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Originally published July 20, 2009 at 9:00 AM | Page modified July 21, 2009 at 12:11 AM

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Light-rail trains run smoothly, if not to capacity, on first day

Sound Transit's new Link light-rail trains didn't attract many people Monday morning, but ridership increased later during the first day of regular service.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

Sound Transit's new Link light-rail trains didn't attract many people Monday morning, but ridership increased later during the first day of regular service.

Some morning trains left Tukwila with as few as eight people on board. But closer to downtown, a few trains entered International District/Chinatown Station with just over 100 people aboard, an agency manager said. A standard two-car train can hold 400 people packed, or at least 300 comfortably. Officials say the light ridership will gradually improve to the predicted 26,600 boardings a day by next year.

"I wouldn't say 'light.' I would say this is expected," said spokeswoman Linda Robson. "Ridership will grow over time as people discover the convenience, and work out changes to their habits."

The 600-space park-and-ride lot at Tukwila International Boulevard Station was just over half-full by early afternoon.

A Seattle Times reporter counted 41 riders on a train leaving Sodo just before 1 p.m. — with about 75 people getting on and off along the whole route. Others trains carried 60 to 80 riders at Beacon Hill, one of the busier stops.

A ridership count for Monday should be available this morning.

Riders seemed to enjoy themselves.

Giorgio Umali, 23, rode from Tukwila to his receptionist job at Virginia Mason Medical Center, looking toward the mountains. If he weren't taking the train, he'd be parking downtown, a risky venture after getting a $35 parking ticket last week. "I thought there would be more people here today. I think it will be definitely worth it in the long run. I-5 can be horrible sometimes," he said. "I like that it's nice, clean, spacious. Good views."

Trains ran smoothly, but there were hiccups:

• Some ticket machines froze but were being restarted. Later on, lines of a dozen people waited at each of only two machines in Tukwila, as staffers led them through the labyrinthine fare system.

• The elevator from the Tukwila parking lot to the mezzanine was out of order around 2 p.m.

• Trains heading north from Tukwila alternate between using the regular northbound platform and the "southbound" side. A supervisor had to shout to riders which platform to use. Some riders then had to go back down the escalator and up to the other platform.

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• The free shuttle bus from Tukwila to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport drops people off at the far south end of the air terminal. Two tourists heading to California on Alaska Airlines were ecstatic about Link — until they learned they had to tow their luggage back to the far north entrance of the airport.

On the upside, bike-and-ride use is already catching on — there were more bikes than bike hangers on some trains.

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

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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