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Originally published December 19, 2009 at 6:30 PM | Page modified December 19, 2009 at 8:50 PM

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Early holiday arrival: light rail to airport

With duffel bags, wheeled luggage and children in tow, a steady stream of travelers tried Sound Transit's new SeaTac/Airport Station on its opening day Saturday.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

With duffel bags, wheeled luggage and children in tow, a steady stream of travelers tried Sound Transit's new SeaTac/Airport Station on its opening day Saturday.

The trains, coming about 10 minutes apart, typically carried some 75 riders each into the towering station with the spine-like truss roof, located between the airport parking garage and Highway 99.

It opened two weeks early, just in time for the airport's busy Christmas travel period.

Elizabeth Kao, 72, and younger sister Losa Kuo caught the first airport train to scout out the new station for their upcoming Chinese New Year trip to Taiwan.

"It will be more convenient than a bus," Kao said. There's scant room for luggage on a bus, but the trains are fairly roomy, she said. They weren't concerned about the quarter-mile walk to the terminal.

Anthony and Becca Aue and daughters Audrey, 6, and Leila, 5, rolled bags through the skybridge and passageway to the terminal. The girls complained of the cold, but their mother said "that was not that bad of a walk."

Her only gripe was with the escalator, so close to the train that a bottleneck formed as people muscled their luggage onto the top step.

Becca Aue timed the trip at 18 minutes from Columbia City Station, compared with 20 minutes driving in easy traffic. "You factor in a few more minutes waiting for the train, it's about the same," she said. Then they saw the line of cars arriving curbside at the terminal and felt even better about their choice to ride Link light rail.

Smooth going

At speeds ranging from 30 to 55 mph, the ride on the new trackway was extremely smooth — much more so than the segment from Rainier Beach to Tukwila, where the trains shimmy. Workers are adjusting and grinding the rails in that section to address the problem.

The fare is $2.50 for an adult to go from downtown to the airport, a 16-mile distance.

Already, the Port of Seattle is considering the airport garage for occasional Link park-and-ride use. For instance, there might be discounted parking for Seahawks games on Sundays, when air travel tends to be light, said Port spokesman Perry Cooper. The garage's 13,000 car spaces are the most under one roof in the world, according to Forbes magazine.

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Looking south

About 500 people, mostly government officials, station construction workers, transit fans and their families, filled the station for opening ceremonies that included music from the Highline High School band.

Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, compared the difficulty of establishing Seattle light rail to the challenge of fixing health care.

"Getting something started is the hard part," he said. "My intention is to live long enough to ride this to Tacoma." He said Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, who lost his re-election bid this year, deserves to stand with such figures as the late Sen. Warren Magnuson and current Sen. Patty Murray, for his sustained light-rail advocacy.

The entire corridor cost taxpayers $2.57 billion. That's far higher than Sound Transit projected last decade, but $130 million or so below the 2002 budget. Voters last year approved three suburban lines, to Lynnwood, Overlake in Redmond and Federal Way, to be ready by the early 2020s.

Shortly after New Year's, transit leaders will discuss whether they can afford to build the next two miles sooner than planned, to South 200th Street beyond the airport, said Ron Tober, Sound Transit deputy chief executive officer. If the project starts next year, he said, construction could be done by 2013.

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

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