INFRASTRUCTURE QUERY: WHY CAN’T THE SOUNDER RUN LONGER?

Arguably the most exciting development in the Puget Sound region is the expansion of Link Light Rail.

As you know, the current line serves the City of Sea-Tac, the Airport, and up north through Rainier Valley, Downtown, and finally the University of Washington. The UW and Capitol Hill Stations opened just two years ago, and it’s hard now to imagine the city without them. In two and a half years you’ll be able to take a train from the cute bungalow you can’t believe you scored on Beacon Hill to your orthodontist’s assistant job up in Northgate. On your way home you can stop at the Co-Op in Rooselvelt or get weird on the Ave.

In still just two years after that, you can take all your belongings from the bungalow on Beacon Hill by train up to Lynnwood, because that is where you can afford to live now. From Lynnwood you’ll be able to take light rail to your new job as an Orthodontist’s assistant’s assistant in Bellevue. You will have to wear a name tag and eat your lunch in a broom closet while your boss goes to the new Tom Douglas restaurant across the way. There are spiders in the broom closet. Also, don’t get ticketed walking back to the Light Rail; by this time Bellevue will have started ticketing pedestrians. It may have Light Rail, but it will still be Bellevue.

Yes, your life in the Puget Sound will be miserable, but at least you’ll be able to get places!

Perhaps, though, said life wouldn’t be so miserable if you could get farther, faster, sooner?

The biggest critique and complaint about the current Link expansion plan is that it completes in 2040. Many of the cities and neighborhoods who’ve lobbied for Light Rail to come to them are still ten, fifteen years out. Some of the most vocal complaints come from Pierce and Snohomish county; while the city of Seattle can provide stopgap measures for Ballard and West Seattle (usually in the form of Rapid Rides or increased bus frequency) Tacoma, Everett and their respective suburbs don’t have the same luxury. And they’ll be waiting years.

WAIT! WHAT IF I TOLD YOU: THERE IS ALREADY A TRAIN THAT GOES FROM PIERCE TO SNOHOMISH COUNTY WITH STOPS IN SEATTLE?

Because there is. It’s called the Sounder, and it’s great. It’s comfortable to ride, runs on time and costs about the same as a commuter bus. This train starts in the Tacoma suburb of Lakewood (which blows, but lots of people live there and need to get places) and terminates in the ID. From there you can hop the north line, which terminates at the Everett Station.

But it only runs “commuter hours,” which means hours for people with traditional schedules. Early-to-mid morning with a gap in the mid day. The south line runs more often, with a few runs in the afternoon into early evening, but the north line is frustratingly inconsistent. Part of this is the rationale that more people who live in Everett work in Seattle than vice versa (true) so you don’t need any trains heading south in the afternoon (frustrating.)

WHY CAN’T THE SOUNDER RUN A CONSISTENT, CONTINUOUS SCHEDULE FROM MORNING TO EVENING?

I don’t think this is asking a lot. I don’t think I’m being ridiculous. Just like Link Light Rail should be running it’s main line longer, it seems reasonable that this already existing form of mass transit should serve more people, more frequently. This would be transformative in many people’s lives. Why isn’t it? Is it just small town thinking? Is it the fact  that these trains are *gasp* heavy rail?!?

THE ONLY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LIGHT RAIL AND HEAVY RAIL IS LITERALLY HOW MUCH THEY WEIGH. THAT’S IT.

I’m not gonna posit an answer as to why this massive gift train we’ve got in the region gets under utilized. I’m guessing it’s a mixture of:

  • Budget shortfall.
  • Mis/undermanagement.
  • Frustrating, but very real bureaucratic and/or legislative details that prevent various departments from working together and keep funds frozen.
  • Stupid, dumb, suburban, car-centric bullshit.

I propose we run the Sounder throughout the day into the night– doesn’t have to go all night or anything– let’s say 11:30 for now (this is an hour later than the commuters run, making it useful) so that while we wait for Link Light Rail to make it’s way to our jobs flossing possum corpses in Kent for the novelty taxidermy firm, we at least have an efficient way to get there.

 


Also published on Medium.