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Saturday, July 18, 2009 - Page updated at 05:17 p.m.

Sound Transit light rail opens today

Sound Transit opened its 14-mile, $2.3 billion starter line from Westlake Center to Tukwila Saturday morning. Seattle Times reporters and photographers were riding the trains, and their live updates can be found below.

We asked for your updates as well. Tweets with #ltrailday1 are in our Twitter feed below. Readers with iPhones, sent photos to our live map.

04:10 PM

Cheering over a train

By mid-afternoon at Tukwila, the crowds were still excited. People actually scream and cheer when a train arrives. About 100 to 150 get on each train.

A couple of times today, at least, an escalator has gone out. But crews were able to get to the problems quickly.

Linda York and Twila Hankins came from Lake City and got on the train at Westlake. They both enjoyed the ride and the views from the elevated Tukwila station, and plan to use light rail to get to the airport in the future (the extension to the airport is scheduled to open at the end of the year).

"It was great," York said. "It's a better view because you're sitting higher. I'm glad we finally have it. This compliments Metro bus service. We need both."

Said Hankins, "I'm pretty new here and have been mostly impressed with the bus service, but this is even better."

— Phillip Lucas

04:05 PM

Video | Light-rail opening

After a brief ribbon-cutting, light rail opened for passenger service between downtown Seattle and Tukwila. Trains departed every 7 minutes, giving new riders a view and feel of the route.

— Video by Steve Ringman

03:38 PM

Gallery | Light rail opening day

Click the photo for our gallery.


03:28 PM

System to close at 8 p.m., as scheduled

Earlier, Sound Transit officials had been thinking about keeping the system open a bit beyond the scheduled 8 p.m. closing. But with the crowds moving smoothly, 8 p.m. it is.

Tomorrow, the hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Rides again will be free.

— Mike Lindblom

03:15 PM

A truck driver approves of the ride

Bruce Holmberg came from his home in University Place to ride light rail. A truck driver who spends a lot of time on the freeway, he's hoping light rail helps lessen traffic.

"That will help commerce get through." Today the ride on the train has shown him areas of the city he hasn't seen before. "This is nicer than the Tacoma trains."

Frank Wojcik lives in Belltown and works in the North End, so he won't be able to use light rail for his commute, but wanted to see it and is impressed. "It's exactly what I hoped it would be."

He's looking forward to exploring the neighborhoods around all the stations. "This is the backbone. Not the most perfect route but an excellent start," Wojcik said. "The capacity is here for the future. We need to have it. We're only going to get more people in Seattle and we need a system to get them around."

He's looking forward to being able to commute by light rail when its extensions are built.

He sympathizes with people who live near the line and have complaints against the stations, but said building more of the stations underground would have been too expensive. "When you're dealing with taxes, people don't want to pay extra for underground stations."

— Phillip Lucas

03:03 PM

30,500 rides so far

UPDATE: 03:38 PM | As of 3:30 p.m., Sound Transit reports 30,500 trips.

Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl reported earlier 24,500 rides on the new light-rail line as of 2 p.m.

Most everything has been going smoothly. There has been a problem with one of the four elevators at Beacon Hill, which we reported earlier (people got stuck for about five minutes inside), and now an escalator is out at Tukwila.

Sound Transit brought in a reserve train to help move the crowds exiting Qwest Field after the Sounders FC 2-0 loss to Chelsea. That way, two trains headed south out of Stadium Station, cutting 20 to 30 minutes from the waiting time.

UPDATE: 03:35 PM | The escalator that was out of service a bit earlier at the Tukwila station is again working.

— Mike Lindblom, Lindsay Toler and Phillip Lucas

03:00 PM

A kids' adventure at Beacon Hill

Eight-year-old Cooper Berrysmith, and 13-year-old Carmen got into the spirit of the outer-space theme at Beacon Hill Station. They ran inside one of the high-speen elevators, followed closely by mom Heidi, and told the Sound Transit employee they wanted to keep jump during the ride down.

"Then you feel like you're going higher and higher, like in a zero-gravity portal," Carmen said. The volunteer told them the elevator two doors down had gotten stuck. "We don't care," Cooper said. So they jumped, bright-eyed and smiling, all the way down the 160-foot, ear-popping, stomach-swooping ride.

Cooper and Carmen have a few suggestions for improving light rail. Cooper says they need a pedestrian bridge at Mount Baker Station. Carmen said they didn't see the playing cards light display.

A lot of people have heard about the playing-card art and have been looking for it. Carmen suggested stick-figure art would be good.

— Lindsay Toler

02:43 PM

Live map | iPhone light-rail photos

Readers and Seattle Times photographers have been sending light-rail photos from their iPhones to They've been automatically mapped below.

