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Originally published July 19, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 19, 2009 at 11:01 AM

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Riders guide

Seattle welcomed light rail Saturday with cheers, applause and a question: What took you so long?

Seattle Times staff reporters

Today's schedule

Free rides: Trains run 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

One-way train rides: At Tukwila and Westlake, all passengers must leave the train. Riders can wait for a return trip or take special Metro buses, some of which will stop at all Link stations, while other express runs will make fewer stops.

Metro buses: No buses will use the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel today. Buses will make stops near the tunnel entrances.

Starting Monday

Fares: $1.75-$2.50 for adults; FlexPass, PugetPass and bus transfers may be applied to the fare.

Frequency: Trains will arrive as often as every 7.5 minutes at peak times.

Hours: 5 a.m.-1 a.m. Monday-Saturday; 6 a.m.-midnight Sunday and holidays. Trains leave the Sodo maintenance base just before opening time, making station stops as they work their way to the ends of the line.

The first train northbound leaves Tukwila International Boulevard Station at 5:18 a.m. Monday-Friday, 5:20 a.m. Saturday, 6:19 a.m. Sunday and holidays.

First train southbound leaves Westlake Station at 5:19 a.m. Monday-Saturday, 6:18 a.m. Sunday and holidays.

Last train northbound leaves Tukwila for Westlake at 12:09 a.m. Monday-Friday, 12:06 a.m. Saturday, 11:07 p.m. Sunday and holidays.

Last train northbound leaves Tukwila (trip ends at Mount Baker), at 12:43 a.m. Monday-Friday, 12:45 a.m. Saturday, 11:44 p.m. Sunday and holidays.

Last train southbound leaves Westlake at 12:34 a.m. Monday-Friday, 12:36 a.m. Saturday, 11:35 p.m. Sunday and holidays.


Seattle welcomed light rail Saturday with cheers, applause and a question: What took you so long?

"It's about time," said Chloe Brussard, echoing the sentiments of many who turned out for free rides during the debut of the $2.3 billion 14-mile Link line.

Brussard, her husband and a friend toured the entire line, starting in Rainier Beach, with stops to stroll Westlake Center and grab dim sum in the International District. "It makes Seattle feel like a real city," she said.

Sound Transit reported that the trains carried 45,000 riders on Saturday. Rides also will be free today, beginning at 10 a.m.

As trains glided into stations across the city, passengers waiting to board sometimes clapped and shouted. People in passing trains and those standing on platforms waved to each other and snapped pictures.

"Everyone is so joyous," said Gina Kurtz, of Seward Park, who brought her 20-month-old son, Lincoln, for a ride. "It's a great day for a kid."

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, who has supported light-rail efforts since the 1980s, said at the ribbon-cutting that the region will be transformed in 15 years with rail to Northgate and the suburbs.

"Kids growing up today will never know a region without light rail," Nickels said.

Trains began running as soon as the ceremony was over, ahead of the announced 10 a.m. start time.

Traffic remained steady through most of the day. With trains running about every 7 ½ minutes, waits at most stations were about 20 minutes or less, but reached 40 minutes midday at Tukwila. All but a few people chose to wait for a return train instead of boarding a special Metro shuttle bus back to Seattle.

"My worst fear was no one would show up," said Ric Ilgenfritz, Sound Transit's planning and policy director. "My second-biggest fear was too many people would show up. We had a Goldilocks day," he said. Just right.

The sold-out Sounders FC soccer game, which drew more than 65,000 fans to Qwest Field, caused surges at nearby stations. But after the game, Sound Transit rolled up an extra two-car train at Stadium Station.

All day, passengers remarked on the smooth ride, honed by several rail inspections and tweaks the last few weeks. Speeds reached up to 56 mph through Tukwila, where a few freeway drivers waved to the train.

People gasped and leaned toward the window when the train curved west, opening up a new vista toward Mount Rainier.

Matt Coppins of Tukwila said he'll use the line every day, going to work or to Seattle Central Community College. "It's super quiet. It's awesome," he said, comparing it to the New York subway.

Many others said the rail line will be handy for trips around town and to sporting events but won't help with their daily commutes until it is expanded. The line will reach Seattle-Tacoma International Airport by Dec. 31.

"I'll definitely use it when it opens to the airport," said Arron McLaughlin, who navigated the train in his wheelchair Saturday, with his service dog, Gretchen, at his side.

By 2016, a $1.9 billion tunnel will reach Capitol Hill and Husky Stadium, followed by a voter-approved $18 billion in suburban lines to Lynnwood, Federal Way and Overlake in the early 2020s.

"I eagerly anticipate that," said Brussard, who lives in Seattle's Central District and works on the Eastside.

Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff said the agency will keep contributing to Seattle light rail, even after committing $500 million to this line and more than $800 million to the line now being built to Husky Stadium.

Saturday's opening makes Seattle the 20th U.S. city with a modern, high-capacity light-rail system.

The reasons it took so long to join the club are rooted in politics, public opinion and money. Voters rejected several earlier proposals. Critics questioned whether a costly rail system is a better solution to congestion than buses. The first $2.3 billion line was finally paid for by local sales and car-tab taxes, and the $500 million federal grant. Costs are four to six times higher than most other new light-rail systems, but similar to Vancouver's new Canada Line.

Sound Transit estimates people will make 26,600 trips a day on an average weekday by next year.

In the five years since construction started, neighbors endured hardships, starting with power outages and runoff flooding in Rainier Valley. Screeching train wheels disturbed residents near the Duwamish River, and this month neighbors on the west slope of Beacon Hill said huge power lines marred their views.

More than $15 million in government aid went to help businesses that lost customer traffic, and some merchants folded or were ousted by land condemnations along Martin Luther King Jr. Way South.

On Saturday, several businesses along the route hoped to take advantage of the crowds, passing out coupons and organizing block parties.

The day brought a few glitches.

An elevator door malfunctioned in the underground Beacon Hill Station. An escalator froze briefly at Tukwila. At Othello Station, confusing signals stymied pedestrians who were escorted across the street by police.

Sunshine, freebie booths and street performers — hired to entertain the crowds — added to a festive atmosphere around the line's 11 stops in Seattle and the terminus at Tukwila. Families dressed in their Sunday best boarded the train in the International District.

A group of Somali women wearing headscarves and long dresses waited for the train at Westlake Station. Normally, they meet Saturdays for a sewing club, said a woman who identified herself only as Roda.

"Today, we said: Let's make history and go on the train."

Assunta Ng, who was covering the event for Northwest Asian Weekly, compared the line critically with those she's ridden in Hong Kong and other Asian cities. Why don't maps inside the cars light up to tell you where you are? How come there is no sign in the station to let you know when the next train will arrive? And where are the advertisements that plaster Asian trains and help pay the bills?

Shea Edwards pronounced the train superior to buses. "Actually, I just like trains," said the 5-year-old, who has ridden mass-transit systems around the country.

Shea's dad, Walik, said the pair came from Lynnwood to be among the first to ride light rail. But he worries people might not use the system day to day. "I hope it will attract enough riders," he said.

Two Northwest cities will open rail-transit lines this year.

On Sept. 12, Portland will open its fourth line, connecting Portland State University, downtown, and eastern suburbs near Interstate 205 for a total 52 miles of light rail. Vancouver, B.C., will open its third SkyTrain line by Sept. 7. The 12-mile, $2 billion route links downtown to the airport, and Richmond, in advance of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

Staff reporters Lindsay Toler and Phillip Lucas contributed to this report, along with staffer Madeline McKenzie. Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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