Monorail: Out with the new, in with the old

The November vote on the proposed monorail doomed the controversial system, but it saved the World's Fair-era one, which would have been replaced.

However, back in 2003 the uncertainty over the future cost the existing system a $1.4-million Federal Transit Admin-istration grant, said Seattle Center spokesman Perry Cooper.

"We received the grant, but we didn't end up using it because of the new monorail," he said. "We're working on getting that back." The grants have been issued every two years since 1995, when the amount was only $280,000, Cooper said.

The money applies only to transportation systems expected to last for at least a decade, and the cash can be used only for capital expenditures, said Tom Albro, director of Seattle Monorail Services, the private agency that runs the system. It can't be used for regular operations and maintenance, he said.

The federal cash would have come in handy.

Seattle Monorail Services spent $2.5 million to upgrade and replace the electrical system on the red train and on repairing the fire-damaged blue train, Albro said. The monorail is insured, but it's unclear at the moment how much of the $2.5 million the insurance will cover, he said.

Whatever the final bill is, both the Seattle Center and Seattle Monorail Services will split the costs, Cooper said. The money will come from the net profits of the system, which are also split between the two. In the Seattle Center's case, that comes to $300,000 to $350,000 a year, he said.

An average of 2.5 million people a year ride the monorail, Albro said. The numbers were obviously down while the two cars were out of commission - both were up and running by last spring - but the ridership has been bouncing back, he said. "We're doing a little better than expected."

Both Cooper and Albro were diplomatic when asked what they thought of the defeat of the proposed monorail system. "We're reacting to whatever the voters approved," Cooper said of multiple ballot measures. "At this point, we've got to sit back and let the dust settle, and figure out these things," he added.

"Monorail can be a very important part of a transportation network," Albro said. But "a viable plan" is needed, he added. A monorail stop at the Westlake Mall would have been eliminated in the new system, but the Westlake Mall isn't the only area affected by the no vote on a new monorail, Albro said. So is the Seattle Center, he noted. "We're kind of a vital link between those two places."

The potential that a new monorail would eliminate the old one also put Seattle Monorail Services in a holding pattern, he said. "We've been working with the city over the last half dozen years to refurbish the system overall, Albro said. "We're anxious to finish this chapter."

Many Seattleites cherish the old monorail system, according to Albro, who counts himself among that group. "I hope it's running in 40 years," he said, "and I hope my grandchildren can ride it."

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at or 461-1309.

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