View Light Rail Live in a larger map

02:00 PM

The ride was nice today, but won't work for their commutes

At Rainier Beach Station, Nikia Johnson was getting off the train from Tukwila with her 4-year-old daughter Symphony.

"I like it," Johnson said. "I thought it was pretty good." She lives and works in South Seattle but won't use light rail for her commute. Metro's easier for her. She and daughter may use the light rail on the weekends, though.

Tony Dawson lives in Kent and works in Bellevue, so he won't be using light rail for his commute. Still, he came out today. "This in long overdue. It's pretty beautiful. They did a good job blending it in with the community."

— Phillip Lucas

01:05 PM

Back home from Boston, comparing the ride

Ian MacLeod, originally from Tacoma, is in from Boston where he's a photojournalism student at Boston University.

He says he was on the fence about coming home to visit.

"But I had to come for this," MacLeod said. "I've never learned to drive and have been an advocate for mass transit for 15 years." (Yes, since he was 4 years old.)

As a kid, he was really into model railroads and trains. He says he rides the "T" in Boston all the time. He says it's by the same manufacturer, but this is nicer.

"It's amazing. One of the things that makes a world-class city is ease of transportation. It's beautiful seeing the cars below and zooming right past them," MacLeod said as the train headed from Tukwila to Rainier Beach Station.

When the trains arrive at the underground Beacon Hill Station, peoples' mouths hang open when they see the art. One little girl stared so intently, her folks had to pull her back from the doorway as it closed and she went back to pressing her face against the window.

At Stadium Station, rope barriers are being put up to organize the crowds and keep people waiting in the right lines.

— Phillip Lucas

12:40 PM

Crowd-control clowns

At the entrance to Westlake, Emily Bates strummed a half-sized guitar and sang "My Darling Clementine" in a sweet soprano.

Bates is visiting from Philadelphia, but got hired along with a "slew" of local artists to entertain the crowds during Link's opening day.

Inside the station, Leah Urzendowski kept people laughing and moving with her antics. "Magic awaits you, I'm sure," she cooed to one group of passengers.

Urzendowski's cowboy-meets-clown attire included a flouncy pink polka-dot dress and spur-topped black boots. When she squeezed her antique horn, it emitted a throaty honk.

"I have to hand it over at 2," she said of the horn. That's when her husband, also an actor and clown, comes on shift to relieve her.

Part of Urzendowski's job is to keep the lines moving and head off grumpiness. But she said it hasn't been hard. Waits have rarely been longer than 10 minutes, and the line only occasionally extended above ground.

"It hasn't been really crowded at all, and people are really happy," she said, waving her zebra-gloved arms to direct a group of three women entering the station. "Ladies, there's a train with your name on it."

— Sandi Doughton

12:32 PM

13,000 rides and counting

Sound Transit reports about 13,000 light-rail trips as of noon today, said agency spokesman Bruce Gray, adding "we're very happy" with the way the crowd-handling system is working.

The trains are running mostly full, with reasonable waiting periods, Gray said, usually 15 to 20 minutes.

I have seen waits of 30 minutes or slightly more at Tukwila. At the Tukwila park-and-ride lot, where normally there will be 600 parking spaces, only 320 are available today. Many cars are being turned away, and only once in awhile, is a car allowed in.

Othello Station has become one of the busier stops, and Sound Transit is letting more than 20 people on at a time -- a number that's been used at some of the middle stations.

Also, this: Sound Transit officials are checking into whether it would be possible to run trains past the scheduled 8 p.m. shutdown time tonight. More on that, when we find out.

— Mike Lindblom

12:29 PM

Elevator stuck at Beacon Hill

One of the four elevators at Beacon Hill Station is now stuck.

The elevators take passengers 160 feet down to the tunneled station.

We'll tell you more when we know more.

UPDATE: 12:50 PM | The elevator at Beacon Hill is out of service, and the people stuck inside for about five minutes are out. Three elevators are still in service.

Will Austin and son Zane, 7, were stuck in the Beacon Hill Station elevator for about five minutes. The front door was about two inches open and wouldn't close, he said. The back door opened, but they didn't want to go there and get lost.

He didn't push the red security button, but was talking to people through the gap, and they alerted others. Austin tried to force the door open through the two-inch gap and it slammed shut. He got his fingers out in time.

A station architect told them to go out the back door to the service area, and he led them from there back to the surface.

Austin's there taking photos for the Rainier Valley Post and took video of the experience, and he'll probably post shortly.

There are elevator attendants today at Beacon Hill, but no attendant was inside the elevator when it became stuck.

— Lindsay Toler

12:25 PM

Video | Light-rail inaugural ceremony

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and other public officials celebrated the inauguration of the light-rail system at Mount Baker station Saturday morning.

