Thursday, January 20, 2011

It’s Good to Have Backup

Winter rains often bring mudslides down on Washington’s waterfront railroad tracks. Sound Transit’s Northline Sounder train service has been canceled several days in the past month due to slides between Everett and Seattle. For safety reasons, passenger service is not allowed through an area of mudslides for 48 hours, even if the tracks can be cleared before then.

When Northline Sounder service is canceled, Community Transit buses to Seattle help take up the slack. Last week we put 60-foot buses on trips from Edmonds and Mukilteo that usually have 40-footers – and some trips carried 75% more passengers than usual. I heard from a fellow passenger that local buses to Everett Station have also been more crowded when Sounder is canceled - Sound Transit buses from Everett are an obvious backup for train refugees.

Conversely, Sound Transit train service can be a good backup to bus service on I-5. When trains run, they usually don’t get stuck in traffic (not always – sometimes those pesky freight trains get priority). Trains also don’t get stuck in snow.

That’s why I got down to Everett Station the snowy Tuesday before Thanksgiving for my trip home for the holidays. I took Sounder to get to Link Light Rail and SeaTac Airport rather than my usual bus. I guessed correctly that I-5 would be a mess. The train was delayed about 20 minutes to “de-ice,” but it was far more reliable than road transportation that day.

The moral of the story is, our region benefits greatly from a robust transportation network. If one mode fails, we have backup.

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