Suggestions for a new Seattle Center Monorail

My ideas for a replacement for the Alweg monorail built for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair

by Bob Fleming

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In 1992 a 1-mile-long monorail was built for the Seattle World’s Fair, and the popular transportation link provided over 40 years of dependable service. But in the last few years it has suffered a series of problems and there is a debate over what to do with it.

The city is debating whether or not to spend about $4.5 million to take care of major repairs that were previously postponed. There is also a plan to renovate the Seattle Center, and improvements to the monorail are being considered as part of that plan. There are some people who are in favor of tearing down the monorail.

My suggestion is to tear most of it down and replace it with a new, modern, Hitachi monorail as was planned for the cancelled Green Line project.

Why Replace It?

The existing Seattle Center Monorail is both a very popular tourist attraction and an excellent high-speed transit line for locals travelling between Downtown and the Seattle Center or the Lower Queen Anne district. The recent problems and irregular service have greatly disappointed many tourists and locals alike. A new, modern line would be even more popular and could carry more riders.

Businesses at both ends of the line — Westlake Center and the Seattle Center — have reported considerable loss of income while the monorail is not running. A replacement would bring even more customers and would be more dependable.

Even though it is 44 years old, the current monorail demonstrates new technology and a practical solution for urban rapid transit. A modern Hitachi system would demonstrate even better the advantages of monorail transportation.

The current monorail was built with columns down the middle of a one-way street (Fifth Avenue). This causes some problems with traffic. A new system can be built with the columns at the edge of the street, leaving the travel lanes unobstructed by columns.

My Proposal

The existing Seattle Center Monorail has served us well from it’s opening in 1962, but I think it is time to replace it with a modern and improved monorail line. I suggest building a new monorail that would use the modern Hitachi system that was planned for the Green Line, according to the plans already prepared for the Green Line, with some modifications.

The Green Line design and alignment would be used along Fifth Avenue from Lenora Street to about Thomas Street. The proposed Green Line station at Bell Street would be retained or dropped, depending on public input. Whether or not there should be a station around Denny Way or Broad Street would also be something to be discussed.

The alignment south of Lenora Street would be on the west side of Fifth Avenue until it approaches Westlake Center. Then the alignment would depend on the location of the Westlake Center Station. A safe distance between the two guideway beams would be maintained along the entire guideway.

There would be a new station at or near Westlake Center. The new station would maintain a safe distance between guideway beams, and have a higher passenger-handling capacity than the current station. The best location of the station would need to be determined.

The north end of the line would follow the Green Line alignment through the Experience Music Project building (EMP). However, immediately west of the EMP the new line would curve to the southwest to a new Seattle Center Station located about 100 feet or so south of the current station. The monorail guideway orientation at this point would be at about a 30- to 45-degree angle south of west, and the new station would be oriented likewise. The southwest end of the station would be north of Thomas Street so that if the line is extended west along Thomas Street, there will be sufficient space for a curve in the guideway.

The existing Seattle Center Station would be retained but upgraded to serve as a new monorail museum that would house one or two of the Alweg trains along with various exhibits about the Seattle Center Monorail, the Green Line, and other monorails of the World. The museum would also display various monorail artifacts.

Hitachi monorail interior

The interior of a typical modern Hitachi monorail train. The seating arrangement would probably be different for the Seattle Center Monorail.

Map of Proposed Route

Map of proposed new Seattle Center Monorail route

The orange line indicates my suggestion for a route for a new Seattle Center Monorail. The green line indicates my idea for a revised route for a future Green Line monorail.

It may be possible to still use the old station as a maintenance base for the new trains, but it may be difficult or impossible to use it both as a maintenance base and a museum. However, if a way is found to use the station for both functions, it would add a great deal to the purpose of the museum, because viewing windows could be provided to permit museum patrons to view maintenance work on the new trains.

Depending on public input and financing, it may be possible to extend the new line along Thomas Street to a new station south of Key Arena. This station would provide excellent access to Key Arena and the west side of the Seattle Center, and rapid transit for area residents. It would also permit transfer to and from several bus lines that run on First Avenue North and Queen Anne Avenue.

THE MONORAIL MUSEUM — As mentioned previously, my plan for the new Seattle Center Monorail includes a new station just south of the existing station at the Seattle Center (in order to accomodate the line curving to the southwest to pass to the south of Center House). The old station could be preserved as a maintenance base and also be used for a new Monorail Museum, that would not only display the old trains of the current monorail along with various momentos and displays of that line, but also photos and other displays of monorail history, technologies, and other monorail systems around the world.

CONNECTION TO THE GREEN LINE MONORAIL — My proposal for a new Green Line monorail would include a stop at the Key Arena Station. Since this would also be a termination of my proposed extension of the Seattle Center Monorail, the Key Arena Station would provide a transfer point between the two monorail lines. If the Green Line follows my suggested route north along Elliott Avenue West and 15th Avenue West, large parking lots or garages could be built close to Green Line monorail stations, providing easy and quick access to the Seattle Center, and Downtown Seattle by transferring to the Seattle Center Monorail. If the Green Line is built through Sodo and serves CenturyLink Stadium, Safeco Stadium, and the proposed new basketball and hockey arena, the monorail will link parking lots in the north to the venues in the south.

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©2008 Robert M. Fleming Jr.

This page was last updated on 16 May 2018.

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