Trains will start running every 10 minutes between 5:30am and 9:30pm starting on April 27. (Ryan Packer)

2 Line trains will start running between Bellevue and Redmond in advance of full service into Seattle expected in 2025.

After months of anticipation, Sound Transit announced Thursday that it will begin service on its brand new East Link light rail line between South Bellevue and Redmond Technology Center on Saturday, April 27. The 2 Line grand opening comes after construction defects delayed the opening of the agency’s first light rail line east of Lake Washington by about a year, with full service crossing the lake and tying in with the existing 1 Line through Seattle still at least a year away.

The 10am ribbon-cutting will take place at Downtown Bellevue Station, which is expected to be among the highest ridership stations on the Eastside, steps from the existing transit connections at Bellevue Transit Center. On Thursday, Sound Transit Board Chair Dow Constantine and Systems Expansion Committee Chair Claudia Balducci unveiled a countdown clock at the station: 71 days until passengers will be able to grab trains at Overlake Village or Wilburton.

Redmond Technology Station will remain the northern terminus for the 2 Line until an extension into Downtown Redmond and Marymoor Village starts service in 2025 as well. (Ryan Packer)

“We’ve been calling this 6.6-mile segment of Sound Transit’s new 2 Line a ‘starter line’, which makes it sound modest,” Balducci, a King County Councilmember, said Thursday. “But when you think about what it took to get here, what it will mean to riders, what it promises for the future, it is anything but.”

It was Balducci who brought up the idea of starting light rail service independent of construction delays on the I-90 bridge in August of 2022, a feat that is only possible due to the siting of Sound Transit’s newest operations and maintenance facility on the east side of the bridge in Bellevue’s Spring District. Alignment debates delayed East Link’s timeline by two years in its own right, even before construction delays piled on

Line 1 and Line 2 will operate in parallel in 2024, but they will connect in 2025 once Line 2 crosses the lake. The 1 Line will extend to Lynnwood in fall 2024. (Sound Transit)

“Years ago, there were those who said that it couldn’t be done,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said of light rail service to the Eastside, which was initially approved by voters in 2008. “That we should be prioritizing other modes of getting around… that self-driving cars were going to be the solution, so we didn’t need to do that. That communities outside of Seattle were too auto-oriented and that folks couldn’t or wouldn’t use high capacity transit. Well, those naysayers were wrong.”

Trains will run every 10 minutes from 5:30am to 9:30pm, with two car trains operating on the line to meet the relatively modest demand that is expected, compared to full 2 Line service planned for 2025. But Sound Transit expects about 6,000 people per day to ride the disconnected segment, nothing to sneeze at. The agency projects about 50,000 daily boardings on East Link by 2030.

The eight stations that make up the abbreviated 2 Line take just 17 minutes to travel between, significantly shortening existing bus trips that provide the same connections. (Sound Transit)

“Because of all this great work, a vision will now become a reality,” Balducci said. “And while the form the vision takes is trains on tracks, the soul of the vision is the connection to opportunity that we are creating. It’s the parks and trails, housing and commercial and employment centers that are weaved into the light rail network with pedestrian bridges, sidewalks, scramble intersections — right behind you — and new parking and bus connections.”

Earlier this month, Sound Transit provided additional details about the grand opening festivities at a meeting of the Eastside Transportation Partnership. Ahead of the ribbon cutting, there will be special shuttles to ferry passengers to downtown Bellevue, which has tens of thousands of (mostly paid) parking stalls, from South Bellevue Station, which has a 1,500-stall garage that was built as part of the station. But all eight stations will be activated following the official start of service at 10am, with riders who aren’t able to make it to Downtown Bellevue right at 10am still able to participate in the celebrations.

Sound Transit’s existing network of express buses will operate throughout the existence of the abbreviated 2 Line, so riders can catch a Route 550 bus to Downtown Bellevue or a Route 545 bus to Redmond once trains start running. It won’t be until full 2 Line service across Lake Washington that Sound Transit and King County Metro completely reorient bus service on the Eastside to take full advantage of light rail service.

Holding the grand opening at Downtown Bellevue makes sense for practical purposes, but it also packs a symbolic punch, with the location of Bellevue’s most central station subjected to years of debate and acrimony within the city over a decade ago. Disagreement over whether to tunnel underneath downtown Bellevue, and who should pay for it, and where the station should ultimately be located persisted for years. The saga was reminiscent of the current debates over station locations in Seattle’s South Lake Union and Chinatown-International District neighborhoods.

Even though many will still wish Downtown Bellevue Station was in an even more central location, the fight is long in the past, with light rail a central element in the City’s proposed growth strategy, which seeks to add around 100,000 additional homes over the next two decades.

Downtown Bellevue’s station will be the site for the ribbon cutting for East Link’s abbreviated segment, with events happening at every other station on the line. (Ryan Packer)

“I think that light rail is really delivering on the promise that we made to our communities,” Bellevue Mayor Lynne Robinson said. “That you would have multimodal transportation choices, that you would be able to get around in a sustainable way, that you could live without a car in a city like Bellevue and still get to work, get to the places that you want to be. When I look around here, I see these tall buildings, and I see this vibrant city; I really credit Sound Transit.”

While everyone will undoubtedly still be anxious for full service between Seattle and the Eastside to start, the launch of the 2 Line service that is available still marks an incredible milestone for the region, and is one worth celebrating.

Article Author

Ryan Packer lives in the Summit Slope neighborhood of Capitol Hill and has been writing for the The Urbanist since 2015. They report on multimodal transportation issues, #VisionZero, preservation, and local politics. They believe in using Seattle's history to help attain the vibrant, diverse city that we all wish to inhabit. Ryan's writing has appeared in Capitol Hill Seattle Blog, Bike Portland, and Seattle Bike Blog, where they also did a four-month stint as temporary editor.