MUKILTEO — Soon the Sounder commuter trains that have blown through town since the end of 2003 will actually stop to pick up commuters.
After years of delay, construction is scheduled to start today on a $19.2 million Mukilteo Sounder station. The station is expected to load its first passenger onto a Sounder train by mid-2008.
By that time, Sound Transit hopes to expand the number of trains rolling from Everett to Seattle each weekday, giving commuters the flexibility they have clamored for since service started in December 2003. Right now, only two trains make round trips each day.
A third is expected to be added next month, said Linda Robson, a spokeswoman for Sound Transit. A fourth train may be added around the time Mukilteo station opens.
The agency had hoped to get the fourth train rolling by the end of 2007, but that deadline has slipped into 2008 because permits for Burlington Northern Santa Fe to improve its tracks are delayed.
Still, things are looking up, agency supporters say.
Add the two new trains, a station in Mukilteo and improvements to the Edmonds Sounder station, and Sounder is poised for a wave of new interest by commuters, said Mark Olson, vice chairman of the Sound Transit board of directors and an Everett city councilman.
“I think you’ll see a dramatic increase in ridership,” Olson said.
Sounder struggled to attract riders when service started, mainly because the single train offered didn’t give commuters enough flexibility.
It also suffered from other rough stretches in the early going, including a two-year delay in service and a budget that ballooned to $385 million, triple the original estimate.
Its early problems were linked to underestimating how important the Everett-to-Seattle rail line is to the freight rail company Burlington Northern Santa Fe, officials said.
Original plans called for 12 weekday round-trip trains supporting 7,200 boardings a day by 2010. Tough negotiations with the railroad resulted in just four daily runs.
Sound Transit revised its ridership estimates, suggesting that there will be 2,100 boardings per day by 2010.
Ridership gradually has been climbing and is now up to 835 boardings per day, Robson said.
Mukilteo, which struggles with traffic and parking problems connected to the Washington State Ferries run to Whidbey Island, can’t wait for Mukilteo’s Sounder station to open, Mayor Joe Marine said.
“We’re excited to be able to have the train,” Marine said. “It should have been up and running by now.”
He said Mukilteo residents will use it to get to Seattle, but the bigger benefit is to get Whidbey Island commuters onto a train and off city streets.
Long lines of ferry traffic grind Mukilteo to a halt each time a ferry empties out, he said. Worse, many Whidbey Island residents have taken to parking their cars in Mukilteo so they can ferry over to the island on foot, avoiding steep car-and-driver fares.
When Mukilteo Station opens, the ferry schedule will be adjusted to help riders connect with a train, said Joy Goldenberg, a spokeswoman for the ferry system.
The state is planning to move the ferry terminal next to the Sounder station, but that plan is delayed and not settled, Goldenberg said.
The reasons for the hold up are many. They include new state requirements for fiscal accountability, a delay in transferring needed land from the U.S. Air Force to the Port of Everett, and a lack of state funding.
Concerns also have been raised about American Indian cultural artifacts that have been found at the site. No human remains have been found, but many tribal experts expect that they will turn up if the project moves forward.
Construction on a new terminal was supposed to start in 2008, but now can’t start until at least 2011. The schedule depends on completion of an environmental impact statement, which has been delayed.
When it opens next year, the Mukilteo Sounder station will have just one loading platform on Mukilteo waterfront side, Robson said. About 70 parking spots will be provided.
A second platform and a pedestrian bridge across the railroad tracks are scheduled to open in mid-2009. More parking is planned, but it’s not clear how that will take shape.