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caption: Sound Transit is warning Seattle light rail riders to prepare for this platform to be packed over the next ten weeks. Thursday, January 2nd, 2020.
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Sound Transit is warning Seattle light rail riders to prepare for this platform to be packed over the next ten weeks. Thursday, January 2nd, 2020.
Credit: KUOW PHOTO/ Casey Martin

Prepare for 10 rough weeks on Seattle light rail

Sound Transit will reduce light rail service to a single track through downtown Seattle, starting this weekend. The agency is warning travelers of longer wait times, crowded platforms, and packed trains.

The reduced service is part of the system’s expansion to the Eastside. It will prompt delays and closures for 10 weeks, starting on Jan. 4.

What this means:

  • Trains will arrive every 12 minutes, instead of the usual 6 minutes. This could add 30 minutes to commutes.
  • Bikes will not be allowed inside the Pioneer Square station. Bicyclists will have to get off at either the University Street or International District stations.
  • Light rail will shut down between the Capitol Hill and SoDo stations over the weekend. Free buses will be available to riders to cover the gap.

The biggest change riders will experience is having to switch trains at the Pioneer Square station. A temporary, middle platform has been built so riders don’t have to go up and down two flights of stairs to change trains.

Ron Lewis is Sound Transit’s Executive Director of Design, Engineering and Construction Management. He says that that trains will now be arriving every 12 minutes instead of every 6 minutes. That means wait times will lengthen and the agency told riders to add 30 minutes to their commute.

caption: Signage at the Pioneer Square station directs riders on how to navigate light rail over the next ten weeks through downtown. Thursday, January 2nd, 2020.
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Signage at the Pioneer Square station directs riders on how to navigate light rail over the next ten weeks through downtown. Thursday, January 2nd, 2020.
Credit: KUOW Photo/ Casey Martin

Bicycles will not be allowed in the Pioneer Square station for safety reasons, Lewis said, and bicyclists will have to get off at either the University Street or International District stations.

This weekend will be especially tough as all light rail will shut down between the Capitol Hill and SoDo stations. Sound Transit says free buses will be available to riders and no fares will be charged north of Capitol Hill and south of SoDo. Light rail will shut down again the weekends of February 8 and March 14.

Lewis said Sound Transit “ambassadors” will be at each stop during this time to help direct riders, including at SeaTac Airport to assist out-of-towners.

caption: The new, temporary platform at the Pioneer Square station where riders will have to change trains going either north or south. Thursday, January 2nd, 2020.
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The new, temporary platform at the Pioneer Square station where riders will have to change trains going either north or south. Thursday, January 2nd, 2020.
Credit: KUOW PHOTO/ Casey Martin

King County Metro’s Director of the Mobility Division Chris O’Claire said more trips will be added to downtown routes during this 10-week period to help with congestion, including on the 7, 36, 48, 49, and 70 routes.

Accessibility during this time will be a concern as escalators have routinely failed at multiple light rail stations in the past. O’Claire said Metro, which owns and maintains the downtown light rail tunnel, has “aligned our resources to hold our contractor accountable” to keep the 30-year-old escalators running.

"There are a couple escalators right now that are not open,” O’Claire said. “We do expect to have most of them open in the next week or two."

The construction project -- what Sound Transit calls its "East Link expansion" -- will extend light rail across the I-90 bridge to Mercer Island, Bellevue, and Redmond. It opens in 2023 and is expected to add tens of thousands of daily riders.