Utah Transit Authority's airport TRAX line open to public
The train pulled into Arena Station on Saturday with a familiar whir as dozens of riders buzzed on the platform. They held tight to children's hands and examined tokens handed out by Utah Transit Authority workers.
"The train is coming! The train is coming! The train is here!" a little boy in a conductor's cap shouted, bouncing on the balls of his feet.
His mother squeezed his hand and smiled. She was excited, too.
This was what they were all waiting for.
To the untrained eye, the TRAX shuttle that pulled up looked like any other Green Line train. But it wasn't.
It was the first of its kind the first to take the public from downtown to Salt Lake International Airport and back on Utah Transit Authority's new Airport TRAX extension.
The line, which officially opens Sunday, allowed the public to preview the route Saturday with free rides from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and mini "celebrations" complete with face painting, music, clowns, balloon artists, bounce houses, games, animals and food at five new stops along the North Temple line.
"We need to grow our mass transit in order to grow our businesses," Gov. Gary Herbert said at the line's unveiling Saturday afternoon. "It's going to be such a benefit to all of us ... With this line, we will see the revitalization of the west side of Salt Lake City and the businesses along North Temple."
A sign hung on the side of the Red Iguana Mexican restaurant welcomed passersby to the "new North Temple."
But the view from the train Saturday was not exactly picturesque. Clouds hung low over mountain peaks as the shuttle sped by car washes, lumber yards, motels and empty lots.
It didn't matter. Neither weather nor scenery could put a damper on the excitement aboard.
Children sat up on their knees staring out the window. As airplanes flew low overhead, taking off and landing, several gasped and squealed with glee.
Some, like 3-year-old Neyza Navarrette, had never been on a train before.
"This is a big day for her," mother Karina Navarrette said. "It's a big day for all of us, actually. We do a lot of travelling. We're really excited about this train."
Most riders expressed excitement at the train's speed, price and convenience. Many said they would use it in the future.
"We've been waiting for this," said Terry Smith, who lives near the University of Utah. "Without taking your car and paying to leave it in long-term parking, there's really no convenient way for us to get to the airport. Now, we can just get on a TRAX train."
The new six-mile line, which cost $350 million, including $235 million for construction, takes about 20 minutes to travel from downtown Salt Lake City to the airport on the green line from West Valley City.
Trains are scheduled to run every 15 minutes on weekdays and every 20 minutes on weekends.
The extension, which took four years to build, has been undergoing testing for months. UTA Chairman Greg Hughes, a Republican state lawmaker from Draper, said the line was finished about two months ahead of schedule and 20 percent under budget.
"I'm never going to get tired of saying that," Hughes said moments before a banner dropped from the North Temple Bridge declaring "We have liftoff."
"It's an incredible feat," he said.
On weekdays, the first shuttle train will arrive at the airport at 5:46 a.m. and the last will depart from the airport at 10:37 p.m., leaving passengers just outside the airport's Terminal One, near the Jet Blue and Southwest Airlines check-in counters.
Signs directing visitors to taxis and buses have been changed to include arrows pointing arriving travellers to the light rail line.
Airport officials were already directing visitors toward the TRAX line Saturday afternoon.
Park City ski instructor Martina Gonzalez said she was waiting for a bus after departing her flight from Los Angeles when an airport security officer asked her if she had heard about the new train.
"I think this is great," she said, sitting aboard with her luggage braced between her knees. "I don't have a car so to get from the airport to downtown is always a hassle. This is a good option to have. And today it's free even better."
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