News

A ticket to ride

By ERICA JAHN

Staff writer

South King County and north Pierce County commuters weren’t looking for friends when they decided to give the train a try to get from their homes to work in bustling downtown Seattle.

But they found the Sounder train ride to work and back each day offered more than a smooth, quiet ride with no traffic, no back-ups and comfortable seats. They found each other.

Cindy, a rider from the Buckley area who declined to give her last name, said she and her train friends sit in the same place everyday. “And we don’t let nobody else sit in our car,” she added, laughing. “It takes an act of Congress to get to sit in our car.”

Ronda Highfell rides in the car with Cindy and works in downtown Seattle. So does D.J. Johnson. Andy, a 16-year-old University of Washington student from Sumner who declined to give his last name joins them, along with several other regulars.

Highfell said she’s been riding the train from Enumclaw to work in downtown Seattle since the first day it started running.

The train makes the commute bearable because it’s easier than driving through Interstate 5’s notorious congestion, they said. Some even based the location of new homes or jobs on the proximity to a train station.

“If I hadn’t been able to ride the bus, I wouldn’t have taken the job downtown,” Cindy said.

When Johnson moved to Puyallup, where he could afford to build himself a home, he made sure he could catch a train back into the city to work.

“One of the guiding things was a house within five minutes of the train station,” he said.

It still takes him an hour and five minutes to get from the door of his house to work, but that beats the two-hour commute each way he had before he started riding the train.

To respond to ever-increasing requests for service, Sound Transit started a third Sounder commuter train run Sept. 30. Already, the new trips, which leave the Tacoma Dome station at 6:30 a.m. and Seattle’s King Street station at 4:55 p.m., are full of passengers.

Sound Transit introduced the third run to alleviate crowding and to give riders an earlier train in the afternoon.

“Lots of people were waiting around for the train to leave at 5:10,” Sound Transit spokesman Lee Somerstein said.

After negotiating with Burlington Northern, which owns the train tracks, Sound Transit picked 4:55 for the afternoon run “because it’s our customers’ greatest desire,” he said.

The new train runs give Sounder a 38 percent increase in capacity, he added.

Since the start of the additional service, Sound Transit officials announced Sounder broke its former ridership record, with about 14,700 passengers on board during the first week of October.

Sounder ridership has almost tripled since Sound Transit began the service. During the week of Sept. 1, 2001, 5,200 people boarded the train.

Sounder trains stop at stations in Seattle, Tukwila, Kent, Auburn, Sumner, Puyallup and Tacoma. Federal Way doesn’t have a train station, but some residents here drive or take a bus to the Auburn station.

Ultimately, Sound Transit’s goal is to have trains depart at 30-minute intervals, but the current times are all Burlington Northern could give up right now, Somerstein said.

“This is what Burlington Northern could give us now and we took it to satisfy a need,” he said.

Service is expanding, but riders are hoping for more.

Cindy said she wants to see another afternoon run. “If you get sick or get out of work early, it’d be nice to be able to get home,” she said.

Johnson agreed, but jokingly added he’d like to see, “A casino and bar car. And a barista on the train, too.”

Somerstein said Sound Transit’s plan is to have nine round-trip runs between Tacoma and Seattle and six round-trip runs between Everett and Seattle.

“They’d run all day,” he said. “People are just rabid for more service.”

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