Ready to roll: A Sound Transit T-Line approaches the Tacoma Dome Station to pick up passengers for an agency-hosted preview ride (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

This Sat­ur­day, Sound Tran­sit will inau­gu­rate rev­enue ser­vice on Hill­top Link, a 2.4 mile exten­sion of the street­car the agency first opened in Taco­ma twen­ty years ago. Orig­i­nal­ly called Taco­ma Link and now known as the T‑Line, this high capac­i­ty tran­sit sys­tem has been a boon to the City of Des­tiny’s mobil­i­ty, and it’s about to get a lot more use­ful, because it will con­nect more places together.

In advance of the grand open­ing on Sat­ur­day morn­ing, Sound Tran­sit kind­ly offered a pre­view ride for agency board­mem­bers and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of media orga­ni­za­tions. CEO Julie Timm and senior agency staff were present to talk about the new street­car vehi­cles and sta­tions, and did a great job explain­ing the his­to­ry of the project and the obsta­cles Sound Tran­sit over­came to get it built.

We board­ed our test train at Taco­ma Dome Sta­tion around 11 AM under sun­ny skies and set off towards St. Joseph Med­ical Cen­ter, soon to be the new terminus.

The ini­tial part of our jour­ney took place along the part of the T Line that’s been in oper­a­tion for about two decades, so our oper­a­tor made sure to announce at each stop that the train was not in ser­vice and there would be anoth­er one com­ing soon, to avert any con­fu­sion on the part of the trav­el­ing public.

It was­n’t long before we had rolled past UW Taco­ma and the Greater Taco­ma Con­ven­tion Cen­ter and were on the final stretch of tracks of the orig­i­nal line. We passed by work­ers prepar­ing the sta­tions for this Sat­ur­day’s open­ing and then found our­selves head­ing uphill on the new seg­ments of the T‑Line.

We rode in one of five new Lib­er­ty Mod­ern street­car vehi­cles man­u­fac­tured for the expand­ed T‑Line by Brookville Equip­ment Cor­po­ra­tion in Penn­syl­va­nia by an all-Amer­i­can work­force. These vehi­cles look a bit dif­fer­ent than the orig­i­nal fleet man­u­fac­tured by Sko­da back in the aughts, but are func­tion­al­ly the same.

Staff point­ed out that Sound Tran­sit had to expand its T‑Line main­te­nance facil­i­ty in order to have room to store and work on these new trainsets.

Owing to being new, the addi­tions to the fleet are very clean in addi­tion to being com­fort­able and well lit. They have big win­dows and promi­nent elec­tron­ic sig­nage for wayfind­ing. Addi­tion­al­ly, all of the trains and sta­tions offer low floor boarding.

It took us about twen­ty-four min­utes to reach St. Joseph Med­ical Cen­ter. After paus­ing there to sim­u­late a sta­tion stop, our oper­a­tor switched us over to the oth­er track and walked to the oth­er end of the train to assume the con­trols at the oth­er end for the return jour­ney. On our way back, we had to wait in a cou­ple of places for the track ahead to clear, which gave those of us from the media more time to take pho­tos and ask ques­tions about the T‑Line expan­sion project.

Here’s a hyper­lapse of the ride on the expand­ed T‑Line from Taco­ma Dome Sta­tion to St. Joseph, from a behind-the-oper­a­tor perspective:

And here’s a hyper­lapse of the return journey:

Hill­top Link will add sev­en new sta­tions to the T‑Line. These are:

  1. St. Joseph (Mar­tin Luther King Jr. Way south of South 17th Street)
  2. Hill­top Dis­trict (South 11th and M.L.K. Way)
  3. 6th Avenue (at M.L.K. Way)
  4. Taco­ma Gen­er­al (M.L.K Way at Mul­ti­Care Taco­ma Gen­er­al Hospital)
  5. Sta­di­um Dis­trict (North 1st Street at North G Street)
  6. South 4th (at South Sta­di­um Way)
  7. Old City Hall Sta­tion (Com­merce Street north of South 7th Street)

Addi­tion­al­ly, the sta­tion for­mer­ly known as Com­merce Street is being renamed The­ater Dis­trict, because the old The­ater Dis­trict Sta­tion is being removed.

Here’s a map:

Map of the T-Line, including the Hilltop Link extension
Street­car map show­ing the T‑Line with the Hill­top Link exten­sion (Pro­vid­ed by Sound Transit)

For those unfa­mil­iar with the topog­ra­phy of Taco­ma, it is a hilly city, like so many in the Pacif­ic North­west are. As you move away from Com­mence­ment Bay, the ele­va­tion increas­es, and many streets have some­what steep grades. The T‑Line par­al­lels the Thea Foss Water­way all the way up to the Sta­di­um Dis­trict and then piv­ots to par­al­lel itself all of the way to St. Joseph. Sound Tran­sit is plan­ning to extend the T‑Line all the way to Taco­ma Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege by 2041.

That exten­sion will add anoth­er six sta­tions, as you can see from this map:

Map of the forthcoming TCC extension to the T-Line
Map of the forth­com­ing TCC exten­sion to the T‑Line (Pro­vid­ed by Sound Transit)

Sound Tran­sit does­n’t yet have the funds to build TCC Link, but it is hop­ing to acquire the mon­ey it needs with­in the next few years. Sound Tran­sit staff tell NPI that they will be pur­su­ing fed­er­al fund­ing for the project.

The agency is hope­ful that the new T‑Line sta­tions and ser­vice will bring more foot traf­fic to the small busi­ness­es in the Hill­top neigh­bor­hood. Hav­ing endured sev­er­al years of con­struc­tion and the apex of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, busi­ness own­ers and their work­ers will hope­ful­ly start expe­ri­enc­ing the pay­off this autumn.

If you’d like to join us in cel­e­brat­ing the open­ing of the T‑Line this week­end, here are the rel­e­vant details from Sound Transit:

On Sat­ur­day, Sep­tem­ber 16th, 2023, pas­sen­gers are in for spe­cial treats! At 10 AM, the com­mu­ni­ty is invit­ed to a rib­bon-cut­ting event. Locat­ed at the Taco­ma Urban Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter (TUPAC) — 1105 MLK Jr Way, Taco­ma, WA 98405 — atten­dees will see a per­for­mance by TUPAC Dancers and the NW Sin­foni­et­ta and hear speech­es from com­mu­ni­ty leaders.

From 11 AM — 5 PM, enter­tain­ing tour guides will be on all trains to inter­act with rid­ers and point out fun facts along the T Line route.

Unless you’re under the age of eigh­teen, be sure to bring your ORCA card, because the T‑Line is going to have a fare as of this Sat­ur­day. It’s been a no-cost ser­vice since 2003, but that all changes this week­end when Hill­top Link opens.

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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