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Types of Rail Service

The Sounder at King Street Station, Seattle
Sharing Stations
Amtrak Cascades and Sound Transit Sounder trains share stations in Everett, Edmonds, Seattle, and Tukwila. At these stations, passengers can switch between Amtrak Cascades and Sounder commuter trains.

Amtrak Cascades Intercity Passenger Rail is funded by ticket-buying passengers and the states of Washington and Oregon. Amtrak Cascades service operates on the same railroad tracks as freight trains, makes a limited number of stops, and connects central cities between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Eugene, Oregon. Amtrak Cascades operates with European equipment with a number of unique features.

Commuter Rail trains provide passenger service between central cities and their suburbs. Commuter rail trains typically operate only on work days and during commute hours. Most riders make trips of less than 50 miles for work, school or errands. These trains typically run on the same railroad tracks as freight trains and often share some stations with Amtrak intercity trains. Washington state works with local communities to study the potential for new commuter rail service.

  • Sound Transit's Sounder Commuter Trains are sponsored by Sound Transit and ticket-buying passengers. Sounder offers commuter rail service between Tacoma's Tacoma Dome Station and Seattle's King Street Station with stops in Puyallup, Sumner, Auburn, Kent and Tukwila, and between Everett and Seattle with stops in Edmonds and Mukilteo. It shares the same railroad tracks as freight trains and Amtrak. In contrast to intercity passenger rail (Amtrak Cascades), Sounder commuter rail operates along the 70-mile corridor between Everett and Tacoma, with service currently provided only during the weekday morning and evening commute hours. Future Sounder service will add stations at South Tacoma and Lakewood.

Light Rail refers to the number of riders that the train can carry, not the weight. Light rail trains provide passenger service within a city and its suburbs. Light rail operates on its own tracks—it doesn't share tracks with commuter rail, Amtrak, or freight trains—but sometimes shares right of way with automobiles. Light rail also runs at frequent intervals and typically runs not only in commute hours, but also during the day, weekends and evenings.

  • Sound Transit is developing Link light rail in Tacoma and Seattle. Unlike Amtrak Cascades and Sounder trains, Sound Transit's Link light rail runs on its own set of tracks; it does not share right of way with any other trains. Sound Transit's Central Link serves downtown Seattle, and residential and commercial neighborhoods in Beacon Hill, the Rainier Valley, Tukwila and the city of SeaTac. Sound Transit, the federal government and others are providing money to build the Central Link light rail system in Seattle. Sound Transit Link Light Rail offers service between downtown Tacoma and the Tacoma Dome, a distance of less than two miles. Rides on Tacoma Link are free and Sound Transit pays for operations. Link trains run every 10 minutes.
  • Portland's MAX is a great example of successful light rail service.
  • The SkyTrain in Vancouver, British Columbia connects communities throughout the metro area.

Monorail is railway having a single track for passenger or freight vehicles. In most cases, the rail is elevated. Washington's only example of a monorail is the Seattle Monorail, a privately run business that provides service from downtown Seattle to Seattle Center.