Sound Transit’s Expansion in Seattle Means More Trains
By Kaelie Piscitello
High-speed trains are the future, and Seattle is hopping on board.
Seattle’s population increases by 1000 residents each week, and the city estimates a population growth of 800,000 by 2040.
As the city grows, the company Sound Transit plans to expand its public transportation train system by adding 62 miles of new tracks and 37 new stations over the next 25 years.
The expanded train system in Seattle was approved in 2016 and will stand at five times its original size by the end of the project. The new railways will cost $54 billion.
Some of the money for this new addition comes from the 1.2 trillion-dollar Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill meant to expand public transportation in American cities.
However, the majority of the funds for these trains come from local taxpayers, and every adult can expect to pay about $14 each month toward the new infrastructure.
The History of Seattle’s Trains
Originally called Sound Move, Sound Transit was formed in the 1990s by the Washington State legislature allowing the region to create a transportation system.
Since then, Sound Transit has carried out three plans where they are built and upgraded their trains in Seattle. The last upgrade before the current expansion plan was carried out in the early 2000s.
Today the trains span five provinces in Washington including Snohomish, North King, South King, East King, and Pierce County.
Sound Transit plans to roll out the new rails through five stages over the next twenty-five years.
First, voters needed to approve the plans for the train expansion; however, this already happened in 2016.
From there, they enter a five-year planning phase consisting of alternative development, environmental review, and preliminary designs.
After the planning phase, Sound Transit’s team of engineers will move into the final design phase, which will last two to three years.
During the final design process, the team will test soil conditions, survey water quality, and search for artists who will create permanent art installations for the train stations.
The engineers will define what all facilities look like and their modes of operation. The team will also seek permits from local jurisdictions and obtain private property for their trains to run on.
After this, the team will finally begin construction which can last over five years. The team will complete high technical elements during construction, such as water crossings.
After completing the infrastructure, the team will move into half a year to a year of testing and pre-operations, where they will complete simulations to ensure safety and emergency systems operate correctly.
They will also check intersection and pedestrian signals to ensure the safety of their passengers.
Toward the end of this phase, the trains will start running to prepare pedestrians, bikers, and cars for the transition.
Challenges for the Rails
Travelers know Seattle for its connection to nature and startling Mount Rainier, a great addition to this city.
However, because of the surrounding wildlife, the company has encountered difficulties finding places to build their tracks.
As a result, they will need to install many rails under or aboveground and even over moving, floating bridges.
Additionally, Sound Transit must build its tracks to align with high safety standards as Seattle sits near a fault line, causing earthquakes near the city.
The team must take certain precautions to ensure the trains and rails do not depreciate in the event of a natural disaster.
Finding construction workers has also proved difficult, as many build housing to keep up with the population boom.
Construction workers also have less incentive to work in Seattle as affordable housing is scarce.
Finally, though the average taxpayer first was expected to pay $14 per month towards the new trains, taxes in Washington State were lowered during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to the city reducing the project’s budget.
Additionally, the United States has a 176 trillion-dollar backlog of funds dedicated toward transit. As a result, Sound Transit must now find new avenues to fund the trains.