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Originally published | Page modified July 11, 2009 at 1:08 AM

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International District/Chinatown Station is switching point for many commuters

Every weekday, commuters arrive at International District/Chinatown Station on Sounder trains, then transfer to buses. Starting July 18, one more connection will be possible: Sound Transit's light-rail line debuts that Saturday.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

About the station

PLATFORM
Partially sunlit area below Union Station plaza, at Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel entrance.

CONNECTIONS
Sounder commuter trains to Everett and Tacoma; Amtrak long-distance trains. Metro buses inside tunnel. Streetcar to First Hill planned by 2016.

NEIGHBORHOOD ATTRACTIONS
King Street and Union stations, Qwest Field north entrance, The Wing Luke Asian Museum; Chinatown Gate; Uwajimaya supermarket.

DID YOU KNOW?
Two years ago, the city bought a one-third-acre site (currently a post office) for $3.1 million, to someday expand Hing Hay Park, just east of the station.

Video | Light-rail ride along

A disorienting place, the International District/Chinatown Station.

Boarding platforms are below the street, at the entrance to the downtown transit tunnel, yet sunlight pours in. Chinese characters hang from old brick buildings to the east, while Qwest Field sits to the west. A vintage streetcar line to the waterfront is abandoned, but Sound Transit is set to bring new light-rail trains on July 18.

Every weekday, commuters arrive on Sounder trains nearby, then walk downstairs to the transit station to catch buses into downtown. A bus Friday picked up 20 university students who started their trips in places like Puyallup and Auburn. (Their younger siblings might take light rail underground all the way to Husky Stadium, when tracks reach there in 2016.)

Above, on the litter-strewn plaza, locals crowd aboard the buses going up South Jackson Street, toward Little Saigon and Rainier Valley.

Alex Valin, raised in Germany, said the scene reminds her of transit centers there. "Fifth and Jackson is that point in Seattle where you can go to many different places," she said, on a bus up to Beacon Hill.

Once light rail starts, a transfer to the trains at the station downstairs will give some a smoother, faster way to South Seattle and Tukwila.

"In one day, I have six buses," said Ella Della, who expects to save a lot of time by switching to light rail in Chinatown for hops to Southeast Seattle. Access to downtown will improve, too. The tunnel will be open nights, allowing a direct ride from Westlake Center to the Chinatown International District, instead of a search for buses on the street after dark.

That creates the possibility that more tourist groups could visit The Wing Luke Asian Museum, three blocks east of the station, said John Hom, museum operations director.

Right outside the station, a vermilion Chinese gate overlooks King Street, where visitors can walk past the corner tavern and empty Publix Hotel to find small Asian food shops.

Elders have returned to Hing Hay Park, now that the city removed its automatic loo that attracted addicts.

Sound Transit estimates 22,000 people a day will board light rail here (out of 280,000 total) in 2030, after three suburban lines are completed.

Long before then, yet another connection will come to Chinatown: a streetcar to First Hill and Capitol Hill.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com

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