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:
- Redmond Technology
- Overlake Village
- Spring District/120th
- Bellevue Downtown
- East Main
- South Bellevue
Here’s a map:
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:
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.