Link light rail

Not to be confused with the LINK Train in Toronto.
Sound Transit
Link light rail
Locale Seattle metropolitan area
Transit type Light rail
Number of lines 2 existing
2 under construction[1]
Number of stations 21 existing
13 under construction
9 approved
Daily ridership 68,856 (May 2016, weekdays)[2]
Began operation Tacoma Link:
August 22, 2003
Central Link:
July 18, 2009
Operator(s) Sound Transit
System length 20.35 miles (32.75 km)
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Electrification Tacoma Link:
750 V DC, overhead catenary
Central Link:
1500 V DC, overhead catenary

The Link light rail is a rapid transit rail system in the Seattle metropolitan area area of Washington State, being designed, built and operated by the region's mass transportation agency, Sound Transit. Currently the system consists of two, separate lines: Tacoma Link, a streetcar line operating in downtown Tacoma and Central Link, a light rail line operating between the University of Washington in Seattle and the Angle Lake station in SeaTac, Washington. Extensions are being planned or constructed that will bring light rail north to Lynnwood, east to Redmond and south to Kent and Des Moines.

The initial system was approved and funded by voters under the "Sound Move" ballot measure passed in November 1996. Further expansion of the system was approved and funded by voters under the "Sound Transit 2" ballot measure passed in 2008, and the Sound Transit 3 program in 2016. By 2040, the system is expected to grow to over 112 miles (180 km) of track.


In November 1996, voters in King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties approved increases in sales taxes and vehicle excise taxes to pay for a US$3.9 billion transit package that included $1.7 billion for a light rail system, including Central Link and Tacoma Link.[3] Over the next several years, debates raged over various issues surrounding the Central Link line.

In the late nineties and early 2000s, Sound Transit underwent a series of financial and political difficulties. The cost of the line rose significantly,[4] and the federal government threatened to withhold necessary grants.[5] In 2001, Sound Transit was forced to shorten the line from the original proposal, and growing enthusiasm for the proposed monorail brought rising opposition to the light rail from Seattle-area residents.[6]

But by the end of 2002, Sound Transit decided on a route and became more financially stable. On August 22, 2003, the Tacoma Link light rail line in Downtown Tacoma opened and quickly reached its forecast ridership.[7] On November 8, 2003, a groundbreaking ceremony was held for the Central Link light rail line. Central Link opened between Westlake Station and Tukwila on July 18, 2009,[8] and was extended 1.7 miles (2.7 km) to SeaTac/Airport on December 19, 2009.[9]

In November 2006, the U.S. Federal Transit Administration approved Sound Transit's plan for University Link, a project to extend light rail 3.1 miles (5.0 km) north to the University of Washington after completion of an Environmental Impact Study. A grant was approved in November 2008, which allowed University Link to begin construction in December 2008. The line opened, including the University Link Tunnel, on March 19, 2016.[10]

Current lines

Tacoma Link at the Tacoma Dome Station
Main article: Tacoma Link

Tacoma Link is a streetcar line running through the densest parts of Tacoma. This line connects the Tacoma Dome Station (a regional hub for local and express bus, and commuter train service) with downtown Tacoma, making stops near the city's convention center, theater district, the University of Washington's Tacoma campus and several museums. The 1.6-mile (2.6 km) line was completed in 2003.

Central Link train in Tukwila
Main article: Central Link

Central Link is a light rail line running between the University of Washington, downtown Seattle (in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel), the Sodo district (home to CenturyLink Field and Safeco Field), Seattle's Rainier Valley, Tukwila, the Seattle–Tacoma International Airport in SeaTac and Angle Lake. The initial 13.9-mile (22.4 km) segment of the line was opened on July 18, 2009. The line has since been expanded twice and spans 20.35 miles (32.8 km) as of September 26, 2016.

Future extensions

Link Light Rail: Future Extensions
Lynnwood Link (4 stations)
Mountlake Terrace(2023)
NE 185th Street(2023)
NE 145th Street(2023)
Northgate Link (3 stations)
U District(2021)
East Link Extension (12 stations)
Downtown Redmond(approved, not funded)
SE Redmond(approved, not funded)
Redmond Technology Center(2023)
Overlake Village(2023)
Spring District/120th(2023)
Bellevue Downtown(2023)

East Main(2023)
South Bellevue(2023)
Lake Washington
Mercer Island(2023)
Lake Washington
Judkins Park(2023)
Central Link (15 stations)
University of Washington
Lake Washington Ship Canal
Capitol Hill connection to FH Streetcar
Westlake connection to Monorail, SLU Streetcar
University Street
Pioneer Square connection to Ferries, Water Taxi
Int'l Dist/Chinatown connection to Sounder, FH Streetcar
Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel
Beacon Hill
Mount Baker
Columbia City
Rainier Beach
Tukwila Int'l Blvd
Angle Lake
Federal Way Link (3 stations)
Kent/Des Moines(2023)
S 272nd Street(approved, not funded)
Federal Way TC(approved, not funded)

Sound Transit's 2008 ballot measure, named Sound Transit 2, approved several light rail projects, extending Link northward to Northgate and Lynnwood by 2021 and 2023, respectively, and east to Bellevue and Overlake in 2023. It also extended the existing line one new station in Angle Lake, which opened September 26th, 2016, as well as the first phase of an extension towards Federal Way. Other improvements in the package included Sounder commuter rail improvements and expansion of Tacoma Link.

