OTOL Pacific Northwest RailFest 2010 LITE
July 18-23, 2010
Photos by Lynn Hammond, Eric Minton, Jishnu Mukerji, and John Corbett.
Chapter 6: Wednesday, July 21, 2010
On our only full day in Seattle, we rode the Seattle Center Monorail, went to the Space Needle observatory, and covered the South Lake Union Streetcar. Also we rode the Sounder South commuter rail line to Tacoma as well as that city's short light rail line.
Chapter 6.0: Meeting in Seattle
Once again we had to come from various hotels throughout the area and meet at one place. I got up early and took the inbound Central LINK trip that I'd missed the previous day with the group. My mission before meeting up with everyone was to change hotels, as I'd be staying at a downtown location Wednesday night. Luckily this was a few blocks from Westlake Center. My ride on the light rail, therefore, was from beginning to end. After leaving my luggage I still had some time ahead of me, so I went to eat breakfast at McDonald's in the food court of the Westlake Center mall.
Most of the other folks had a short light rail or taxi ride to the meeting location, and of course Mark came into town from home. At this location we had 13 people. Steve, Rick, Evan, Eric, Lynn, Mike, Piotr, John, Grace, Alan, Mark, and I were returning from the previous day, and joining us just in late the previous night from the east coast was Jishnu Mukerji.
In advance of our Fest, Mark scouted out a good meeting place in the vicinity of Westlake Center. We agreed it would be best to meet on the surface rather than in the DSTT, so that we could maintain cell phone contact if anyone got lost. We assembled on one corner of 4th & Pine, just outside a clothing store. This provided us an easy walk to our first conveyance of the day.
Chapter 6.1: Seattle Center Monorail, Westlake Center to Seattle Center
The Seattle Center Monorail is a relic of the 1962 Worlds Fair that took place in the large urban park that is now Seattle Center. The ride has survived the end of the exposition, fires, crashes, riots, and almost half a century. Its sole function is to transport passengers between the urban and retail hub of the city (Westlake Center) and its activity center (Seattle Center), a ride that takes all of two minutes.
The Monorail has two tracks, on which a "red" Monorail and a "blue" Monorail run. In slower times only one vehicle is used, but when things are busy they use both if available. The only caveat to using both is that they cannot both be in the Westlake Center station or the curve leading to it at the same time. Back in 2005, they learned the hard way that the curve brings the two Monorail vehicles too close to one another. There is only one side platform at Westlake Center. So when the outside track is used, platform extenders come out to meet the track, thus rendering the inside track useless anyhow during that time.
We left Westlake Center on the Blue Monorail at 9:30 AM, right on time. The line runs primarily over Fifth Avenue, and then it enters the grounds of Seattle Center and runs right through one exhibit, the Experience Music Project. One mile and two minutes after departure, we entered the Seattle Center station. This station has two separate tracks, so both trains can be here if necessary. We detrained and walked over to the main attraction of Seattle Center and the city's staple, the Space Needle.
Chapter 6.2: At Seattle Center
We met Alice and Patrick at Seattle Center, but they opted not to go up in the Space Needle. They would instead meet us later at King Street Station for the Tacoma run. We had allowed a few hours for the Space Needle, because we didn't know how busy it might be. There were signs at the ticket windows stating that it was foggy, so we would not have a good view. Well we were there already, so we proceeded anyhow.
Up at the top, some of the workers said that the fog usually lifts by 11 AM. With that information and having all morning at our disposal, we just stayed up there and enjoyed the views from different angles. Of course we noted where the train tracks are. It's hard to make out the tracks leading to King Street Station because of the buildings in between, but one can see to the north where the BNSF track towards Everett and Vancouver runs alongside the Puget Sound. As if on cue, the views did in fact become clearer at 11:00, so we lingered a little more getting those last photos taken. We then took the elevator down, where we were let off in the obligatory gift shop.
After we were done, the group temporarily split up. The Hammonds and Steve went back to their hotel to rest a bit. John left too, in order to change from one hotel to another. Some of us went to sit near and admire the nearby International Fountain. After killing enough time, around 1 PM we decided to start heading towards King Street Station for our eventual 3:15 train.
Chapter 6.3: Seattle Center Monorail, Seattle Center to Westlake Center
The eight of us who had remained together (Mark, Alan, Grace, Evan, Eric, Jishnu, Rick, and I) headed for the Monorail. We left Seattle Center at 1:05 PM, and by 1:07 PM we were at Westlake Center.
Here is where our afternoon began to go wrong. To get good seats we had spread out throughout the Monorail train. Thus when we got off, we went in separate directions. Alan, Mark, Grace, and I went into the mall and we were waiting for the others to arrive, but we never found them. It turned out that Eric, Evan, Piotr, and Jishnu had taken an elevator down from the Monorail station that took them directly to the platform level of the DSTT. We could not find them, and our attempts to text and call them were futile since they were already down in the tunnel and thus out of range. Eventually we took escalators within the mall and made our way down to the tunnel as well, by which time the other group was long gone. However, we soon learned that we had stumbled into the next catastrophe.
