The estimated two week closure of the Alaskan Way Viaduct means a lot of drivers who can’t work from home are going to try public transit, maybe for the first time.

If you’ve never ridden Sound Transit’s Light Rail or Sounder trains, here’s a primer from rail-riding veteran.

Where are the stations?

Link Light Rail has 13 stations between Husky Stadium and Sea-Tac Airport. This includes four stops along Martin Luther King Jr. Way in south Seattle, one under Beacon Hill, two in SoDo, four in Downtown Seattle and one under Capitol Hill. Link runs 20 hours per day. It’s shut down between approximately 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. for maintenance.

The Sounder has two routes. The south line has stations in Lakewood, South Tacoma, the Tacoma Dome, Puyallup, Sumner, Auburn, Kent, Tukwila, and King Street Station in Seattle. The north line stops in Everett, Mukilteo, Edmonds, and King Street Station. The trains run during the morning and afternoon commutes.

You often see drivers circling the two parking lots at the Tukwila Light Rail Station in a vain attempt to find one open spot.
You often see drivers circling the two parking lots at the Tukwila Light Rail Station in a vain attempt to find one open spot.

Parking will be nearly impossible to find later in the morning

Some of these stations have parking. Some do not. Those that do often fill up well before the morning commute is over. It’s only going to get worse during the viaduct closure as more people take these options. Assume most parking will be gone by 7 - 7:30 a.m.

If you don’t want to get started that early, plan on taking the bus or have someone drop you off. You could also call a cab or a ridesharing service like Uber or Lyft to get you there. It is more expensive, but it will save you the time of having to wait for a bus.

If the bus is your only other option, here is a trip planner to help you figure out which bus is right for you.

Related: Viaduct closure tips

Related: Download the Seattle Traffic App

How do I pay?

There are ticket kiosks at these stations. You select which station you want to travel to then select how many tickets you want. Prices vary depending on how far you are going.

Tip: Get an all-day pass rather than one way. It will save you the trouble of having to buy a second pass for the trip back.

You can also buy an ORCA card. These pre-paid cards will deduct from your balance every time you ride the train. Once you have it, you can add more funds online. Here’s the important part: You must “tap” your ORCA card on at one of the yellow stands you see at the station before you board and you must “tap” it again when you get off the train. That’s how the amount of your trip is deducted.

Many local retailers sell the ORCA cards

Tip: Make sure to keep your ticket available. Fare enforcement officers get on at random stops. Failure to show proof of payment can result in a $124 fine. That means you, too, ORCA Card users. If you don’t “tap” on, they will be able to tell.


Not everyone enjoys being shoulder-to-shoulder with a couple hundred strangers on a train, so be a good neighbor and remember these tips.

- Let others get off before you board: Don’t try to force your way in as others try to get out. The driver will wait.

- Don’t use a seat to store your stuff: You paid for one seat, not two. Put your belongings on your lap or under your seat.

- Stay in your own seat: You may be comfortable at home spreading out on the couch, but you’re in public here. One person. One seat.

- Give it up for the elderly or disabled: On Light Rail, there are four, three-person foldable seats next to each door. Offer these to elderly or disabled passengers. At Sounder stations, passengers need to step up to get on the train. But there is one ramp designed to help elderly or disabled get on board.

- Give shorter passengers easier access to handrails: If you’re standing and you are tall, use one of the overhead handrails to hang onto. Let shorter passengers use the vertical poles to keep their balance.

- Take care of your hygiene: You’re going to be in close company. You don’t want to smell them and they don’t want to smell you.

- Use headphones: Nobody wants to hear your concert or conversation. Use headphones and keep the music or your phone call to yourself.

- Taking a bike or luggage? On Light Rail, there are two designed “first come, first served” locations you can store these. A lot of people traveling to or from the airport use Light Rail, so expect these spaces to fill up. Some stations also have bike lockers, but you must reserve these in advance.

- If you’re standing, face the same direction as everyone else: Nothing is more uncomfortable than being face-to-face with a total stranger and smelling what they had for breakfast. So do yourself a favor and stand in the same direction they are. Also, if you have a big backpack, take it off and put it on the floor or hold onto it. It will allow more people on the train.