Sound Transit proposes four new light rail cars for Sea-Tac

The Sound Transit Finance Committee Thursday recommended the purchase of four additional light rail cars for service to Sea-Tac International Airport. The committee, in a unanimous vote, forwarded the recommendation to the full Sound Transit Board. Airport Link is on a fast track to be completed by December 2009.

“Anyone who doubts light rail is heading for Sea-Tac should check out the concrete support columns going up along Highway 518 from I-5 to the airport,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg. “Sound Transit and the Port of Seattle are working on a very aggressive schedule to get construction of the airport extension underway and completed by the end of 2009.”

The additional cars will enable Sound Transit to provide peak-hour service every six minutes in each direction when Airport Link opens just a few months after the Initial Segment’s mid-2009 opening. The airport segment will extend Central Link’s length from 14 to 16 miles.

Central Link will initially operate with two-car trains that can carry 400 people. As demand grows in the decades ahead, the system’s capacity can be increased dramatically by doubling train lengths and increasing train frequencies to every two to four minutes. Every Central Link station platform stretches one-third longer than a football field, long enough to accommodate a four-car train that can carry 800 people. More light rail cars will be purchased as the length of the system expands and as the train lengths and frequencies grow along with service demand.

The proposed $13.9 million purchase of the additional light rail cars, to be reviewed by the full Sound Transit Board next week, would increase Sound Transit’s initial fleet from 31 to 35 cars. The cars are being built by a joint venture of Kinkisharyo International LLC and Mitsui & Co. (USA) Inc. Car frames and shells are being built in Osaka, Japan, with final assembly to occur locally. Kinkisharyo has supplied light rail vehicles to four other transit agencies in the United States: New Jersey Transit, Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority in Boston, Dallas Area Rapid Transit and Valley Transit Authority in San Jose, CA.

Each 95-foot-long light rail car will feature air conditioning, cloth seats, and a low-floor design enabling level boarding for wheelchairs, strollers and bicycles. Link light rail will provide quick and reliable travel times that are immune from growing congestion on the region’s roadways. The trip from Westlake Center in downtown Seattle to the airport will take an estimated 36 minutes.

Construction of the Central Link light rail system began in November 2003 and is moving forward rapidly. Construction bids came in 6 percent below estimates, and construction of the initial segment is now approximately 32 percent complete.

Recent construction milestones include the installation of rail in the SODO area, pouring the platforms for the SODO and Stadium light rail stations, and topping out the structural steel for the system’s maintenance and operations base. A massive tunnel-boring machine is being assembled and will begin tunneling through Beacon Hill this winter. Miners are busy digging the Beacon Hill subway station, and crews have begun retrofitting the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel for use by both light rail trains and buses.

By 2020 the system is projected to carry more than 45,000 riders daily. Free shuttle buses will carry passengers between Tukwila and the airport during the short time preceding the completion of the airport light rail station, which will be located adjacent to the airport parking garage.

Next steps moving forward with Airport Link include finalizing a memorandum of agreement with the Port of Seattle on design and construction issues; coordinating with the City of SeaTac in preparation for construction; completing the design and awarding construction contracts starting in spring of 2006.