— Yvonne Leow

11:35 AM

Out of the dust at Beacon Hill, something 'beautiful'

Kirby Brown and Olivia Zapata say it's impossible to feel claustrophobic in Beacon Hill's underground station. "We love the art," said Zapata, waving her hand toward the midnight-blue ceiling, where glowing sculptures of alien life forms hang.

Said Brown, "We've been watching up top for I don't know many years of dirt and dust, and now to see this beautiful thing? It's wonderful."

— Lindsay Toler

11:29 AM

Smooth ride throughout corridor

The ride has been extremely smooth throughout the corridor.

In one area along Highway 599 in Tukwila, the train shimmied for about a half-mile during a preview ride on Friday, but the stretch was much smoother this morning.

Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl said the tracks are constantly being adjusted.

Track adjustments are common on rail systems.

— Mike Lindblom

11:22 AM

Young Chelsea fan takes heat on train

Ben Carlin may only be 13, but Seattleites on the light-rail train this morning shot him dirty looks and called him a betrayer. He didn't seem to mind. After all, he was wearing a Chelsea FC jersey.

"I've always been a Chelsea fan," he said, with a broad smile.

Carlin said he was supporting Seattle by taking the new train from Beacon Hill to Stadium Station. "Even though it's (Stadium Station) not indoors with fancy lighting (like Beacon Hill), it still looks great."

— Lindsay Toler

10:58 AM

'New York doesn't have anything as nice as this'

Seattle is used to being compared unfavorably to New York when it comes to mass transit.

But after riding Link Saturday morning, Long Island resident Maxwell Simon declared, "New York doesn't have anything as nice as this."

The 87-year-old Simon is staying with his daughter in Seattle and recuperating from open-heart surgery in March.

He turned out for Link's inauguration day wearing a sleeveless camouflage vest and a sign around his neck alerting others that he is "hard of hearing."

But Simon had no trouble communicating his excitement. "I want to be part of Seattle history," he said, "I think New York is going to learn a lot from Seattle."

— Sandi Doughton

10:53 AM

Riding to the Sounders game

Stadium Station is sure to be a test for this first day of service, with the Sounders FC taking on Chelsea FC at Qwest Field at noon.

Kevin Wolf and his family took the train in to the game from their Columbia City home.

"We've been driving by this for so long waiting for it to open," he said. "We're just looking for an excuse to hop on."

One note: The scrolling sign and announcement on the train are announcing the wrong things, the wrong destinations. Nobody seemed to much notice or care. The passengers are happy, laughing, and looking out the windows.

— Lindsay Toler

10:40 AM

Columbia City merchants hope for link to business

Shelley Morrison of Columbia City Business Association says this is the return of light rail to the Rainier Valley.

In 1890 a streetcar from Seattle to "Columbia" helped lead to the area being annexed to Seattle in 1907, she said. "Columbia City has become a really popular destination in the last five years, but this makes it even more accessible," she said, noting that the popular weekly farmers market is about two blocks from the station.

The celebration in Columbia City today and tomorrow includes Link light rail-themed sales and specials. Examples of the wordplay deals: DeRailer Cocktail at Lottie's Lounge, $1 off; Streetcar Cocktail at Angie's Tavern, $1 off; 10 percent off all links at Bob's Quality Meats (they make their own sausages); 10 percent off Hot "Link" Scramble at Geraldine's Counter Restaurant; Light Rail Golden Ale, $1 off at Columbia City Ale House.

OK, you get the idea.

All the businesses in Columbia City are celebrating with special offers through tomorrow. Information:

— Phillip Lucas

10:30 AM

West Seattle hasn't forgotten the monorail

Paul Henry was second in line this morning at Westlake Station. "I got here pretty early," he said.

As a West Seattlelite, Henry still mourns the loss of the monorail plan to build a line from Ballard to West Seattle. He doesn't expect Link light rail will help much with his daily commute.

"I might want to use it to go to the airport, " he said.

On Saturday, Henry said his mission was to figure out the system, and to "see if they spent the money wisely."

— Sandi Doughton

10:25 AM

No free coffee, but plenty of help

After she got off the train at the International District, 76-year-old Rita Jones snapped a picture of two volunteers helping passengers.

"They were so nice to me," she said, a light-rail sticker on her pink baseball hat, and another on the lapel of her dress.

Jones took the bus to Westlake from her home near the Space Needle, arriving one hour before the train, and was delighted when volunteers and staff led her to place where elderly and disabled people could sit while they waited.

"I wanted to ride all the way to Tukwila, but it's a little too much for me," Jones said, leaning on her cane. "So I'm getting off here and going shopping at Uwajimaya." Jones held a Starbucks cup in her hand and said her only disappointment was, "I couldn't find the free coffee."

— Sandi Doughton

10:20 AM

Plenty of room aboard, no waits yet

Right now, at Westlake and Tukwila -- the two ends of the line -- there is room for most people to get on the first train that pulls up. The rest are having to wait just a few minutes for the next train. Most people are getting seats.

