FAST FACTS

RAIL LINES
  • Empire Builder
  • Cascades
  • Sound Transit
  • Sounder commuter rail
POPULATION

704,352

RIDERSHIP

652,742

 

HISTORY

In the early days of railroading, the announcement of a new line was treated with the municipal fervor that accompanies Amazon’s HQ 2 today. Seattle in the mid-nineteenth century was still a relatively small town with big ambitions, and the powers-that-were in the city decided they needed a railroad in order to achieve their aspirations. As a result, they spent decades bidding for a role as the Western terminus of the Northern Pacific railroad, offering the company lucrative land deals if they chose Seattle. However, time and time again they were spurned. The first signs of Seattle’s role as a rail hub came when Northern Pacific eventually bought a small regional line that went through the city in 1892. Ironically, it was a connection to Canada that brought the city national interest, and not a transcontinental line like the original city leaders hoped.
Northern Pacific and Great Northern joined forced to create the King Street Station that is used today. At the time it opened, it replaced an earlier station on the beachfront and brought trains in via a new tunnel. Its iconic clock tower was inspired by the Piazza San Marco in Venice. When Amtrak took over passenger operations in 1971, the station was dingy and drab, and a drop ceiling was installed, hiding beautiful architectural ornamentation. Thankfully, the station is restored today. King Street has recently become a hub for intermodalism, due no doubt in part to its sister Union Station just a couple blocks away.
Sound Transit, a relatively unique operation that essentially coordinates transit plans between the Seattle metro area’s three largest counties, is responsible for this interest in intermodalism. When transit began in Seattle, it was through unique “bus tunnels” that were built with enough space for trains to eventually be put in place but were originally used only for bus routes. Now, however, trains are becoming a growing mode of transportation in Seattle, and with the recent passage of the Sound Transit 3 plan (ST3) a lot more is on the way.

 

CHALLENGES

FINDING STEADY REVENUE

Increasingly over the years, the Sound Transit has come to realize that the biggest source of revenue in transit lies in real estate surrounding stations, and has worked hard to find ways to maximize the revenue it can take in from the value it creates. Planning new developments in areas like Capitol Hill has taken years as Sound Transit attempts to create a mixed-use intermodal hub while trying to avoid completely changing the makeup of the areas it represents.

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