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Originally published October 6, 2012 at 5:38 PM | Page modified October 6, 2012 at 7:01 PM

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Lakewood area celebrates arrival of Sounder service

Beginning Monday, new Sounder service adds stations in Lakewood and South Tacoma to the rail line's existing southern route, which runs from downtown Tacoma to Seattle. Sound Transit estimates the new segment will bring in 750 to 1,000 more passengers a day, in addition to the nearly 9,000 who already travel the route.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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LAKEWOOD, Pierce County — On an ordinary weekday, bleary-eyed commuters aren't likely to clap and hoot when the train arrives. But on Saturday, hundreds of cheering transit fans greeted the blue-and-white Sounder as it burst through a cloud of confetti and pulled into its newest station, in Lakewood, south of Tacoma.

The car doors slid open and the crowd poured onto the train for a day of free rides and festivities celebrating the eight-mile extension that opens for business Monday.

The new service adds stations in Lakewood and South Tacoma to the Sounder's existing southern route, which runs from downtown Tacoma to Seattle. Sound Transit, which operates the system, estimates the new segment will bring in 750 to 1,000 more passengers a day, in addition to the nearly 9,000 who already travel the route.

"This is a great day for Lakewood and a great day for the region," said Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy, who chairs the Sound Transit board. "We're filling in another piece of the regional transit puzzle."

With the new extension, Sounder tracks now cover 82 miles. That includes the line's northern route between Seattle and Everett.

The Lakewood extension was a long time coming, said Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland.

Sound Transit announced plans to extend the tracks in 1996. But the project faced both political and technical challenges in punching a new rail line through the heart of an urban area, particularly along the steep segment that climbs from downtown Tacoma.

The Lakewood station, where the train stopped Saturday, was finished in 2008 and has been serving as a hub for bus service since then.

The train will be a huge improvement, said Stephan Cox, of Spanaway. Cox got his first ride on the new line during an earlier sneak preview. The trip from Lakewood to the Tacoma Dome station, which normally takes 45 minutes and requires at least one transfer, whipped past in about 20 minutes.

"It was almost supersonic," he said.

Cox also looks forward to riding the train to watch the Seahawks play. The Sounder will carry fans to five of the NFL team's home games and the Oct. 13 Husky football matchup against USC.

Tina Reed, of Graham, lined up for a free print from artist J. Craig Thorp that depicts the train traveling against the backdrop of Tacoma's Commencement Bay and downtown neighborhood. Reed is thrilled by the prospect of making a day trip to Seattle without fighting traffic and paying hefty parking fees.

"I don't like highway driving," she said. "I would never drive by myself to Seattle."

Brandi and Patrick Riddle, who transferred to Joint Base Lewis-McChord about a year ago, were both a bit nostalgic for the excellent mass transit they relied when they lived in South Korea. By bus and train, they could get to Seoul in an hour. By car, it took three times that long.

Now they find themselves mired in traffic as they navigate the south Puget Sound area.

"We want to try the train," said Brandi Riddle. "We want to see how well they can pull it off."

On weekdays, five trains will leave Lakewood northbound, from 4:42 a.m. to 6:37 a.m. In the opposite direction, five trains leave Seattle's King Street Station from 4:20 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. with final stops in Lakewood. Adult fare is $5.25 one way.

So far, taxpayers have spent $1.3 billion in capital costs on the entire Sounder network, including the cost to buy the trains, build or lease tracks and stations and improve crossings.

For schedules, see www.soundtransit.org/Rider-Community/Rider-news/Lakewood-South-Tacoma-Sounder-Service.xml.

Sandi Doughton: 206-464-2491 or sdoughton@seattletimes.com

Seattle Times staff reporter Mike Lindblom contributed to this report.

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