Sound Transit light rail shuts down — briefly, but completely

Damaged lines apparently were the trigger for a cascade of delays and frustration.

By Mike Lindblom / The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — Multiple light-rail breakdowns cascaded Wednesday afternoon until Sound Transit briefly announced a full shutdown about 5:30 p.m. throughout its 21-mile line.

By 6 p.m. the agency said service was restored but riders should expect long delays.

Riders tweeted photos of crowded stations or people leaving the downtown transit tunnel to catch buses on the streets. Information over public-address systems was inconsistent but some transit staff warned people to expect long delays.

Spokesman Scott Thompson said trains were being restarted, under manual operations, with extensive single tracking. Just before 5 p.m., the agency tweeted about “damaged overhead lines on the southbound tracks between Columbia City and Mount Baker stations.”

In addition to the damage, the operations center lost signal control, so workers went out to the trackway to activate switches, Thompson said about 5:45 p.m. Long stretches of the network from Angle Lake to University of Washington Station were under single-tracking, where trains take turns passing through.

Earlier, a disabled train in Rainier Valley had to be moved off the main trackway, he said.

Meanwhile, some commuter trains on the Sounder line from Seattle to Tacoma moved at reduced speed because of the heat, he said.

Temperatures reached 90 degrees, but there was no information about whether heat played a role in disrupting light-rail service. In past years, Seattle’s light rail has avoided sags in its power wires during heat waves, but sagging wires have been a common problem in Portland.

Frustrated riders tweeted remarks such as “I’d honestly rather drive and sit in traffic,” “I won’t see my 1-year-old son today,” “No announcement just a prerecorded message stating extended delays. That doesn’t tell us your customers the tax payers a thing,” and “I’m hopping into a Lyft with a few other passengers to Angle Lake. Good luck everybody!”

The agency provided no estimates as to when full service would be restored.

“We never like to see these things happen,” Thompson said, suggesting that people try buses if available. “We’re hopeful we can get everything up and running as soon as possible. We know a lot of people depend on us.”

Link ridership has grown steadily the past few years, to 75,000 average weekday boardings, which tend to increase in summer. Sound Transit is undertaking the largest transit-expansion program in the United States, with plans to spend more than $90 billion in the next quarter century to operate buses and trains and expand light rail to 116 miles total on eight corridors.

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