Sound Transit’s Sounder commuter railroad system has been a huge success for the Seattle/Tacoma region since it began operations in just 2000 and expanded in 2003. While the Sound Transit agency in total covers several forms of mass transit, for purposes of this site we will highlight its commuter rail operations. The system has become so popular in the region, particularly its rail operations, that future plans are already being made to extend service into South Tacoma. A big reason why the Sounder commuter rail operation has been so successful is due to its excellent reliability, clean services, and an alternative to driving.
Along with Amtrak, state passenger railroading operations are gaining support and receiving increased attention and funding, particularly as highways become increasingly congested. Perhaps the two most noted states that are giving passenger railroading serious attention include North Carolina and California. Both are doing a magnificent job developing passenger rail corridors in their respective states, particularly North Carolina. If you are interested in seeing how a passenger rail network should be properly implemented, planned, and carried out have a look at what the Tarheel State is doing.
Sound Transit itself dates back to the early 1990s with the fist commuter rail service, which connects Seattle with Tacoma, Washington 39 miles to the south (known as, commonly enough, the South Line), began in 2000. For a complete history of Sound Transit and its Sounder commuter rail system please click here. As popularity for Sounder soared after its initial opening in 2000, it added a northern extension which opened in 2003 called simply the North Line. This route extends to Everett, about 35 miles north of Seattle. In all the Sounder commuter rail systems extends 74 miles north and south of Seattle, operating over BNSF Railway trackage, although it does own its own locomotives and equipment. All of the system’s lines terminate at Seattle’s historic King Street Station.
King Street Station is Seattle's last reminder of what once was regarding intercity passenger trains. At one time Seattle was home to and served by two large stations; Union Station served by the Union Pacific and Milwaukee Road and King Street Station, served by the Great Northern and Northern Pacific. Today, both still stand and either have been or are in the process of being restored. However, only King Street still serves in its original capacity, as a functioning railroad station and is happily undergoing a multi-million dollar restoration that will see it returned to its original splendor. After Union Pacific abandoned Union Station in 1971 (the Milwaukee Road had quit 10 years earlier) the building’s staging tracks were torn up with the property now housing skyscrapers.
King Street Station has its beginnings dating back to 1906 when the Northern Pacific and Great Northern officially opened it after two years of construction. The station came about due to a need to not only move main line tracks away from the waterfront but also replace an aging station located there.
King Street Station was designed and built by architects Reed and Stern of St. Paul, Minnesota and the builders used a nearly mile long tunnel under the city to unable the station to be a through design and not a stub-ended layout (as was the case at Union Station, meaning that rail service ended at the station and did not continue on as at King Street Station where the main line passed right beside the building). The station itself was built in red brick, terra cotta with a beautiful clock tower, with each clock façade displaying the times of the four cardinal directions. The building’s interior was also quite impressive with elaborate ceiling designs and marble used throughout (the station also features a beautiful compass on the floor of the entry hall named, appropriately enough, the Compass Room).
Of note, along with the Sounder commuter rail operations Sound Transit also operates a short, but popular, light rail transit system which connects Tacoma Dome Station with South 25th Street, runs north along Pacific Avenue to Union Station, further north to the Convention Center, and finally terminating at the Theater District. In all, this new mass transit operation, of which rail has only been in place for less than 10 years has been a resounding success. If you would like to learn more about the Sounder commuter rail system and Sound Transit’s LRT operation, or are perhaps considering using the system, please click here to visit their website.