This month, Sound Transit and the BNSF Railway Company will reach the milestone of substantial completion on a series of track and signal improvements along the rail line between Seattle and Tacoma that were started back in 2000. The eight-year project to improve 40 miles of track will allow Sound Transit to begin running two additional round trip trains between Tacoma and Seattle later this fall.
Under this $350 million project, nearly every grade crossing from Tacoma to Seattle was improved so Sounder, Amtrak and freight trains can move faster and more reliably and nine new high-speed crossovers allow freight trains to shift tracks so Sounder trains can pass easily — reducing the chance for delays. In addition, the train signal system between Seattle and Tacoma was replaced with the highest quality Centralized Traffic Control, which gives train dispatchers in Fort Worth, Texas the advanced tools they need to move trains safer, faster and more efficiently through the region.
As gas prices continue to rise, Sounder ridership has surged, making it the fastest growing commuter rail system in the country so far in 2008. Since the track and signal work began in 2000, the price of regular unleaded gas has soared from $1.50 per gallon to $4.35 per gallon. As more commuters switch from driving to riding transit as a way to beat high gas prices, more Sounder trains operating on the improved BNSF line will be a welcome relief.
According to Sound Transit, construction was completed with virtually no interruption to Sounder service, with BNSF coordinating work schedules to fit between the weekday morning and afternoon Sounder service. Nearly every foot of track between King Street Station and Lander Street was reconstructed, with no impacts to Sounder and minimal impacts to people going to Mariner games. Entire new sections of track would be laid in a matter of hours, without afternoon Sounder commuters even aware they were traveling over an entirely new section of track.
Sound Transit currently operates six round-trip trains in the south corridor between Seattle and Tacoma, including a “reverse commute” round-trip train. Two more round-trip trains will be added in the south corridor this fall, and a ninth in 2009.
The Sound Transit Board is currently reviewing options for major expansions to mass transit service around the region for submission to voters in 2008 or 2010. Proposed region-wide expansions to Link light rail, Sounder commuter rail and ST Express bus service include parking and access improvements at many Sounder stations. Visit http://www.soundtransit.org for more information .