Sound Transit's Tacoma Link light rail system begins operation on August 22, 2003.

  • By Alyssa Burrows
  • Posted 1/26/2004
  • Essay 5642

On August 22, 2003, Sound Transit’s Tacoma Link, the state’s first modern light rail system, has its inaugural run in downtown Tacoma. The line is 1.6 miles long and runs from S 9th Street in the Downtown Theater District through the Business District, and ends at the Tacoma Dome Station, where passengers can board a northbound Sounder train, or a Pierce Transit, Sound Transit Regional Express, or a Greyhound bus in any direction. It is the first completed line of the 1996 Pierce, King, and Snohomish county voter-approved $3.9 billion Sound Transit regional bus and rail plan.

Destination Downtown

The Tacoma Link line construction began two years ago. In 1996, the project cost was estimated at $50 million -- it ended up costing $80.4 million -- but it did come in under the revised budget adopted for it in 2000. Officials said about $12 million of the increase is inflation, and the rest includes add-ons since the approval vote, such as adding sidewalks (Lindblom). Sound Transit funding helped the City of Tacoma adopt a city planning and zoning code -- known as Destination Downtown -- to encourage development around the light rail area and to help revitalize Tacoma’s Downtown. The train runs every 10 minutes, 14 hours a day and every 20 minutes for 10 hours on Sundays. The ride is free

The line begins at South 9th in the Theater District, stops at South 15th at the Convention Center (currently under construction), then pulls into Union Station at South 19th before arriving at the Tacoma Dome Station on 25th Street between D and E streets. Residences, stores, and restaurants are being developed in the area around 25th Street, and parking garages at the Tacoma Dome Station have spaces for 2,400 cars. Union Station is next to the University of Washington’s Tacoma Branch Campus, the Washington State History Museum, the U.S. Courthouse, the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, the Museum of Glass, and the future new Tacoma Art Museum, which is slated to open in May 2004.

Community ideas and input influenced the design and artwork of the stations, and a maintenance barn is included in the line to service, maintain, and store the train cars overnight. A planned double-track configuration at 25th Street was switched to a single track to accommodate community concerns over impacts to parking and traffic.

Fireworks and Confetti

The three trains for the line were built by Czech-Republic-based company -- Skoda Dopravani Technica -- the same company that manufactures cars for Portland, Oregon’s streetcar system. The cars are 66 feet long, 8.1 feet wide and weigh 61,729 pounds each. They are powered by overhead electric wires, and cost $9 million, including spare parts, taxes, and shipping. Each car can operate as a single car, with driving cabs at either end so the cars can change direction without turning around, and each can hold up to 56 passengers (30 seated and 26 standing).

The Tacoma Link light rail system runs at street level at posted street speed limits (25 miles per hour). Sensors in the tracks detect the coming train and turn the signals red to stop the cars at intersections until the train passes. The trains’ midsections are low and at the stops, metal bridgeplates slide out for easy boarding of strollers and wheelchair riders. The cars are heated and air-conditioned and have space available for bicycle storage.

City officials marked Tacoma Link’s inaugural run with fireworks and confetti. More than 3,000 people rode the train that day, and everything went as planned except for a delay in one of the first trips because a truck had parked on the tracks. “This is a delicious taste of what’s going to be delivered 40 miles north of here, said King County executive Ron Sims, also chairman of the board of Sound Transit (Hadley). He spoke referring to the 14-mile “Central Link” running from the University District to the vicinity of Seattle Tacoma International Airport, which is now (2004) scheduled to open in 2009.


Sound Transit website, accessed January 23, 2004, (; Jane Hadley, “Tacoma’s Light Rail -- 1.6 Historic Miles,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 23, 2003, p. B-1; Mike Lindblom, “Sound Transit Starts Small with Tacoma Link System,” The Seattle Times, August 23, 2003.

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