An aerial view of Downtown Bellevue, taken in late summer 2022
The skyline of Bellevue, Washington, as seen in September of 2022 from the Wilburton neighborhood. The elevated trackway of Sound Transit's East Link / Line 2 light rail line can be seen in the foreground. (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Light rail could be oper­a­tional in NPI’s home­town of Red­mond as ear­ly as next spring under a plan approved yes­ter­day by the Sound Tran­sit Board of Directors.

Tak­ing up a rec­om­men­da­tion from ST’s Sys­tem Expan­sion Com­mit­tee, the Board of Direc­tors autho­rized staff to inau­gu­rate rev­enue ser­vice on an East­side-only por­tion of the East Link exten­sion in 2024, which means trains could be run­ning between Red­mond and Belle­vue (and vice ver­sa) with­in a year.

The East Link exten­sion, approved as part of Sound Tran­sit Phase II in 2008, will con­nect Belle­vue and Red­mond to Mer­cer Island and Seat­tle when com­plete. Defec­tive con­struc­tion on the cross-lake seg­ment (which is neces­si­tat­ing a do-over of some work) prompt­ed the agency to rethink the orig­i­nal open­ing plans.

Coun­cilmem­ber Clau­dia Bal­duc­ci has cham­pi­oned, with NPI’s sup­port, a “starter line,” to get the Red­mond-to-Belle­vue seg­ments online and car­ry­ing rid­ers soon­er than the time­frame for when the cross-lake track rebuild is expect­ed to be fin­ished. Agency staff were recep­tive and con­clud­ed the idea was feasible.

“Almost exact­ly one year ago, when we first learned that East Link light rail would be sig­nif­i­cant­ly delayed due to work­man­ship issues on the I‑90 bridge, I pro­posed that we open an East­side-only starter line. Today, I was pleased that the Board unan­i­mous­ly decid­ed to approve this plan,” said Bal­duc­ci fol­low­ing the vote.

“This piv­ot from a long-estab­lished plan to adapt to chang­ing cir­cum­stances is a tes­ta­ment to hard work, cre­ativ­i­ty and nim­ble action by agency staff, as well as the over­whelm­ing enthu­si­asm by cities and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers from across the East­side who know how trans­for­ma­tion­al these gen­er­a­tional tran­sit oppor­tu­ni­ties will be and how impor­tant it is to open them as soon as possible.”

“It’s an excit­ing step to con­nect more com­mu­ni­ties via fast, [pollution]-free Link light rail, and open­ing these sta­tions on the East­side is the open­ing act of the 2 Line,” agreeed Sound Tran­sit Board Chair and King Coun­ty Exec­u­tive Dow Con­stan­tine. “From Red­mond to Belle­vue, peo­ple have a new option to get to work, school, and all the things that make this com­mu­ni­ty spe­cial, and I’m excit­ed to see what’s next when the 2 Line cross­es Lake Wash­ing­ton in 2025.”

The “2 Line” is what East Link will be called by riders.

As a pub­lic works project, it has been known as the East Link exten­sion for the bet­ter part of twen­ty years, but once it is a light rail line, it needs a des­ig­na­tion. After ini­tial­ly plan­ning on using col­ors (“Red Line, Blue Line”) to dis­tin­guish its lines, Sound Tran­sit decid­ed to use num­bers instead. The cur­rent main­line run­ning north/south was dubbed the 1 Line; the Taco­ma Link street­car became the T‑Line, and cross-lake ser­vice will be known as the 2 Line.

“This incred­i­ble accom­plish­ment required sig­nif­i­cant com­mit­ment and col­lab­o­ra­tion across the entire Sound Tran­sit Team, with King Coun­ty Metro who hires for and oper­ates our ser­vice, and by our fed­er­al, state, and local part­ners for every required review and approval,” said Sound Tran­sit CEO Julie Timm.

“It was seri­ous­ly hard work to assess and then remove the bar­ri­ers to accel­er­ate open­ing of light rail on the East­side by Spring 2024, and there were many moments where it looked like this would be an impos­si­ble task in the time avail­able to us. I am proud of the team’s unwa­ver­ing ded­i­ca­tion as Sound Tran­sit con­tin­ues to make his­to­ry with the open­ing of each exten­sion con­nect­ing the region through the largest tran­sit expan­sion pro­gram in the country.”

Timm suc­ceed­ed Peter Rogoff as the agen­cy’s chief exec­u­tive last year. She is known for shar­ing pho­tos of her­self and agency employ­ees in action, espe­cial­ly when tour­ing con­struc­tion sites or Sound Tran­sit facilities.

Trains will run between eight sta­tions on the starter line.

These are, from east to west:

  1. Red­mond Technology
  2. Over­lake Village
  3. Bel-Red/130th
  4. Spring District/120th
  5. Wilbur­ton
  6. Belle­vue Downtown
  7. East Main
  8. South Belle­vue

Here’s a map:

East Link / Line 2 extension map
A map of the East Link exten­sion (Graph­ic cre­at­ed by Sound Transit)

This aer­i­al tour, cre­at­ed by NPI, will give you a bird’s eye view of the sta­tions.

And here you can see videos of night­time train test­ing in Belle­vue.

It is pos­si­ble for Sound Tran­sit to run trains on the Red­mond-to-Belle­vue seg­ments despite their (tem­po­rary) iso­la­tion from the rest of the sys­tem because of OMF East. That’s the train yard and main­te­nance facil­i­ty the agency wise­ly con­struct­ed here on the East­side despite reluc­tance and even out­right oppo­si­tion from some peo­ple in Belle­vue, includ­ing city coun­cilmem­bers. OMF East is locat­ed near the Spring Dis­trict; here’s an aer­i­al pho­to tak­en by NPI:

OMF East view two (East Link aerial tour)
The biggest build­ing in the OMF East com­plex serves as a train garage, with bays where Sound Tran­sit main­te­nance crews can ser­vice light rail vehi­cles from above and below. Note the solar pan­els on the roof. (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Those who fore­saw what an asset OMF East would be — Coun­cilmem­ber Bal­duc­ci includ­ed — can take great sat­is­fac­tion in know­ing that it proved be the key to get­ting Red­mond-to-Belle­vue ser­vice going despite the prob­lems on the cross-lake seg­ment. Sound Tran­sit has been accept­ing deliv­er­ies of new light rail vehi­cles (LRVs) from Siemens for a while now at OMF East.

“Ser­vice on the 2 Line is pro­posed to run with two-car trains every 10 min­utes, 16 hours a day,” the agency said in a news release.

“The final ser­vice lev­el will be approved by the Sound Tran­sit Board as part of the 2024 Ser­vice Plan. This action is expect­ed in October.”

The agency also needs the feds to sign off on the plans.

How­ev­er, if all goes well, we’ll hope­ful­ly be able to cel­e­brate the begin­ning of a new era for mobil­i­ty on the East­side some­time next March.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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