on our way back from the airport now, returning to Tukwila International Boulevard Station, where this tour began.

As soon as we get back, I'll update this post with pictures from the event.


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