Wednesday Morning, I took a trip down to Columbia City Station for a quick ride on the new central link light rail. In this media focused event, Mayor Nickels and Sound Transit board members Larry Phillips and Dow Constantine gave a quick run down of the “nuts and bolts” of the light rail, stressing the system’s safety, convenience, and affordability. Opening to the public in 10 days, the light rail will travel from Westlake to Tukwila International Blvd, with fares ranging from $1.75 to $2.50 depending on the distance.
Entering the train feels similar to entering any old Metro, but the car is much wider and roomier than a standard bus. There is no need for a lift, as the train is level with the loading dock allowing easy access for disabled persons, bicyclists, or luggage carrying passengers to enter the train. Tickets will be different as well, with a focus on the new ORCA pass and ridding of the old paper transfer tickets. Ticket inspectors will patrol the trains, checking tickets and handing out $125 dollar fines to unauthorized passengers.
The ride starts quick but is much smoother than a metro bus. Also, the light rail has priority at every intersection, eliminating the stop and go feeling common in most Metro lines. Once we passed the Rainier Beach station, many cars on I-5 stood still as the train reached its top speed of 55 mph. While a bit wobbly at times, it is easy to get lost in a book or conversation and forget that you are riding high above the all too common traffic mess on the highway.
Construction is under way now to extend light rail to Husky Stadium, with an estimated completion in 2016. The voters approved a further expansion northward last November, sending it through the udistrict to Northgate and Lynwood.
Lucas Anderson is the Neighborlogs.com Seattle Editor intern. Follow him on twitter at http://twitter.com/lucasanderso