Project Name Status Description Length Expected Opening
Northgate Link Extension[11] Under construction Extends Central Link north from University of Washington Station to the University District west of campus, the Roosevelt neighborhood and Northgate, a major transit center and shopping mall. 4.3 miles (6.9 km) 2021
Tacoma Link Expansion[12] Preliminary design Extends Tacoma Link north and west from downtown Tacoma to the city's Stadium District and Hilltop neighborhood. 2.4 miles (3.9 km) 2022
East Link Extension[13] Under construction Extends Central Link east from downtown Seattle to the Judkins Park neighborhood, Mercer Island, Bellevue, Overlake and Microsoft's campus in Redmond. The project also includes route planning to support a later extension to downtown Redmond, which was deferred due to financial constraints. 14 miles (23 km) 2023
Lynnwood Link Extension[14] Final Design Extends Central Link north from Northgate in Seattle (northern terminus of the Northgate Link Extension) to North Seattle, Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood, a major transit center. 8.5 miles (13.7 km) 2023
Federal Way Link Extension[15] Environmental Review Extends Central Link south from Angle Lake (southern terminus of the South 200th Link Extension) to Highline College and the cities of Kent and Des Moines. The funded portion of the project would construct a new station, Kent/Des Moines station, between I-5 and Highway 99 near Highline College. The project also includes route planning to support a later extension to Federal Way with stations at S 272nd Street and Federal Way Transit Center, which was deferred to a later package due to financial constraints from the recession. 4.8 miles (7.7 km) 2023

Land-use impacts

An expressed purpose in building the Link light rail system has been to support a "smart growth" approach to handling the region's population growth and development.[16][17] By concentrating new development along light rail lines (a practice known as "transit-oriented development"), more people can live more densely without the increases in automotive commuting traffic that might otherwise be expected. In addition, the concentration of residents near stations helps maintain ridership and revenue.[18] Climate change activists also point out that compact development around light rail lines has been shown to result in reductions in residents' CO2 emissions, compared to more conventional suburban automotive commutes.[19]

Environmentalists, transportation groups and some affordable housing advocates have sought greater government regulatory support for transit-oriented development along Link light rail, and in 2009 a bill was introduced in the Washington State Legislature that would have raised allowable densities (as well as lowering parking requirements and easing some other regulations on development) in station areas.[18] The bill did not pass, but supporters vowed to bring it back in 2010.[20]

See also


  1. "Projects & Plans - Find a Project". Sound Transit. Retrieved March 20, 2016.
  2. "May 2016 Service Performance Report" (PDF). Sound Transit. July 7, 2016. Retrieved July 16, 2016.
  3. David Schaefer (November 8, 1996). "Voters Back Transit Plan On Fourth Try". The Seattle Times. Retrieved February 26, 2007.
  4. "Light-rail cost soars $1 billion". The Seattle Times. December 13, 2000. Retrieved February 28, 2007.
  5. Andrew Garber (March 30, 2001). "Federal aid in jeopardy for light rail". The Seattle Times. Retrieved April 21, 2007.
  6. Grass, Michael (March 23, 2016). "With Seattle's Long-Awaited Transit Expansion Now Reality, It's Full Steam Ahead". Route Fifty. Atlantic Media. Retrieved April 12, 2016.
  7. "Sound Transit:Tacoma Link". Archived from the original on October 24, 2008. Retrieved January 6, 2009.
  8. "Countdown to a new era: all aboard Link light rail starting July 18" (Press release). Sound Transit. April 20, 2009. Retrieved March 20, 2016.
  9. "Countdown to airport connection: Link light rail to Sea-Tac Airport starts Dec. 19" (Press release). Sound Transit. November 13, 2009. Retrieved March 20, 2016.
  10. Yardley, William (April 4, 2016). "Seattle continues quest to get greener as it grows with 'transformative' light-rail expansion". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 12, 2016.
  11. "Project Summary: LINK Light Rail". King County Department of Transportation. September 17, 2003. Archived from the original on October 13, 2006.
  12. Regional View Newsletter. Puget Sound Regional Council. July 2001. Archived December 4, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  13. 1 2 Transit Oriented Development
  14. Online TDM Encyclopedia - Transit Oriented Development
  15. Futurewise - Transportation
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