At the stations in between, most everyone is getting on the first train that comes by.

— Mike Lindblom

10:14 AM

At Westlake, applause for 'the wave of the future'

As the bell rang and the train glided to a stop at Westlake Station, Daniel Gonzalez let out a loud cheer and clapped. Several others on the platform held cameras aloft and snapped pictures.

"It's about time we had one of these," Gonzalez said, settling into his seat. "It's quiet and efficient -- the wave of the future."

Gonzalez traveled from Rainier Valley to Westlake with his parents and younger sister to be among the first to ride the train.

"We should have had something like this a long time ago," said Daniel's father, Jesus Gonzalez. The Mount Baker Station is 10 minutes from their Mount Baker area home. He'll ride the train a lot, "Just for the fun of it."

Riders wait to board at the Westlake Station in downtown Seattle.

— Sandi Doughton; photo by Steve Ringman

09:58 AM

In from Woodinville for baby's first train ride

Randy and April Ellis from Woodinville came out for the ribbon-cutting at Mount Baker Station, and decided to grab breakfast in the area before trying out the trains.

"We were trying to have the line subside," Randy Ellis said.

The couple said they decided to come early since they'd already be awake. Their son Jack is 8 weeks old.

Said April Ellis, "It's his first little train ride. I got a sticker for the baby book." They probably won't use the train regularly, but have been excited about it.

— Lindsay Toler

09:50 AM

A ride with a view

Victor and Aurea de Jesus live within walking distance of Tukwila Station, and showed up early. They got on the train at 9:30 a.m., two of the 150 or so people at the station.

The crowd applauded when the train arrived.

There was plenty of room on the train, but a scramble for good-view seats out of the elevated station. Many chose to stand for a better view.

"We just wanted to experience this," said Victor de Jesus. "In our country (the Philippines) we have light rail, but this is much smoother."

He plans to try to take light rail to International District/Chinatown Station, then transfer to a bus to reach his job at Sand Point.

— Mike Lindblom

09:42 AM

Seattle teacher already planning commute

Mark Watling, a teacher at Aki Kurose Middle School, got aboard at Tukwila with his five children. He plans to ride light rail regularly, with a kind of chain-reaction commute: Watling lives in Federal Way, and plans to bike to a park-and-ride lot there. Then he'll take the bus to the Tukwila light-rail station, and take the train from there.

"I've been watching for it (light-rail) grow for years, being at Aki (Kurose). I'm thrilled it's finally here," Watling said, a few minutes into his first train ride.

— Phillip Lucas

09:38 AM

Big crowd gets aboard early at Tukwila and Mount Baker

Tukwila station opened just before 9:30 a.m. so that about 250 people waiting can board now rather than at the official 10 a.m. opening. Mount Baker Station also opened early to let riders on the train.

— Mike Lindblom

09:33 AM

A rider from Lynnwood who likes firsts

The first train arrived in Tukwila at 9:22 a.m. after a smooth ride.

One of the riders was Neil Hodges, who left his Lynnwood home at 5:30 a.m. and took two buses to Mount Baker Station. He was at the bus tunnel for its re-opening in 2007 and there for the first day of the South Lake Union Streetcar. He likes opening days and public celebrations.

He's here for the light-rail event, even though he will not be a regular rider. "I would only take the train from work downtown to Uwajimaya."

— Mike Lindblom

08:50 AM

Nickels honors light-rail worker

During the ceremony at Mount Baker Station, Seattle Mayor Nickels called for a moment of silence in honor of Michael Merryman, a 49-year-old construction worker who was killed Feb. 7, 2007 in a supply-train crash near Beacon Hill Station.

A plaque honoring Merryman was unveiled this morning in the underground Beacon Hill Station.

About 200 members of the public are awaiting the ribbon-cutting at Mount Baker Station, along with another 250 transit staff, media and politicians.

— Mike Lindblom

08:30 AM

Light-rail rides begin

The inaugural light-rail trains pulled into Mount Baker Station this morning. One from the north, carrying Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, pulled in at 8:17 a.m.. and one from the south, carrying Tukwila Mayor Jim Haggerton, arrived at 8:16 a.m.

Dozens of workers in hard hats got off the trains, too. Nickels told the crowd gathered for the ribbon-cutting -- many of whom won first-ride tickets in promotions -- that they should be especially nice to those workers.

"They were out here day after day, in good weather and bad, making sure this system got built," Nickels said.

Because voters approved a ballot measure last fall to extend light rail to the suburbs in the 2020s, "There is no doubt in 15 years we will have transformed how people move around Seattle, Everett, Tacoma, Pierce County, Snohomish County and the Eastside."

Nickels, who is running for his third term as Seattle mayor, is Sound Transit chairman.

— Mike Lindblom; photo by Steve Ringman