Friday, October 5, 2012

Riding Light Rail To/From SeaTac

Roadboy Love's It!

On a clear day flying into Sea Tac airport is breathtaking. It is the most awesome big city destination airport in the lower 48 - especially when your pilot makes an approach from the south taking a victory lap around Mt. Rainier.

Majestic Mount Rainier

But once you land, if your destination happens to be downtown Seattle, your choices for ground transportation used to be limited to rental cars, cabs, or a shuttle bus / van. 

Rental Cars:
Roadwarriors who frequent SeaTac all (justifiably) groan about SeaTac's avalanche of car rental taxes and add-on fees. In fact the crushing fees frequently exceed daily car rental rates themselves. 

Until recently rental cars were conveniently collected in the airport garage. Alas, it is now closed. Now, all rental cars are collected in the new poorly sited, poorly shuttled, overly confusing consolidated rental car facility. Using this facility adds at least 45 minutes to the beginning and end of every trip.

Similar to DC, taxi service from the airport has always been a monopoly. For decades one company operates cabs and bus shuttles from SeaTac.

Shuttles & Vans: 
Personally I hate and refuse to use blue vans.

Link Light Rail:
This brings us to a new choice for the trip downtown - Sound Transit's new "link light rail" service from SeaTac. 

Getting There:
From baggage claim you simply cross a bridge to the garage and follow the signs to the bright and clean new Sound Transit station.

SeaTac Station

Buying A Ticket:
Personally, I find the ticket machines easy to use. But the machines seem to confuse many first-timers users. 

Simply decide on an Orca pass (you probably don't), a one-way ticket, or a one-day pass. Then select your destination (you'll need to determine which station best serves your hotel before you board). You then push a plus / minus button to select the number of travelers followed by "continue" to go on to "select your payment" option. The machine seems to prefer credit cards. Everyone trying to feed it bills experiences the usual paper money in/out dollar bill shuffle. I paid $2.75 one-way from SeaTac to downtown. Remember to keep your ticket as fare checkers randomly (and frequently) board the trains to verify that riders are paying their fares. 

On Board:
The trains have space for luggage and, since the airport is the end of the line, the immaculate cars will likely be empty when you board. 

The Trip:
During peak times train depart about every 10 minutes and take about 45 minutes to make the trip downtown (i.e. about the time you'd spend at the rental car zoo).

The trains zip north to the Tukwila station then turns and runs along the Duwamish eventually crossing I-5 and proceeding into the Rainier Valley / Beach neighborhood. 

From there it runs north before entering the Mount Baker / Beacon Hill tunnel. It then emerges in SODO by the old Rainier Brewery. There are stops at the stadiums and the International District (King Street Station - Amtrak and great Asian restaurants) before the train enters the downtown bus tunnel. Once in the bus tunnel there are stops at Pioneer Square, University Street (Benaroya - Symphony Hall, the Seattle Art Museum etc.) and finally Westlake Center (Nordstrom's flagship store, Seattle's Theater District, and the Pike Place Market). 

From Westlake Center you can also ride the last original intact Alweg monorail in the world for a 95 second ride to the Seattle Center (Space Needle and Experience Music Project.)

On Board

For additional (most current) information just click here: Sound Transit

I usually get off at Pioneer Square (since one of my client's offices are close by.) I also love that I come up near the wonderful Smith Tower. Once the tallest building west of the Mississippi. If you get a chance go in and ride to the observation tower in one of its original cage elevators.

A Seattle ordinance prohibits flying anything on top of a major building except a US flag. So when Seattle's beloved Fish and Chips magnate Ivar Haglund owned the Tower he flew a fish on top and happily paid his whopping annual fines to charity.

The Smith Tower

The Interurban
Everything Old is New Again

For Seattle this is the second time around with urban rail. The first time it was the famed Interurban Railway which operated only 26 years..... 

A lifetime ago. 

Ride The Wave.

Roadboy's Travels © 2012

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