Sound Transit is showing off the first of its $642.5 million fleet of new and improved light rail vehicles as it gears up for the opening of its latest expansion connecting to Northgate via the University District this fall.
Friday’s first service run of the “spanking new” Series 2 vehicle, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff said, was “a glorious day for advancing, safe, clean, and efficient mass transportation throughout the Puget Sound Region.”
While still seating around 70 passengers, the new vehicles are designed to be more accessible, with larger windows, more bag and storage space, and have more room for bikes with hooks doubled from two to four.
Sound Transit has announced October 2nd for the start of service on its Northgate Link light rail expansion that will open up the great northlands of Seattle including the University District, Roosevelt, and Northgate to riders from Capitol Hill Station and beyond. The opening will mean Capitol Hill rider visiting Brooklyn in only a-few-minutes ride.
With the Northgate link’s completion, Sound Transit says it is entering “an exciting period of opening major light rail extensions every year through 2024, nearly tripling the region’s light rail system from 22 miles to 62 miles.” The COVID-19 crisis, however, has slowed some progress and put some of Sound Transit’s future light rail plans in jeopardy.
This March, the agency marked the pandemic-muted celebration of the fifth anniversary of the opening of Capitol Hill Station and its University Link expansion extending light rail from downtown to Husky Stadium under Capitol Hill.
The busy station continues to serve thousands of riders but totals have been a shadow of the past busy days at the station — down around 80% (PDF) below the previous year’s daily ridership.
Meanwhile, cost fears have forced a reevaluation of the plans and timing for light rail to Ballard and West Seattle.
Capitol Hill Station development takes shape — the Central District is next
Above ground, Capitol Hill Station’s “transit oriented development” is finally nearing the end of construction with residents now filing many of the more than 400 market rate and affordable apartment units and businesses preparing to move in and open around the development’s plaza in coming months. Retail planned for the project including grocer H-Mart and The Exploration Academy daycare have not yet announced opening dates but lead developer Gerding Edlen of Portland is reportedly making new progress in putting the commercial aspects of its project into motion as the COVID-19 restrictions are planned to be lifted across the state by the end of June. The weekly farmers market has already moved in. And the AIDS Memorial Pathway connecting the station’s plaza with Cal Anderson Park is taking shape with its first outdoor art elements installed and more to come as the project’s backers hope for a June 2021 completion. Here’s why the project will add a giant “X” to the plaza space.
Judkins Park Station — and its Hendrix inspired design — is slated to open in 2023 along with the rest of the 10-stop, voter initiative-funded East Link light rail line that will dramatically expand Sound Transit rail service in the region. The Central District station, tucked into I-90 between Rainier Ave and 23rd Ave. From there, passengers will be able to take in views of Lake Washington and Mt. Rainier if you’re lucky by riding the train on the I-90 bridge (or more precise: the world’s first train tracks on a bridge that floats) to Mercer Island and South Bellevue. Lynnwood, Kent, Federal Way and downtown Redmond will be within light rail’s reach just a year later.
The Judkins Park station will not just be an easy way to get from Capitol Hill to the Central District and the Eastside and back. It will also connect an area historically divided by I-90. The station most likely will bring more change to the already-changing neighborhoods. New buildings are popping up or planned, including a 700-home project — 300 of the units will be income-restricted affordable. 23rd Ave Corridor Improvements to improve safety and mobility for people who drive, walk, bike and take transit in the area have been completed.
The station, a 10-minute, half-mile walk from 23rd and Jackson, is projected to see 1,770 people arrive and depart from the Judkins Park Station by 2030, according to Sound Transit estimates. 45% of them will be coming and going on foot or by bicycle, 42% by bus. A study suggests that even more bicyclists (some of whom will ride to the station via the nearby I-90 trail) may be likely.
Riders will be able to walk or bike up to the station from either Rainier Ave S or 23rd Ave S. And thanks to New York Artist Hank Willis Thomas, those entrances will honor musician Jimi Hendrix in two large murals. Once on the platform, riders will be able to see more art: Longtime Seattle artist Barbara Earl Thomas’ transformed her cut-paper works to glass and metal for the station’s platform windscreens.
Back on the train
As for the new cars moving onto the tracks, Sound Transit has ordered 152 vehicles manufactured by Siemens in Sacramento set to be delivered and rotated into service through 2024. So far, 41 have been delivered.
Testing began in summer of 2019 including a “1000-mile burn-in test.” The rest of the delivery’s trains will be tested By Sound transit with 300 mile tests.
Regular riders will most appreciate the changes with small touches like new LED light strips near the doors, as well as audio signals that signal whether the door about to close or open (red) or already closed or open (blue) to help with door blocking. The trains also have screens displaying the next three stations and rider alerts. The center aisle will be wider and slightly thinner seats will give way for more legroom and luggage. Forward-facing seats near the bike hooks/luggage and wheelchair now face sideways, which also means more passengers will be able to look out through the wider windows. In addition to making more space for bikes, the hanging hooks are also staggered for different heights.
As for the trusty old trains with us since Capitol Hill Station still opened, they’re not going away. The old vehicles will be swapped out of service for the fancy new Series 2 vehicles as they become available but the old cars aren’t headed for the scrap heap and recycling. The 62 cars in the Series 1 fleet are to be retrofitted with an on-board system updated for new speed codes required for the coming East Link line. “We’re tripling the size of our fleet because we’re almost tripling the size of the system by 2024,” a Sound Transit spokesperson says.