One critical lesson we can take fromyesterday’s tragic train derailment is the importance of REDUNDANCY in any transportation system. Sound Transit built straighter, more direct track to save time on many commuter and intercity passenger rail trips that will no longer have to go out of their way on older freight. This was a good and necessary project.
You never know many details of a service disruption in advance–you can’t know when they will happen, where, or for how long. But the nature of life is that you do know they WILL happen, like our 9.0 earthquake. If your system only works when everything goes right, it’s failing. You can’t rely on everything always going right. You need alternatives available. This is one reason why grid layouts of streets work so well.
Obviously the new bypass track has been out of service since this morning, and will remain so for a while. But the old, indirect freight track can still be used. Amtrak and ST riders needing to travel through the accident area are delayed, but they can still get where they’re going (like a coworker who took the Cascades to Portland today; we only had to cancel one hour of tests).
This is exactly what ST is NOT doing with light rail. We know there are many disruptions and other problems with the MLK segment especially. But there will be no parallel track redundant to the “spine” (part of why it’s so idiotic). One line will run from Ballard to Tacoma, a good 35 miles or so, and any disruption on MLK will grind the entire line to a halt. Buses have much less capacity and can only move a fraction of the people; we need a parallel rail line. Similarly, ST is building street-running Link on Bel-Red Road. That will be the weak link on the other line from Everett to Redmond, putting it at risk of halting entirely. Based on the service patterns ST plans to use, only the West Seattle stub and Kirkland-Issaquah segments will be immune to this. A system with only one north-south route or one east-west route lacks redundancy and therefore fails. For the ability of people to keep moving between here and Portland, we’re lucky we built redundancy we’re now benefitting from. Now imagine what happens when 200,000 or 400,000 riders a day get stuck on Link due to a similar disruption without redundancy. To allow that for $54 billion is unconscionable.