CHOKEPOINTS

Light rail trains finally testing on East Link tracks

Nov 11, 2021, 5:47 AM
light rail...
A light rail train. (Photo courtesy of Sound Transit/Twitter)
(Photo courtesy of Sound Transit/Twitter)

You might have seen them already this week, but there are light rail cars running on the East Link tracks.

This is the first phase of systems integration testing, where every system and backup system will be tested and refined before service begins in 2023. The first thing Sound Transit needs to do is make sure the train cars fit under any potential obstacles, like overpasses.

“They need to use a real light rail vehicle which is towed by a hi-rail, one of those tractor-trucks, that will tow the train along the tracks to judge the clearance on different parts of the alignment,” said Rachelle Cunningham, Sound Transit spokesperson.

These large trucks on rail wheels will be on the tracks towing train cars between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., Monday through Friday, from now until Nov. 19.

“They will run between the Bellevue Downtown Station and the Redmond Technology Station,” Cunningham said. “Anywhere along that alignment, trains could be out there going in either direction.

Engineers will perform similar clearance testing between the International District Station and the Mount Baker Station next before moving onto testing across the lake later next year.

Light rail finally reaches Northgate, a promise 25 years in the making

Getting actual train cars on the tracks is a huge milestone for the East Link project.

“We’ve seen the tracks go up, but when you see the vehicle up there, it really brings it home that this is not too far off really,” Cunningham said.

So what does the public need to know during this 10-day testing period?

The trains could be anywhere along the downtown Bellevue to Microsoft campus alignment. They will be going at a walking pace, but Sound Transit has taken extra precautions to protect the public because there are sections in the Bellevue-Redmond area where the tracks are at grade.

“There will be uniformed police officers there to direct traffic,” Cunningham said. “There will be signals, but it’s just something you haven’t seen before out in that area.”

The East Link project, which will eventually be known as the #2 Line, is set to open in 2023, connecting downtown Seattle with the Microsoft campus. The extension into downtown Redmond is on schedule to open the following year.

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Light rail trains finally testing on East Link tracks