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Take a first look at Sound Transit’s new light rail trains

New and improved

The front of one of Sound Transit’s new trains.
Courtesy of Sound Transit

This week, Sound Transit got its first shipment of brand-new rail cars to run on its expanding light-rail service—and a peek inside reveals some improvements in leg room, wayfinding, bike storage, and aesthetics.

The new vehicle is one of 152 ordered in 2016 from German manufacturer Siemens, which will arrive slowly—about one to three a month—over the next five years or so. That will more than triple Sound Transit’s current vehicle inventory; the agency currently has 62 vehicles built by Japanese railroad manufacturing company Kinkisharyo. After “extensive testing,” says Sound Transit, the vehicles should start joining the existing fleet early next year.

The fleet expansion comes along with a growing light-rail map. Sound Transit’s expanding its existing north-south line to Northgate in 2021, with the new stops—the U District, Roosevelt, and Northgate—already on the displayed station lists in the new vehicles. A new east-west line, the East Link, is coming soon after, in 2023. Expansions to Lynnwood, Everett, downtown Redmond, West Seattle, Ballard, Federal Way, and Tacoma are also in the works.

By 2024 alone, the area’s light-rail mileage will more than double, from 22 miles today to more than 50.

While the new cars will clearly expand the whole line’s capacity, the vehicles have the same capacity as they do now—74 seats. The basic layout is also still essentially the same. But there are some dramatic changes from the old cars to the new, probably the most obvious one being much larger windows.

The vehicles also improve on some current passenger frustrations. For example, the center cars, the ones with the center-facing benches with little room for two sets of knees to face each other, get a wider aisle. While bikes and luggage still share the same pocket in each car, those cubbies now have two staggered bike hooks each instead of one, and the seats themselves have more room for stashing luggage underneath. As Seattle Transit Blog points out, the seats across from the luggage and bike area—previously a pair of cramped, forward-facing seats—now face the center, which frees up even more space at either end of the center car. (It also allows riders to keep a closer eye on their bikes and suitcases.)

The new trains also have signage improvements, with a dynamic LED screen showing the current location and upcoming stops on the route.

Regular passengers won’t see the inside of these cars in person until at least 2020, but for now there are photos—below.

The exterior of Sound Transit’s new light rail trains.
The interior of the new Sound Transit rail cars, including the wheelchair areas, which now fold down into just two seats instead of three.
Bikes still share a compartment with luggage, but it’s easier to fit multiple bikes in there with two hooks per cubby.
The new bike hooks—two per cubby, four per car—are staggered to accommodate different sizes of bikes.
The center-facing seats have a little more room to squeeze through.
The cars bear the 2021 list of stops, including symbols.
Dynamic signage provides more clarity about the train’s current position.
The trains’ new seats have more room underneath for stashing luggage.