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Washington \ Seattle Center Monorail

Seattle Center Monorail.

The Seattle Center Monorail was built in 1961 in preparation for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair . The monorail was designed to serve as the transportation link between the fairgrounds and downtown. Construction began in April of 1961 by Alweg Rapid Transit Systems, who received the bid when it offered to underwrite the entire cost of construction.

Elevated 25 feet above the city streets the system operates on a concrete I-beam resting atop hollow, prestressed concrete T-shaped pylons. The pylons were constructed in Tacoma by Concrete Technology Co. Two parallel lines run the length of the line. Cars operating over the 1 mile (1.6 km) line are double ended, constructed in Germany by Linke, Hoffman, and Bush.

The Monorail opened to the public on March 24, 1962 nearly one month before the start of the World’s Fair. At a cost of $3.5 million, the trains carried more than eight million guests during the six months of the fair, easily paying for the cost of construction. The full initial capitol cost of the system was recovered and a profit was realized by ALWEG before the end of the fair.

ALWEG turned the monorail system over to Century 21 Corporation. Century 21 then sold the system to the City of Seattle for $600,000 in 1965. and it became part of the Seattle Transit System. Since 1994 Seattle Center Monorail is operated by a private contractor, Seattle Monorail Services (SMS), which took over operation from the City in June 1994.1 Operating profits, which can be as much as $750,000 per year, are split between the City and SMS.

There have been a few incidents over the years. The system suffered its first serious accident on July 25th, 1971 when the brake system malfunction on the red line car. The car struck a girder at the station between 15-20mph, injuring 26 people. The blue train caught fire in May 2004, requiring that the train be evacuated. The line had been rebuilt in 1988 when the Westgate Center was enlarged. That work resulted in the line being cut back several hundred feet, and a new downtown station was built. During this work a portion of the Red line was relocated, creating a narrower “Gauntlet track” alignment was created. In 2005 two trains approached each other near the portion of realigned track near Westgate and clipped on the curve. As a result the monorail was out of service for 9 months.

Today the monorail system remains operation, connecting the Westlake Shopping Center in Downtown Seattle with the Seattle Center, the former site of the World’s Fair, but now better known as the home of the Space Needle, the EMS Experience, and the Chihuly Glass Museum and Gardens.

Revised: January 19, 2016.
1. Seattle designates the 1962 Monorail as an historic landmark on April 16, 2003. Essay 4159

Demoro, Harre. “The Seattle Monorail Success or Failure?” Western Railroader. Issue 260 Vol 33 No. 2, February 1970.
"Seattle Center Monorail - a Photo Essay", accessed January 16, 2016,

Reference Material Available Online:


The Route of the Seattle Center Monorail in Google Earth by Andrew Brandon.


Collected Seattle Monorail Photographs.
Images collected from private collections, libraries and historical societies.

Other Sites.

Seattle Center Monorail - Official Website.

Washington \ Seattle Center Monorail
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