Twelve years and three weeks after launching commuter rail service between King and Pierce counties, Sound Transit’s Sounder is finally serving Lakewood via South Tacoma instead of terminating at Freighthouse Square near downtown Tacoma. For the time being, five trains run northbound from Lakewood in the morning, and five trains arrive southbound from Seattle in the evening.
(The words for the time being are used because service may be expanded in the coming years; the original Sounder schedule had far fewer trains than the current schedule, which serves more stations with more trains at more hours of the day).
Sounder’s expansion to Lakewood is a big accomplishment. It took a long time to get done, but the days of waiting are over. South Pierce County residents who work up north and want to commute back and forth by train can now do so, bypassing an often-gridlocked stretch of Interstate 5.
Thurston County’s Intercity Transit is letting its riders know that they, too, can make use of Sounder. In an announcement on Tuesday, Intercity reminded residents of Thurston County that it provides a fast bus connection to the Lakewood station with its Olympia Express. Intercity has timed the Express to provide a smooth connection to morning and evening Sounder trains departing and arriving from Lakewood. Intercity also provides service to the downtown Tacoma station to meet trains that do not go all of the way to Lakewood.
Buses running the Olympia Express routes are also equipped with ORCA (One Regional Card for All) readers, which means that anyone in central Puget Sound needing to visit the state capital can use ORCA to pay the fare for their entire trip, whether they go by bus, or rail and bus. (The rest of the Intercity Transit system does not yet use ORCA, but it hopefully will before too long).
Sound Transit has informally looked at bringing Sounder further south from Lakewood to DuPont, but no such expansion is planned or funded at present. Olympia and Lacey, meanwhile, are outside of the boundaries of Sound Transit’s taxing district, so the agency hasn’t done any planning work to explore the feasibility of commuter rail service into Thurston County.
Amtrak’s Cascades does serve Olympia and Lacey several times a day, but an Intercity bus is still required to get from the station to Olympia proper (the station isn’t within walking distance of the Capitol Campus, St. Martin’s College, or any major destinations within the area).
On a related note, this Saturday, Sound Transit will operate the first “game day” special Sounder service from Lakewood to Seattle, for the big game between the Washington Huskies and USC Trojans at CenturyLink Field. Northbound trains will leave Lakewood at 1:05 PM and 1:30 PM. Southbound trains will return fans to their parked vehicles or to neighborhood bus routes fifteen and twenty-five minutes after the game ends. See Sound Transit’s game day service page for more info.