Safety stressed as Link light rail's first run approaches

With Tacoma Link light rail set to begin service in less than a month, Sound Transit has begun a campaign stressing safety for riders, pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers.

City Council members were updated on safety measures by two Sound Transit staff members during Tuesday’s study session.

“We do take this (safety) very seriously,” said Ron Lewis, deputy director of light rail and rail activation manager, noting Link emergency drills will be conducted over the next several weeks.

“It’s good to be here today, and we’re really excited,” said project director Sue Comis, of introducing a new mode of transportation to downtown Tacoma. “Our goal is to minimize incidents and collisions.”

Toward that end, Sound Transit has begun a comprehensive educational push focusing on measures already in place and common-sense safety tips for people using Tacoma Link, as well as those in the vicinity of the electric cars.

Sound Transit is partnering with several organizations in order to get the safety message out, including Pierce Transit and Operation Lifesaver, a nationwide, non-profit information program dedicated to reducing collisions, injuries and fatalities at highway-rail crossings.

This is the first time Operation Lifesaver has geared its efforts toward light rail, Comis pointed out.

“We think the word is starting to get out,” she said.

Sound Transit is getting its safety message out to people via schools, downtown locations, safety fairs and community organizations.

In addition, Sound Transit is disseminating information via flyers, brochures, posters and bus rider alerts, as well as mailings, e-mail and postings in downtown businesses.

“It’s very accessible to all,” Comis said.

Those with safety questions or concerns are asked to call Sound Transit at 800/201-4900 for more information, or to set up a group presentation. Or visit Sound Transit’s Website at:

Sound Transit officials recommend people use caution when driving, walking or biking near the tracks even now, as testing of Link light rail is currently ongoing.

Here are some basic safety tips to keep in mind:

– Read and obey all posted traffic signs and traffic signals.
Permanent and temporary signs along the 1.6-mile Link light rail path on 25th Street, Pacific Avenue and Commerce Street alert people to be cautious for running trains.

Since Link trains will share the road with other vehicles, when a light rail vehicle approaches an intersection, sensors in the track will detect the train and turn any conflicting traffic signals to red. After the train crosses, traffic signals will resume normal operation.

– Do not park or walk on the tracks.

– Do not drive across the raised track curb.

– Cross the tracks only at intersections or in crosswalks.

– Always stand behind the yellow tactile warning strips at station platforms. The strips are designed to feel different under your feet, Comis said, in order to warn people they should not be standing there.

– Link trains are electric, so they don’t make very much noise.

“Trains are going to be running frequently, and they are very quiet,” Comis said.

– Look both directions before crossing the tracks.

Overall, the City Council seemed pleased with the presentation, with Councilmember Kevin Phelps noting the $80 million project is ahead of schedule and on budget.

Councilmember Mike Lonergan voiced some concerns about the 700 block of Commerce Street, where he said narrow streets combined with large trucks parking there often creates bottlenecked traffic and safety hazards.

“We can look into that right away,” promised Bill Pugh, public works director.

The grand opening of Tacoma’s Link light rail is set for Friday, Aug. 22, and will include a full day of activities that stretch throughout the weekend.

“It’s going to be a very exciting time,” Lewis said.

Regular passenger service begins Monday, Aug. 25.

A sign at the corner of Commerce and South 9th streets alerts pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers to watch for passing Link light rail trains, as testing of Tacoma’s newest transportation system is under way. It’s just one part of Sound Transit’s comprehensive safety campaign. Regular passenger service begins next month. (Photo by Brett Davis)