Seattle's Link Light Rail waiting at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

Seattle's Link Light Rail waiting at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

For those of you in many other parts of the world, talking about public transportation options from the airport is not news. For us in Seattle, finally getting a public transportation option, other than the bus, is huge. In many regards Seattle (my home town) is a very progressive city, except when it comes to public transportation. We have tried many different times, but seem to get blocked at every turn.

A monorail was built for the 1962 World’s Fair and it has run almost the same 1.2 mile route with two stations since then. In 2002 Seattle voters approved expanding the monorail 14 miles in the first of five new lines running through the Seattle area. This was a real attempt to give Seattle another public transportation option other than buses. Unfortunately in 2005, voters wanted the project terminated. The monorail still runs on its same 1.2 mile path, but definitely does not provide the public transportation that Seattle needs.

Seattle’s light rail has  had a difficult history as well, but luckily they were able to work out the problems.  Link Light Rail started in 1996 when voters approved an increase in taxes for a 25 mile light rail system. Dogged by environmental and financial issues as well as people from the communities affected complaining, the first part of the system was not opened until July 2009 and even then, it didn’t connect to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA).

Seeing the planes while leaving the airport is always fun.

Seeing the planes while leaving the airport is always fun.

In December 2009, Link Light Rail finally connected SEA to downtown Seattle and provided a new, environmentally friendly and cheap option for passengers. During my recently flight with Virgin America I decided to check out getting from the airport to my house in north Seattle using only public transportation (ok, I didn’t really decide, but no one could pick me up, so I “decided” to take the light rail). I have never done this before and was excited to see how it works.

When doing research on my trip, I noticed was how cheap it was. Only $2.50 to get from SEA to downtown Seattle. To compare, it would cost $32.00 to ride in a shared airport shuttle and over $50 to take a taxi (and of course returning the favor if a friend gets you). Not bad. The whole ride from SEA to downtown only took me 36 minutes, which it takes about 20 minutes in a car (saying there is no traffic, which is very rare). Even to get all the way to my house on the light rail and bus it cost $6, where it would be $45 with shuttle van and $80 for a cab, what a deal!

Finding the train at the airport was easy with the signs, but it was quite the walk to get there. Paying was a little complex at first, but there are machines you can use cash or credit card, choose what stop you want to go to  and pay the proper amount. There is no one to check your ticket to enter the train, but about half way to downtown, three fare enforcement officers came on board to confirm we were all paid up.

The outside of the Link Light Rail.

The outside of the Link Light Rail.

The trains are new and comfortable to ride in. I was surprised not to see any ads in side the car I was in and asked Bruce Gray,  a spokes person for Sound Transit (who runs the Link Light Rail), about the ads. He told me via email that many trains do have ads inside and they will have their, “first wrapped train with advertising on the outside should be rolling this week.”

One thing I was hoping for was a park and ride lot for airport use, where I could park my car, maybe pay a cheap fee and take the train to the airport. They have one station with 600 parking spots, but a maximum of parking for 24 hours. Gray told me that in May the light rail saw 21,700 boardings per day and has been steadily growing since the start of its operation.

Since I haven’t had too much experience riding the new train system, I talked to a Seattle native, Shannon (@SEAsundodger) who has ridden the train about once per month since it opened and she loves it. “I love everything about the light rail, I live in Seattle proper (Interbay/Magnolia to be exact) and I don’t own a car. So public transportation is near and dear to my heart,” she told me. She hasn’t had any issues with riding the light rail and is very much looking forward to the expansion. When I asked how it feels flying by people stuck in Seattle traffic while going to the airport, she said, “It is sweet when it’s rush hour while you’re headed to the airport, and there you are, zipping along on the train.” I could easily see it being quicker taking the train when traffic really gets backed up.

I love Seattle and the majority of people in Seattle, but there have always been people complaining anytime we have tried to move forward with public transportation and the light rail is no exception. But this time, I think the positives are outweighing the negatives and the light rail will continue to grow to the north and to the east. Hopefully some day it will reach where I live and I can easily hop on the light rail to the airport. Until then I have a feeling I might be taking the bus and train more often!

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me: [email protected]

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36 Comments
Chris J

This is so much better system than a monorail (don’t get me started on what a collossal waste that was). The first time I rode it was the no pants lighrail ride (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-kNAzvOjTNM)– look for me. 🙂 I have used it to the airport on a number of occasions. It is less than 2 blocks from my office, which makes it convenient for heading out from the office or back into the office, and there’s a direct connection to my bus as well.

