The Lakewood extension of the Sound Transit railway system has helped ease traffic congestion since it opened almost two months ago, but it hasn’t done so without growing pains.
The 8.5-mile extension – which allows the Sounder train to hum from Freighthouse Square in Tacoma to Bridgeport Way in Lakewood with a stop in South Tacoma – was years in the making. In 1996, voters in Pierce, King and Snohomish counties approved creating the link to help traffic flow better on South Sound highways.
But it’s not the humming of the Sounder trains into Lakewood that has had some residents complaining since its grand opening Oct. 8. They just could do without the honking.
Sound Transit spokeswoman Kimberly Reason said that while many residents south of Tacoma have expressed how much time the extension saves them on their commutes, concerns have been made over the volume of the wayside horn safety equipment.
“Safety remains a top priority for operating the Sounder through communities along the rail line,” Reason said. “And we’ve worked with communities to change horn volume within federal standards where this has been a concern.”
In general, the new service has been taken well by the South Sound community, Reason said.
The Lakewood extension is being used by an average of 500 people each weekday. An average of 750 to 1,000 boardings is expected by 2014.
“We had one anomaly,” Reason said. “Otherwise, service has operated very smoothly and has been well-received.”
That problem occurred Nov. 6, when a train traveling to Lakewood lost traction on the steep grade between Freighthouse Square and M Street and briefly stranded seven cars and about 100 passengers.
Usually, an automatic device called a sander would have spread sand on the slippery rails and allowed the train to regain traction. It failed that time. The train made two more unsuccessful attempts to get up the hill, and took the passengers back to the Tacoma station.
Reason said the malfunction was rare and shouldn’t be a problem in the future.
“This was an unusual circumstance that we do not expect to happen again,” Reason said.
Jill Knaack was one of those delayed, but she says that’s been her only problem with the new route, which she boards at the South Tacoma station.
“I think it’s awesome,” she said this week. “It’s close to home, and it takes the hassle out of getting downtown to catch the train north. Before, I had to catch a bus and then walk about a quarter-mile to the station. Now, it’s a seven-minute walk from my house and then it’s sleepy time on the train until Seattle.”
As Sound Transit works to smooth the rough edges of its new extension, it’s also installing public art. Art projects will include one near the 66th Street underpass off South Tacoma Way and another at the A Street passageway, both of which should be completed by spring.