First of all, a huge THANK YOU to all of our Link light rail riders who have shown incredible patience and resilience this first week of service disruptions while we connect the new light rail line from the Eastside to Seattle.
As we wrap up the first week of Connect 2020 work in downtown Seattle, we take you behind the construction fences in the International District/Chinatown Station (IDS) to show why your commute is being disrupted.
Construction crews are working 24/7 during the 10 weeks of Connect 2020 service disruptions to join the East Link rail tracks with the existing line.
This work includes building a new “turn-back track” or train staging area between the north and southbound tracks where trains can be turned back from IDS or staged to quickly go into service to clear large crowds after special events.
The end result will be fast, reliable service between the Eastside and Seattle - imagine a 20-minute trip between downtown Bellevue and downtown Seattle with four inches of new snow on the ground.
Out with the old
The main work these first couple weeks involves:
- Cutting out concrete sections in the station area for new rail, power and communications lines
- Preparing new trenches for rail installation
- Installing conduit (pipes) for new power and communications lines
Much of this work is happening on what would normally be the northbound Link tracks.
It is often noisy, dusty work.
We have installed sound-dampening blankets and are monitoring noise levels on the platform and in the surrounding areas and also use water during the sawing and chipping activities to help keep the dust down. The water is collected and treated before disposal.
In with the new
Crews have been at work for the past few months installing new rail and switches for directing trains from one track to the other just south of the station and this work is now continuing into the main station area.
Link operations so far
For the first time in Link’s service history, riders must transfer between trains across a new center platform at Pioneer Square if they want to continue north or south of the station.
That’s because both north and southbound trains are running on the same tracks into and out of the station.
The transfers are going well for the most part but trips are taking longer than initially anticipated.
Since trains need to meet at Pioneer Square at the same time to make the transfer, a slower trip anywhere on the line means that all trips have to slow down.
On Wednesday, we moved to a 13-15 minute schedule on Link, an adjustment from the 12-minute schedules we had initially planned for.
We have experienced some delays from mechanical issues.
With trains already operating on a reduced schedule, these small delays have bigger impacts.
But for the most part, trains are keeping to the new schedules although there may be variations in trip times depending on the time of day.
The goal is to maintain consistent headways (the time between train departures and arrivals) throughout the day at all stations.
Peak hour crowds – how to help
Just like a workday under normal conditions, the busiest times on Link continue to be between about 4:30 – 5:45 p.m.
This is when many riders are heading south from Westlake, making the transfer across the center platform at Pioneer Square very busy.
We encourage riders to flex their schedules if at all possible to ride outside the peak afternoon hours.
Stick around town for happy hour, stop at the gym or come in a little later and go home a little later.
But we know that doesn’t work for everyone.
Here’s a few tips to help us all ride happier on busy trains:
- Take off your backpack; it makes more room for everyone
- Spread out on the trains; move to the ends and center areas so others can squeeze in the doors
- No bags or luggage on seats; but you already knew that
In the field to help
Sound Transit Ambassadors are boarding trains as they arrive at Pioneer Square to tell riders that they need to transfer across the platform to the other train if they want to continue in the direction they're headed.
Ambassador teams have also been deployed to every station this first week of Connect 2020. Most of the ambassadors are Sound Transit employees taking time away from their regular jobs to help in the field.
More than 600 employees have worked more than 4,000 hours in the field to help riders navigate the service changes.
As riders become accustomed to the changes, we'll reduce ambassador staffing but you will still see them in key locations downtown. Staff will remain on the center platform at Pioneer Square Station for the duration of Connect 2020 work.
Short-term pain for long-term gain
We appreciate that this is a challenging time for Link commuters – we ride the same trains to and from work and are also not looking forward to the near-term forecast of colder temperatures and snow.
But we’re doing this work right now because it’s historically the lowest ridership time of the year and we also need to get it done before the extension to Northgate opens NEXT YEAR.
So thank you again for sticking with us and keeping your eyes on the prize – more trains to more places – 22 new stations over the next five years!