By Lindsay Larin
The sights of Seattle flash by the windows of the Central Link light rail during the 13.9-mile stretch from the Westlake Station to Tukwila International Boulevard Station.
Central Link runs with two-car trains that hold a maximum of 400 people and eight bikes. A 1.7-mile extension to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport will open in December 2009.
For now, eleven stations line the stretch of tracks between Westlake and Tukwila. The stations are split between outdoor platforms and underground tunnels, all with covered areas, benches and route information. Glass artwork and vibrant metal designs distinguish the stations from one another, paying tribute to the small sub-communities within the Greater Seattle area.
Capturing the beauty of modern technology, there are 35 new pieces of art appearing up and down the new light rail line.
While riding through the SODO district, a giant red “R” sits on the rail sign on the new brick-faced Operations and Maintenance building. The “R” was once the distinctive first letter on the old Rainier beer sign from the brewery that once stood at the same location.
Soft purple lighting welcomes riders to the Beacon Hill Station and a glass painted wall partially stretches across the outdoor platform of the Mt. Baker Station.
The Tukwila International Boulevard Station offers a two story, covered waiting area with free parking and public restrooms. Artwork titled, Confluence, by Clark Wiegman sits on the parking level of the station. The Link art program, STart, worked closely with the local communities to find artists and artworks that matched the unique history and spirit of each neighborhood.
Beyond the aesthetic reasons, the assurance of frequent, reliable operation is a major attraction for some riders. Tickets are purchased by cash or card using self-serve kiosks at the stations. Commuters are asked to show their pass during random checks by Sound Transit personal. Although the payment system is based on a “proof of payment” method, Sound Transit has begun issuing $124 citations to people who ride light-rail trains without paying.
According to spokesman Bruce Gray, about 60 citations have been issued since Aug. 24 by transit police and unarmed security guards.
Another method of payment for light rail is the new ORCA smart card, a rechargeable pass accepted on Sound Transit buses and trains. Electronic card readers are located on and near Link platforms. Riders using ORCA, tap the card on the reader when entering and exiting the train. The correct fairs are automatically deducted each time the card is used.
Ridership for light rail is expected to reach 21,000 riders every weekday by the end of 2009. By 2010, the average weekday ridership from downtown Seattle to Sea-Tac Airport is expected to total 26,600 riders.
The electric-powered light rail trains run on exclusive tracks, arriving at the 11 current stops, every 5 to 10 minutes. The trains run 20 hours a day, from 5 a.m. to nearly 1 a.m.
Link also offers easy connections to trains, buses and other transit options.
Sound Transit is working to extend light rail in the near future. University Link is a 3.15 mile light rail extension that will run from Downtown Seattle north to the University of Washington. The design work on North Link, East Link, and the First Hill Streetcar is under way.
To learn more about Central Link light rail, visit www.soundtransit.org or call 1.888.889.6368.
Lindsay Larin is a writer for the Bellevue Reporter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.