Seattle Center Monorail

The historic Alweg monorail built for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair

by Bob Fleming

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In 1962 there was a large World’s Fair in Seattle. Officially the fair was The Century 21 Exposition, but was better known as the Seattle World’s Fair. The fair itself was very successful, but perhaps more remarkably, the area used for the Fair has been preserved for public use as the Seattle Center. The Seattle Center is an area with fountains, park space, amusement rides, entertainment venues, and other attractions.

Although many of the temporary buildings for the Fair were torn down after the Fair was over, several important structures were saved. The most famous remaining structure is the Space Needle, which has become an internationally known symbol of Seattle. But another important popular attraction of the Fair was the monorail, which has been saved and is still operating.

The monorail was built by the Alweg company of Germany, and in 1962 it was a wonderful new marvel of rapid transit. It ran a little over a mile from Fifth Avenue and Pine Street in the north part of Downtown Seattle to the Seattle World’s Fair, traveling mostly along the center of Fifth Avenue.

Since the World’s Fair the station at Fifth and Pine has been relocated and redesigned, and there have been some other lesser modification, but essentially it is still the same line that began operations in 1962.

There are two beams (guideways) supported about twenty feet above the street, mostly on square concrete columns down the center of 5th Avenue. Near the Seattle Center the guideways curve at the transition from 5th Avenue to 5th Avenue North, because the street changes direction at Denny Way, and north of Denny Way the guideways are aligned along the west side of 5th Avenue North. At the Seattle Center the guideway curve west onto the Center grounds and terminate at the Seattle Center Station. There are only two stations, one at each end of the line.

A few years ago the new Experience Music Project museum was built on the east edge of the Seattle Center grounds and its unique architecture includes being built around the monorail guideway so that monorail riders can actually see the interior of the museum as the trains pass through.

There are two monorail trains, one for each of the two guideways. There is no switching mechanism — each train remains forever on its own guideway, running back and forth from one end of the line to the other. One of the trains is painted red and the other is blue, so they are called the Red Train and Blue Train.

The proposed Green Line monorail would have resulted in demolition of the Seattle Center Monorail in order to make way for the new monorail. However in an election of 8 November 2005 Seattle voters rejected a new plan for the Green Line, thereby ending that project. Therefore the planned demolition of the Seattle Center Monorail was cancelled and the trains still run.

More about the Seattle Center Monorail on their web site.


There is no recent news to report.

My Opinions

Extend the Seattle Center Monorail — I think it would be a good idea to extend the Seattle Center Monorail along Thomas Street (the south side of the Center House) to a new station just south of Key Arena. The guideway would have to be curved further to the south as it comes out of the west side of the Experience Music Project (EMP), with a new station just south of the existing station. The existing station could still be used as a maintenance facility with a switch installed just west of the EMP. The old station could also be used as a monorail museum, with one or both of the old trains on display here. I do not know if the old station could be modified to be both a maintenance facility and a museum.

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©2003 Robert M. Fleming Jr.

This page was last updated on 28 May 2018.

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