Cracked tiles mean Rainier Valley Light Rail will run less often this summer

Sound Transit will run its Rainier Valley light rail trains at 20-minute intervals instead of every eight to 10 minutes for a few weeks this summer, so crews can replace worn tiles at the Columbia City station.

These service reductions will take place from July 11 to July 24, and then again from August 19 to September 1. They cut light rail capacity in half for travelers between Stadium Station and SeaTac, where people can expect crowded cars. Northbound and southbound trains will alternate on a single track around the Rainier Valley construction zone.

Those same yellow ceramic tiles are cracking and peeling prematurely at Othello and Rainier Beach stations, where repairs are scheduled for next summer.

But there is a glimmer of good news.

Sound Transit backed off harder original plan announced on May 31 to reduce the whole of line 1, including the city center and the university district, to the same frequency of 20 minutes during the tiling works.

Instead, all other trains departing south from Northgate station will turn back north at Stadium station, so they maintain a normal 10-minute frequency between Stadium and Northgate stations, it said. the agency on Tuesday.

(Sound Transit also decided on Tuesday to change its previously announced dates from Aug. 22 to Sept. 4 for the second closure; this new schedule allows for full service during a Huskies football game on Sept. 3 and a Sounders game. FC on September 4.)

Sound Transit officials initially thought that reducing the entire system to a 20-minute frequency was the best option, as riders wouldn’t be confused and trains would be more easily synchronized.

Transit riders hammered the agency on social media and public commentswhile The Urbanist called the plan “Tile-maggedon.” Downgrading the service sends the wrong message, campaigners have said, now that trains are filling up after the worst of the pandemic. Low frequency would aggravate public frustration with escalator failures.

Suraj Shetty, executive director of operations, said “the feedback we got” prompted officials to rethink the plan and maintain a 10-minute frequency for most of the roughly 66,300 daily passengers.

Additional trains running through the city center can turn back north between Stadium and Sodo stations, using the spare ‘pocket track’ which normally helps provide additional trains for sports fans after games.

North Seattle passengers passing stadiums, including trips to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, should board trains displaying “Angle Lake” signs, rather than trains reading “Stadium Station”, said spokesman Geoff Patrick.

But he warned that even slight problems can thwart the 10-minute clock. Chances are that some passengers will end up changing trains at Stadium station if they continue south.

Mossy grout

Ceramic deck tiles break prematurely, Patrick said, after just 13 years. The adhesives underneath are failing. Water seeps in, freezing and thawing, further tearing the tiles from the concrete base.

There are 940 yellow 1-by-1-foot tiles on each side of the Columbia City Station floor, a visual cue to avoid the edge of the platform and tactile guidance for the visually impaired.

A Friday morning visit showed 25 cracked tiles on the northbound boarding edge and 15 on the south side. The nearby Othello station was missing at least three tiles entirely, and there is a quarter-inch bump in the middle of the southbound platform where the tiles lifted and a person could trip. Moss grows in the grout during this exceptionally wet spring, and the three stations in the valley are the most exposed to the weather.

This isn’t the first tile failure blamed on weather and failing adhesives. Sound Transit spent $250,000 in 2013 to replace loose tiles at SODO station. According to budget 2022tile replacements at multiple stations will cost approximately $4 million.

Shetty said damaged tiles in Rainier Valley are repaired or changed monthly, but it’s not sustainable. To date, there are no reports of falls caused by bad tiles, Shetty said.

“It’s an unacceptable long-term risk that someone could fall on the lane,” Patrick said.

The new tiles will be 2 feet by 4 feet, made of polymers instead of porcelain and attached with screws. All of these changes should make the edges of the station more durable and less porous, he said.

A longer journey

Sound Transit will cover its 24-mile system with signs and audio announcements closer to the start of July 11.

About 29% of all light rail passengers board a train at Sodo Station and head south, where the worst disruption will occur.

More fixes and inconveniences are to come.

The tile replacements are the first of five projects Sound Transit is calling Future Ready. The second will reduce train service on the weekends of October 21-23 and November 11-13, for improvements to downtown overhead power cables. Other phases will improve signals and add track switches.

Shetty said the agency wanted to complete this work before 2024 when new lines open to Lynnwood, Redmond and Federal Way – and a hurdle like fixing the tiles would delay thousands more travelers.

Jose P. Rogers