New Train Picks Up Steam -- Experimental Commuter-Rail Service Gains Passengers With Every Run

Regional Transit Authority officials figure their experimental train service to Seattle from Everett and Edmonds is getting more popular by the minute.

Yesterday's first train carried about 70 passengers, but numbers increased to more than 100 an hour later and 137 on the first train north last night.

"I have been waiting for this for years," said Mike Jacobs of Edmonds whose law offices are in Seattle. Jacobs said he moved his offices to Pioneer Square in anticipation of train service.

"It doesn't make any sense to drive," he said.

Scott McLean rode the train both directions yesterday but said he wouldn't become a regular passenger unless the train could better his 45-minute commute on the bus.

"I'd like to see it work," McLean said.

Yesterday was the first day of a two-week experiment for commuters between Everett and Seattle. The RTA will try a similar exhibition service between Seattle and Tacoma, with one stop in Kent. Dates for that trial are Feb. 21-24 and Feb. 27-March 3.

The rail program is part of the Regional Transit Authority's effort to build a rail-and-bus transit system in Pierce, King and Snohomish counties.

On Saturday, the trains operated between Everett and Tacoma, taking an estimated 350 basketball fans to a Seattle SuperSonics game at the Tacoma Dome.

The commuter rail is one part of the proposed $6.7 billion transit system to be voted on March 14 in the urban areas of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.

The commuter rail is only a small part of that system. Although it would run 81 miles between Lakewood, south of Tacoma, and Everett, it is projected to carry about 18,000 passengers daily (9,000 round trips) by the year 2010.

Light-rail trains - which are similar to trolleys - are expected to provide 169,000 daily boardings in the same period. And express bus routes, also expected to begin about three years after the RTA is approved, would provide about 23,000 boardings daily, according to the RTA.

RTA executive director Tom Matoff sat in the upper deck of one of the two-deck train cars yesterday and explained that while the commuter run had spurred some excitement, a true train service would be integrated with bus systems so commuters could be dropped off at the station and one ticket purchase would take them on their entire trip.

Matoff also noted that once the train was in service, there also would be stations in Ballard and downtown Seattle.

"The strength of the service wouldn't just be for downtown commuters," he said, "but for people going to many different places."

The commuter rides are free in a demonstration financed by $1.5 million from Washington's settlement of an antitrust suit against oil companies and $1 million from the Federal Transportation Authority.

Bob White, manager of the commuter-rail operations for the RTA, said the agency has learned a lot of what it would have to do to run a train service by getting the trial program started.

He said the RTA had to go out and find equipment, sign maintenance and operations contracts and find liability insurance just as it would with a full-time service.

"There are fairly unique safety considerations," he said.

The RTA anticipates that its full-time commuter-rail service would have 17 stations. Instead of two trains daily in each direction, White said the RTA service would begin with about 30 trips a day and grow to about 55.

For the rest of this week and Monday through Friday of next week, trains are to leave Everett at 6 and 7 a.m., leave Edmonds at 6:29 and 7:29 a.m., and arrive at Seattle's King Street Station at about 7:08 and 8:08 a.m.

Yesterday's first trip took 62 minutes and 30 seconds, according to Matoff's stopwatch.

The return trips will leave Seattle at 4:10 and 5:30 p.m., arrive in Edmonds at 4:49 and 6:09 p.m. and get to Everett at 5:18 and 6:38 p.m.

For the southern service, trains will leave Tacoma at 6 and 7 a.m., leave Kent at 6:34 and 7:34 a.m., and arrive in Seattle at 7 and 8 a.m. For the return trip, trains will leave Seattle at 4:30 and 5:30 p.m., arrive in Kent at 4:59 and 5:59, and wind up in Tacoma at 5:34 and 6:34 p.m.

Trains are also scheduled for eight other Sonics games in Tacoma. The trains will operate between Everett, Seattle and Tacoma on Feb. 20, 22, 24 and 27, and between Seattle and Tacoma only on Feb. 14 and March 6, 14 and 16.

There is a $10 charge for the Sonics trains.