A new world of light and sound awaits travelers who visit Seattle Center by monorail this fall. Riders will wave electronic tickets past a monorail-shaped fare gate to reach the third floor of Westlake Center, where a wavy ceiling lights up in sky blue or fire-truck red, matching the color of the arriving train. An overhead video display will show the Seattle Kraken hockey team practicing slap shots. Within seconds, crowds can rush onto the 1962-vintage trains as they head north, toward Climate Pledge Arena, home to the Kraken.
The transformed monorail station downtown is where the fan experience begins, say the architects behind the $6.6 million privately funded expansion.
“You’re not just in a waiting area or holding area. Previously, it felt like you were in a corral waiting to have the experience,” said project manager Emily Perchlik, a senior associate at VIA Architecture. “This starts your experience as you go through the fare gate.”
The roomier station enables the monorail to transport up to 3,000 people per hour during events, operating officials say. The ticket-sales booth was torn out and railings removed so passengers can walk to all train doors, instead of just four doors as previously.
Monorail service resumes Monday following a monthlong construction closure. For the first week, operating hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Then starting Oct. 18, the schedule returns to normal hours of 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., or later to serve arena events, using both red and blue trains. Masks are required.
The arena’s first big event is a benefit concert Oct. 19 with Foo Fighters and Death Cab for Cutie, followed by the grand opening with Coldplay on Oct. 22, and the Kraken’s home opener Oct. 23 versus the Vancouver Canucks.
NHL fans, as well as concertgoers and fans of the WNBA Seattle Storm, are encouraged to ride a light-rail train to underground Westlake Station, then ascend the shopping mall by escalators to the monorail lobby. Downtown parking garages and bus stops are nearby.
An environmental study predicted that only 5% to 15% of about 20,000 hockey fans are expected to arrive by public transit, including only 697 of them by monorail. Rob Johnson, the arena’s transportation director, hopes to boost that share.
He was among tens of thousands who tried Sound Transit’s 1 Line extension last weekend, filling trains to standing-room-only between new U District, Roosevelt and Northgate stations.
“That gives us a lot of confidence that, yes, people are going to choose the light rail/monorail option,” Johnson said. Light rail to Lynnwood, Redmond and Federal Way in 2024 will extend the late-night reach of transit.
Trips will occur every five minutes carrying a potential 250 riders, or 3,000 per hour, each way. But monorail operators have been making test runs every four minutes or faster, which may allow transport of more riders each hour, Johnson said.
It could take a few weeks for all the electronics to be finished, but fare gates and staff will be ready for the start of hockey, officials say.
“We’re not going to be able to roll out all the bells and whistles right away, but people are going to be able to enjoy the service on opening night. Westlake is going to be phenomenally better than anything you’ve ever seen,” said Tom Albro, co-owner of operating company Seattle Monorail Services.
Seattle Center’s monorail station will be outfitted “within the next couple months” with fare gates, video screens, colored lighting and directional signs, said spokesperson Deborah Daoust.
Four ticket machines and six fare gates are inside the mall, with one ticket machine and three gates at the north side where people enter from Fifth Avenue by staircase or a city elevator.
Only one elevator is available from the north entrance to the Sound Transit station. There’s no clear alternative if it fails, though Albro said the city has strengthened elevator parts this year.
Machines sell paper tickets for cash or using credit and debit cards, but there is no longer a person selling tickets, only a concierge. Electronic fare collection allows more people to walk into a train faster, so trains can depart more often.
Kraken fans receive free transit fare included in a phone app with their event ticket. Otherwise, monorail fare remains $3 each way for a standard adult ride. If someone already used an ORCA farecard to arrive by bus or light rail, that payment applies to the monorail leg of a trip, so people transfer at zero or minimal extra charge.
Besides private spending by the Kraken and Albro’s company, $5.5 million in Federal Transit Administration funds along with $2 million in fares and city money paid for a new electric power supply, new train floors and rider-access improvements.