This is primarily for commuting, but also great for travelers, I just would like to have seen a luggage rack somewhere on at least one car of the train.

The one downfall is that it isn’t very useful when you have a 6:30am flight. David, what are you doing early morning on the 10th of November?

Ha! 🙂

I think this system is much better than the monorail and I would imagine cheaper. Was that you in the green shorts? I remember hearing about this, what was the reasoning behind it? Awesome video!

David

DavidBrown(REALLY)

Wasn’t Seattle the setting for the movie “Singles” where the lead character was trying to put together a super-train for public transportation? I recall the mayor shot that down? Seems movies may become reality up there??

Hmmm, I haven’t heard of that, but will have to check it out! I am up for anything to improve transportation here!

David

The new light rail service between downtown Seattle and Seatac airport is fantastic and I use it whenever I can.

However, I have one major complaint – the light rail service needs to operate during all hours that the airport operates. The means the first trains need to arrive by about 4:30am and the last ones need to depart until at least 1am. My 11:45pm arriving flight was 30 minutes late, and that means I missed the last train – and bus service is extremely difficult and limited now that light rail provides most service.

The situation is particularly deplorable on Sundays when the first light rail train does not arrive Seatac until 7am, and the last one leaves just after 11pm. That simply does not cover the hours of operation of the airport.

If that means the bus tunnel needs to remain open longer hours, so be it. Let’s do it.

I agree, but I think it will just be in a matter of time. It isn’t cost effective for them to run the rail when a few people are riding, but as more people realize it exists and works awesome, more will ride and they can increase the hours. Ridership should also increase when routes to the eastside and the u-dist are added. I know I mostly write about airlines, but any transportation gets me excited, especially in my hometown!

David

I sincerely hope we continue to get mass transportation, but I DO NOT want it to be light rail. It needs to be faster (mag lev, bullets trains, whatever). The reason it needs to be faster is because it needs to entice people to get out of their cars.

The price of gas isn’t high enough for people to leave their cars on cost alone. The reason cost isn’t enough is because of the flexibility a car offers. However, if I could get to work in 10-15 minutes on a 150+ MPH bullet train with just a couple stops vs. 45 min in my car, guess how I’m going to get to work? That 30-35 minutes savings is just as good the flexibility of my car.

Hey Dan!

I hope this is just the first step in Seattle getting mass transportation. If it can be proven to people that mass transit is a worthy cause, they might be willing to spend more on it.

Take that with a rise in fuel prices (which I am in support of), then hopefully there will be more of a push to mass transit.

David

Dan,

Maglev & Bullet trains are fine things to have; but not as a replacement of light rail. Maglev & bullet trains are what one builds to go for example from Seattle to Portland, Oregon where you have room to accelerate and decelerate. A train that goes 200 MPH is useless within the city of Seattle. You can’t get up to 200 mph as there isn’t enough room between the stops; at least not without killing all the passengers with excessive G-forces. And a train with only 2 stops within the city wouldn’t be practical for most people.

If faster within the city is the goal, then heavy rail (subways & el’s) is the answer, not a bullet train. We must use the right tool for the right job as it were. But heavy rail also costs considerably more to build than does light rail. The defeated monorail system would also have been faster than light rail.

AlanB, I’m well aware of how mag lev and bullet trains work, thanks. I put whatever in there as my “etc”. I *never* suggested replacing the current link rail system with a 200+ MPH system in the city. You will notice however, that other countries have 100+ MPH systems with relatively short travel distances (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-speed_rail#High-speed_railways_by_region). So, a train from Olympia to Everett with a stop in Tacoma and Seattle with a 100+ MPH train is easily feasible.

The main reason I supported the monorail was because of its speed. The light rail is simply too slow. I can easily beat it from Tukwila to Seattle even if it didn’t stop on any of its routes and I went the speed limit the whole time.

Anyway, thanks for taking the focus of my post and completely distorting it by focusing on 2 terms I put in parenthesis and applying it to small city stops instead of the major length of the light rail route (Tukwila to Seattle). I never said faster within the city was the goal. Rail is already pretty fast in the city because you don’t get stopped at traffic lights every 500 ft.

Is it possible to take the Light Rail service from the SEATAC airport to the Smith Cove Terminal for Holland Cruise Lines, even if a transfer to a bus is necessary? …or would a shuttle be the most economical transportation to the port?

