The previous two posts detailed how Sound Transit’s failure to consider two-way bus only lanes on the I-90 roadway has led to an East Link light rail system that will be a transportation debacle for the entire east side. This post explains why the East Link decision will also exacerbate their second major blunder; the financial debacle from their failure to terminate Central Link at the University Station.
ST is currently in the initial stages of boring the tunnel portion of their Central Link extension between the University Station and Northgate. From there, the track extension will run at street level to Lynnwood, a total of 12.8 miles from the University adding 25.6 miles to both the Central Link and East Link routes. Both extensions are part of the Prop 1 package voters approved in 2008.
Current Central Link schedules show 118 trains operate daily between SeaTac and downtown Seattle with nearly all of the trains having 2 cars or 236 car trips. Presumably ST will adjust that schedule to match up with the 121 daily trains in their recent East Link operating plan. The East Link plan assumes 4-car trains that will add 484 car trips daily to and from Lynnwood for a total of 720 cars daily.
The Lynnwood extension nearly doubles the route lengths for both the East Link and Central Link trains. Thus both routes will require commensurate increases in the number of trains and light rail cars to maintain desired frequencies. The additional equipment costs for the East Link 4-car trains will be especially onerous since they will triple the number of cars required. For example15 trains will be required to maintain 8 minute intervals if it takes 2 hours to complete the East Link route from Overlake to Lynnwood and back. The 60 cars required will each cost in excess of $5 million for an additional $300 million in initial costs and $30 million yearly in depreciation (assuming 10-year life for cars).
The equipment cost East Link adds for the Lynnwood extension pales in comparison to its long-term effect on operating costs. Routing 720 car trips over the 25.6 mile round trip results in 18,432 daily car miles for the two routes. ST 2014 budgets show each car mile costs $22.48 (excluding depreciation). Thus the Lynnwood extension will add more than $414,000 to ST daily operating costs. Assuming the weekend car miles are half the weekday levels the Lynnwood extension would add nearly $2.5 million every week to ST light rail operating costs.
It’s way past time for ST to recognize East Link will be a major contributor to the Lynnwood cost problem. Aborting it would save more than $80 million a year by eliminating the daily 484 car trips that are totally superfluous to commuter needs. The fact it also eliminates the need for a large number of expensive light rail cars makes it even more imperative. Failure to do so will result in deficits that surely qualifiy as a financial debacle by anyone’s standard.