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Link light rail is a light rail rapid transit system serving the Seattle metropolitan area in the U.S. state of Washington. It is managed by Sound Transit, in partnership with local transit providers, and consists of two disconnected lines: Central Link in King County, which travels for 20 miles (32 km) between Seattle and Seattle–Tacoma International Airport; and Tacoma Link in Pierce County, which runs for under 2 miles (3.2 km) between Downtown Tacoma and Tacoma Dome Station. The system carries 24.1 million passengers annually, primarily on Central Link, and runs trains at frequencies of 6 to 24 minutes.

Link light rail
Sound Transit Link Light Rail logo.svg
Seattle - Pioneer Square Station July 2009.jpg
Northbound Link train at Othello Station (31003193486).jpg
Tacoma Link 1003 at Convention Center Station.jpg
Clockwise from top: Central Link at Pioneer Square station, Tacoma Link at Convention Center station, Central Link at Othello station in Seattle
OwnerSound Transit
LocaleSeattle, Washington, US
Transit typeLight rail
Number of lines2
Number of stations22
Daily ridership75,267 (2017)
Annual ridership24,159,038 (2017)[1]
Began operationAugust 22, 2003 (2003-08-22)
Operator(s)Sound Transit, King County Metro
Number of vehicles65
System length21.95 mi (35.33 km)
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
Electrification1500 V DC, overhead lines (Central)
700 V DC, overhead lines (Tacoma)

The Link light rail system was originally conceived in the 1980s following several earlier proposals for a heavy rail system that were rejected by voters. Sound Transit was created in 1993 and placed a ballot measure to fund and build the system, which was passed on a second attempt in 1996. Tacoma Link began construction first in 2000 and opened on August 22, 2003, costing $80 million. Central Link construction was delayed due to funding issues and routing disputes, but began in November 2003 and was completed on July 18, 2009. Central Link trains initially ran from Downtown Seattle to Tukwila International Boulevard station before being extended south to the airport in December 2009, north to the University of Washington in March 2016, and further south to Angle Lake station in September 2016.

Sound Transit plans to expand the Link light rail network to 116 miles (187 km) and 70 stations by 2041, using funding approved by voters in 2008 and 2016 ballot measures. An extension from the University of Washington to Northgate is scheduled to open in 2021. Suburban extensions to Bellevue, Lynnwood, and Federal Way are scheduled to open between 2023 and 2024. Later projects will expand the system to cover the metropolitan area from Everett to Tacoma, along with branches to Kirkland, Issaquah, and the Seattle neighborhoods of Ballard and West Seattle.



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.[2] 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,[3] and the federal government threatened to withhold necessary grants.[4] 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.[5]

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.[6] 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,[7] and was extended 1.7 miles (2.7 km) to SeaTac/Airport on December 19, 2009.[8]

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 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.[9]


Central LinkEdit

Central Link train in Tukwila

Central Link is a light rail line serving Seattle, SeaTac, and Tukwila, using trains of two to three cars that each carry 194 passengers. It connects the University of Washington and Downtown Seattle to the Rainier Valley and Seattle–Tacoma International Airport, using tunnels, elevated guideways, and surface-running sections. The line carries 23 million passengers annually and 72,000 on an average weekday, making it the busiest transit route in the Seattle region.

The initial 13.9-mile (22.4 km) segment of the line was opened on July 18, 2009, connecting the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (a facility shared with buses until 2019) to Tukwila International Boulevard station. The line has since been expanded three times and spans 20.35 miles (32.8 km) as of September 26, 2016.

Tacoma LinkEdit

Tacoma Link car in Downtown Tacoma on Pacific Avenue

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.

Future extensionsEdit

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 2024, respectively, and east to Bellevue and Overlake in 2023. It also extended the existing line one new station in Angle Lake, which opened September 26, 2016. Other improvements in the package included Sounder commuter rail improvements and expansion of Tacoma Link.

Sound Transit 3, passed in 2016, funded new extensions of Link that will open between 2024 and 2040. Several deferred or truncated projects from Sound Transit 2, including extensions to Federal Way and Downtown Redmond, were funded and accelerated by the plan.