I hope someone will answer your question, since I need to know exactly the same thing. We’ll take Light Rail from SEATAC into downtown Seattle, but have no idea how to get from downtown to Terminal 91 – Smith Cove – for our Holland-America ship. Any thoughts??? We’re cutting corners to take this cruise, so if a bus is available, we’d prefer that over a pricey shuttle. Do the fancy downtown hotels offer any FREE shuttle service to Pier 91, or am I a dreamer?

Hey Linda!

Use the Metro Trip Planner: http://tripplanner.kingcounty.gov/cgi-bin/itin_page.pl?resptype=U

It will tell you what to do after you get downtown 🙂

David

Great review and very useful for my impending trip to SEA. Quick question for anyone in the know: Is it reasonable on a Friday evening for two of us to take some luggage onto the train from SEA to downtown? Basically, will I inconvenience anyone with our 2 collective bags of luggage? Thanks and this kind of writing is much appreciated for a traveller like myself.

Hey Jon!

I am going to guess no. Mostly since the line starts and ends at the airport, so most of the people getting on will have bags.

David

Is there someone who lives my the Seattle Airport that can do me a favor?????

jon Sharpe

I would love to try out the light rail from the airport to downtown or even to the University District… but for the life of me, I cannot find a map!

Hey Jon,

As of right now, downtown Seattle is as far north as you can get on the light rail. But there are the 171, 172 and 173 express buses that will quickly take you from downtown to the u-district.

David

Barbara

Now that greyline is shuttle express, the price to get to pier 52 to bainbride island more than doubled.
I am willing to try the rail, I do not know how to get to pier 52 with luggage.
Do you know how far it is, and would a taxi be expensive?
Also, I have a shoulder replacement and need to be careful with it.
Is there a cheap way to get to the ferry from the airport?
Appreciate any help ,I will be traveling July 4th.
Thanks, Barbara

I get pleasure from, result in I discovered exactly what I used to be taking a look for. You’ve ended my 4 day lengthy hunt! God Bless you man. Have a great day. Bye

I am planning on using the light rail to get from SeaTac to the King Stattion. I will have 2 kids and suitcases with me. Can anyone tell me if they have had safety concerns riding the light rail during daytime hours?

Hey Dawn,

I never felt unsafe at all while riding the light rail. There were a lot of other people who were riding it as well. I felt safer on the rail than I do riding the bus in Seattle, which is pretty safe as it is.

David

David,

I am planning to use Light Rail on my next trip to the airport, but I have concerns about how far I will need to walk with my luggage from the train station to the airport terminal. Is it a far walk?

Hey Kari,

Depending on where you arrive, it can be a pretty long walk. The light rail is on the north side of the airport, so if you come in on the south, it will be a ways to go. If you have a lot of bags, could be worthwhile to have a skycap help you.

David

We are com g to Seattle and staying close to Pikes market where would we get off the transit train. I looked online and I think Westlake but maybe there is something closer?

We will be flying to Seattle in a couple of weeks on US Airways which will land at concourse A. Can you tell how far it will be to walk to the Link Light Rail? I am concerned about the distance with luggage and etc..

Hey Gael,

It is a long haul. A is about as far away as you can get, but there is a tram that will run from the south to north end of the terminal.

Map: http://www.portseattle.org/Sea-Tac/Maps-and-Directions/Pages/Terminal-Overview.aspx

Light rail: http://www.portseattle.org/Sea-Tac/Maps-and-Directions/Pages/Terminal-to-Link-Light-Rail.aspx

Be careful since those maps are not oriented the same. Once you get to the north side of the terminal, you need to go into the parking garage and on the north side of the garage is the light rail.

If you have quite a bit of luggage, probably one of those smartcarts might be worth the few bucks.

Good luck and enjoy Seattle!

David

I’ll gladly use the light rail–but how to transfer to a bus to 39th ave and 82nd st ?

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I am arriving on Amtrak from Vancouver BC at 10 pm. Is it far to catch light rail to SEA? and safe that time of night?
Thanks

Hey Tom,

I am sorry, but I do not have the answer for you. I have never transitioned between the two, nor taken the Amtrak to the Seattle station. If you find it is too far, but have both Uber and Lyft services in Seattle, as well as I have heard there are taxis waiting when the train gets in.

Enjoy Seattle!

David

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HOW FAR is it from Link to Terminal???
I know it takes a while, but how long exactly, or how many feet?
Metro won’t put on their trip planner. Maybe they don’t want to say how far and how long.
I sure don’t recommend this to my elder friends.

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