South Sounder train. (Sound Transit)

Sound Transit is adding new trips to the South Sounder line later in September. Two additional roundtrips will be added to better address crowding and fill out the schedule. One of the round trips will provide a reverse-commute service during the early afternoon peak hours. Collectively, the new trips will represent an 18% increase in total service on South Sounder line with 13 daily roundtrips. The new trips will come online Monday, September 25th just as local colleges, such as the University of Washington, begin their first week of fall classes.

Benefits of Service Change

A morning trip from will be added from Lakewood allowing the period from 4:50am to 7:50am to have trains arriving between Tacoma and Seattle as frequent as every 20 minutes. The two added afternoon trips from Seattle will boost frequency to a similar level between Seattle and Tacoma. The added trips will mean some adjustments to scheduled to help better fill out the service pattern. Trip times generally will only move a few minutes in one direction or the other to fit service. The primary goal of the changes is to provide additional capacity and reduce crowding on some trains that are brimming with passengers.

New South Sounder schedule: red is existing service, blue is new trips.
New South Sounder schedule: red is existing service, blue is new trips.

Sound Transit says that the most crowed trains are the 5:46am Lakewood-Seattle and 4:12pm Seattle-Lakewood train. The new trips will hopefully make inroads in reducing crowding while enticing new riders.

The new trips and revised schedule will bring three other key changes. One is that the new morning trip from Seattle will provide a reverse-commute trip to Lakewood on Sounder. Second, the last southbound trip from Seattle will depart at 6:30pm. The current train leaves at 6.20pm, so this will allow a few extra minutes for passengers to shop, wrap up work, or sip on a cocktail before heading home. A third change will reduce a service gap for Seattle-Lakewood trips in the afternoon.

Trains for this southbound city pair only make up seven of the nine afternoon trains today. Right now, the service gap between the first and second afternoon trips stands at 100 minutes–nearly two hours. The new schedule will bring this down to 40 minutes by adjusting the trip time to Lakewood. However, the adjustment means the Lakewood-bound train will depart slightly later in the afternoon. To continue to provide good service earlier to Lakewood, connecting express bus will be provided via Puyallup (Route 580) to make the earlier service viable south of Tacoma.


Potential Drawbacks of Service Change

However, the revised schedules and added trips have some drawbacks, depending upon what riders may be accustom to:

  • One drawback is that the revised schedule will have all northbound trains during the morning peak arriving in Seattle before 9am. The last trip will arrive at King Street Station at 8:52am whereas the last is 9:09am today until the midday train at 11:52am.
  • Another drawback is that some Everett-Tacoma commuters on Sounder may find that their connecting train options become less convenient. One such connection is the 5:45am train from Everett bound for Seattle. The train arrives at King Street Station at 6:44am with a connecting train to Tacoma at 6:50am. With the adjusted schedule, the next Sounder train from King Street will not be until 7:55am. Adding to the problem is that the similar evening trip is only about eight hours following the morning trip meaning that most commuters wouldn’t be able to get a full workday in. That said, if commuters can be flexible with a later morning departure from Everett, such at the 6:45am Everett-Seattle train, the revised connection may be mildly viable.

Longer Midday Trainsets

In addition to new trips, Sound Transit will add cars to a midday service that the transit agency launched last year. The train operates as the 1507 and 1518 running during the 2pm and 10am hours respectively. Demand for the two-car train has been averaging 350 boardings, which the agency reports as exceeding expectations. Added cars should help provide more capacity for more riders.

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Article Author

Stephen is a professional urban planner in Puget Sound with a passion for sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He is especially interested in how policies, regulations, and programs can promote positive outcomes for communities. With stints in great cities like Bellingham and Cork, Stephen currently lives in Seattle. He primarily covers land use and transportation issues and has been with The Urbanist since 2014.