Chapter 6.4: Various means, Westlake Center to International District/Chinatown
Soon after the four of us got onto the platform to await the Central LINK, someone came and told us to evacuate the station, as there had been a fire alarm (inaudible to us) at this station. All bus and light rail service in the tunnel had been suspended. We were forced to take escalators up to the street. Once there, we did see a fire engine, but there was nobody in charge to let us know when we could return down to the platform. In fact we saw somebody enter the station and head down towards the platform, unaware there had been an evacuation. Finally somebody came and closed a gate to block entry to the station. When that happened we decided to take a surface bus to King Street Station instead. During the bus ride, we heard on its radio that tunnel service had been resumed, so had we waited a few minutes we might have been able to take the train, though there were most likely some lingering delays. The bus let us off next to the International District/Chinatown station. Since we had already tapped our ORCA cards in at Westlake for the train trip we had never taken, we needed to tap them out as if our trip had been as planned. We later learned that our other small contingent was in the station when told to evacuate. They were able to jump on what was the last bus to run through the tunnel before service was suspended.
We met up with everyone at King Street Station. Those we had lost at Westlake Center were already on the Sounder platform. We soon were joined by John, Mike, Steve, Alice, and Patrick. Lynn had decided to remain at the hotel and would meet us later for dinner.
Chapter 6.5: Sound Transit Sounder, King Street Station, Seattle to Tacoma Dome Station, Tacoma
Our group of 14 boarded the Sounder train as soon as we were able to. We were headed towards a series of rather tight connections on the Tacoma end, so it was important for us to remain on schedule. Our train departed on time from King Street Station at 3:15 PM. Although we made many more stops, this was over the same trackage most of us had traversed the previous day on the Cascades train. Our smooth southbound trip ended as we pulled off the BNSF mainline and into the Tacoma Dome station. The time was 4:10 PM; we were four minutes early! That gave us ten minutes to walk through Freighthouse Square and find the platform for the Tacoma LINK.
Chapter 6.6: Sound Transit Tacoma LINK, Tacoma Dome to Theater District
Tacoma LINK uses modern streetcars (the same model as the Portland Streetcar), rather than the light rail vehicles found on MAX or the Central LINK. The entire trip is a mere ten minutes in each direction. Our first trip left Tacoma Dome on time at 4:20 PM. We even had time mid-route to stop and await passage of another Tacoma LINK vehicle before heading into the final single track stretch; this is built into the timetable. We got to the final stop, Theater District, on time at 4:30 PM.
Chapter 6.7: Sound Transit Tacoma LINK, Theater District to Tacoma Dome
It took the operator less than a minute to change ends and begin moving us back the other way towards where we had started. One thing that speeds the whole process is that the fare it totally free, so they need not worry about fare collection or checking ORCA cards.
By 4:40 PM we had once again arrived at the Tacoma Dome stop. We had 20 minutes before our Sounder train back to Seattle would be leaving. This gave us time to mill about the platform and take a few photos. As soon as a train approached from the east and discharged its passengers, we were able to board.
Chapter 6.8: Sound Transit Sounder, Tacoma Dome Station, Tacoma to King Street Station, Seattle
At exactly 5:00 PM we were rolling slowly out of the station. An uneventful trip took us back to Seattle, where once again padding got us into Seattle's King Street Station five minutes before the scheduled arrival time of 5:58 PM. We walked over to the International District/Chinatown station, in order to catch the Central LINK once more.
Chapter 6.9: Sound Transit Central LINK, International District/Chinatown to Westlake Center
We were rolling north through the tunnel at 6:07 PM, ten minutes ahead of our itinerary. Ten minutes later, we arrived at the Westlake Center station. On the street level, we walked a block north on Fifth Avenue to the beginning of Westlake Avenue and the only currently existing service of the Seattle Streetcar, the South Lake Union Line.
Chapter 6.10: Seattle Streetcar, South Lake Union Line, Westlake Center to Fairview
In an earlier version of our itinerary, we were to have ridden the Streetcar much earlier on the day, before the Monorail and Space Needle. However, with plans coming together for dinner in the Lake Union district, and the decision to pad the morning hours in case of crowding at the Space Needle, this became our last official rail transit run of the day.
The South Lake Union Line runs every 15 minutes throughout the day, on what is about a ten minute trip. It is operated by King County Metro, the local bus authority that long predates Sound Transit. Metro is part of the ORCA system, but the streetcars have not yet been fitted to accept them. For now, just having an ORCA card on your person suffices as fare paid.
Because we were running early, we easily made the streetcar leaving at 6:29 PM, rather than the planned 6:44. The line runs along Westlake Avenue, and then in the northbound direction it transitions to Terry Avenue one block east for a bit. Once at Lake Union, both directions run in the middle of Fairview Avenue as it heads east and then northeast. Eleven minutes into our trip, we were at the final stop at Fairview Avenue/Campus Drive. This put us right across the street from our dinner location on Lake Union, Duke's Chowder House.
The 14 of us walked over to the restaurant. Meanwhile, Lynn set out from her hotel in a private car and arrived at the restaurant shortly later, topping us off at 15 people.Continued in next section