Project Name Status Description Length Expected Opening
Northgate Link Extension[10] 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 Extension[11] Under construction 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[12] 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 approved in Sound Transit 3. 14 miles (23 km) 2023
Downtown Redmond Link Extension[13] Environmental Review Extends East Link north-east from Overlake to Redmond at two new stations: SE Redmond and Downtown Redmond. This project was approved in Sound Transit 3 and will be the first ST3 project to open. 3.7 miles (6.0 km) 2024
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) 2024
Federal Way Link Extension[15] Final Design Extends Central Link south from Angle Lake (southern terminus of the South 200th Link Extension) to Highline College and downtown Federal Way. 4.8 miles (7.7 km) 2024
Tacoma Dome Link Extension[16] Preliminary design[17] Extends Central Link south from Federal Way Transit Center to Tacoma Dome Station, with stops in Federal Way, Fife, and East Tacoma. 15 miles (24 km) 2030
West Seattle Link Extension[16] Initial Planning Extends Central Link southwest from downtown Seattle to West Seattle. 4.7 miles (7.6 km) 2030
Ballard Link Extension[16] Initial Planning Extends Central Link northwest from downtown Seattle to Ballard via South Lake Union and Lower Queen Anne. The project includes a new 2nd downtown transit tunnel with a stop in Midtown, that will connect at the current ID/Chinatown Station. 7.1 miles (11.4 km) 2035
Everett Link Extension[16] Planned Extends Central Link north from Lynnwood Transit Center to Everett Station via Paine Field. 15.4 miles (24.8 km) 2036
Tacoma Community College Link Extension[16] Planned Extends Tacoma Link from Downtown Tacoma to Tacoma Community College and include modifications to existing and planned Tacoma Link infrastructure. 3.5 miles (5.6 km) 2039
South Kirkland - Issaquah Link Extension[16] Planned A new line which will connect in Bellevue via East Link. This will extend light rail to downtown Issaquah, mostly following I-90, with stations in Eastgate, and Factoria. Additionally it will extend north to the South Kirkland Park and Ride, connecting with some Bellevue stations. 9 miles (14 km) (Issaquah-only portion) 2041

Land-use impactsEdit

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.[18][19] 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.[20] Climate change activists also point out that compact development around light rail lines has been shown to result in reductions in residents' CO
emissions, compared to more conventional suburban automotive commutes.[21]

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.[20] As part of Sound Transit 3 in 2016, the Washington State Legislature mandated that Sound Transit reserve at least 80% of the surplus land surrounding light rail stations for affordable housing developments.[22]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Q4 2017 Service Delivery Quarterly Performance Report" (PDF). Sound Transit. February 22, 2018. Retrieved February 22, 2018.
  2. ^ David Schaefer (November 8, 1996). "Voters Back Transit Plan On Fourth Try". The Seattle Times. Retrieved February 26, 2007.
  3. ^ "Light-rail cost soars $1 billion". The Seattle Times. December 13, 2000. Retrieved February 28, 2007.
  4. ^ Andrew Garber (March 30, 2001). "Federal aid in jeopardy for light rail". The Seattle Times. Retrieved April 21, 2007.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ "Sound Transit:Tacoma Link". Archived from the original on October 24, 2008. Retrieved January 6, 2009.
  7. ^ "Countdown to a new era: all aboard Link light rail starting July 18" (Press release). Sound Transit. April 20, 2009. Retrieved March 20, 2016.
  8. ^ "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.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ "Downtown Redmond Link Extension". Sound Transit. Retrieved September 19, 2017.
  11. ^ a b c d e f "Sound Transit 3 Draft System Plan" (PDF).
  12. ^ Dunkelberger, Steven (December 22, 2017). "Sound Transit moves forward with Tacoma Dome light rail project". Tacoma Weekly News. Retrieved January 9, 2018.
  13. ^ "Project Summary: LINK Light Rail". King County Department of Transportation. September 17, 2003. Archived from the original on October 13, 2006.
  14. ^ Regional View Newsletter. Puget Sound Regional Council. July 2001. Archived December 4, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ a b Transit Oriented Development
  16. ^ Online TDM Encyclopedia - Transit Oriented Development
  17. ^ Cohen, Josh (May 8, 2018). "Seattle Raises the Equity Bar on Transit-Oriented Development". Next City. Retrieved March 27, 2019.

External linksEdit

Route map:

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