‘A tribute to vision and persistence,’ light rail debuts

A Sound Transit light-rail train pulls into Westlake Station July 18 for the service
A Sound Transit light-rail train pulls into Westlake Station July 18 for the service's inaugural ride to Tukwila. Completion of a connection to the Sea-Tac International Airport is expected in December.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Sound Transit

Sound Transit’s Central Link light-rail line officially opened July 18 with free rides for the public through most of the weekend.

Seattle Mayor and Sound Transit Chairman Greg Nickels called the system a “tribute to vision and persistence” during a July 17 preview event featuring many of the key figures who helped make the project happen despite persistent doubts and setbacks.

Among those who took part in the VIP ride were U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, state representatives Ross Hunter and Marcie Maxwell, Bellevue City Councilmember Patsi Bonincontri, and state Sen. Fred Jarrett.

Murray is credited with securing over $1 billion in federal funding to build light-rail and related transit projects in Washington.

“I know that these are smart investments that we need to be making in this region, and they are coming to fruition,” she said.

Central Link is the first in a series of regional light-rail lines that will eventually extend to the University of Washington and the Eastside via Mercer Island, Bellevue, Overlake, and Redmond. The line is 14 miles long, with 12 stations between downtown Seattle and Tukwila.

An additional stop at Sea-Tac Airport is scheduled to open in December.

Light rail has had its critics from the get-go, with opponents arguing that bus rapid transit is a cheaper, faster, and more accessible alternative.

Murray let people know where she stood during the July 17 preview event, suggesting that the system will reduce congestion, protect the environment, and help drive the economy.

“This is truly a win for everybody,” she said.

Murray later talked about the opposition she faced in D.C. after Central Link fell behind schedule and went over budget.

“There's always naysayers who use words like ‘can’t and won’t and shouldn't,’” she said. “Today we show them that we did.”

Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff was also at the preview event.

“This weekend, the talk stops and the transit begins,” he said.

Central Link runs with two-car trains that hold a maximum of 400 people and eight bikes.

Hunter said the run gave him an overall good impression.

“That ride was vastly more pleasant than a bus,” he said. “I think you'll find that people are going to love it.”

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