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Throngs give TRAX a workout

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The crush of people in downtown Salt Lake City ringing in 2002 brought TRAX operations to a halt during an Olympic test run.

Light-rail trains inched along or came to complete stops on Main Street because of the throng celebrating on New Year's Eve. The cars themselves also were packed with riders who endured long lines in the cold and fog to climb aboard.

An estimated 50,000 people turned out for the city's First Night party.

Olympic organizers expect at least that many people, perhaps as many as 70,000, to take to the streets every night during for various events and festivities during the 2002 Winter Games.

The Utah Transit Authority used the downtown celebration to test its Olympic transportation system.

"We learned a lot of things," said Kris McBride, UTA spokesman. "It's going to be different than what we saw on First Night."

TRAX riders had to disembark at the City Center station and could only catch southbound trains at the Courthouse station. The same restrictions will be in place for the Games.

One thing UTA did not do at First Night that it will for the Games is run 29 train cars on loan from Dallas. "That would have been a huge factor," he said.

UTA will run more train cars at greater frequency during the Olympics. TRAX is scheduled to stop at each station every eight minutes rather than the current 20 minutes.

The New Year's Eve crowd thinned after the initial wave of 6,000 revelers on the University and the main North-South lines headed home shortly after midnight. But those waiting to catch the last trains at 2 a.m. wondered when and if TRAX would show up. UTA didn't post schedules on the platforms.

Overall, UTA estimated 20,000-25,000 people rode TRAX after 6 p.m.

During the Olympics, trains will run from 5:15 a.m. to 1 a.m. UTA also intends to use South Temple, which will be closed to TRAX for security reasons during the Olympics, as a staging area from which to send additional trains should the demand require it.

Olympic transportation planners fear Utahns will gravitate to the light-rail system, overlooking other ways to reach the city center.

"For a lot of people, TRAX will not be the best transportation alternative to get downtown during the Games," said Michael Huerta, Salt Lake Organizing Committee transportation planner.

Shuttles at 10 park-and-ride lots spread around the Wasatch Front will drop people off at near-downtown locations such as West High School and Pioneer Park.

TRAX, which will not run to the Temple Square or Delta Center stops, won't get people any closer to the center of the action, Huerta said.

The two park-and-ride lots at Liberty Park and the Salt Lake Community College South City campus open for First Night were not well used.

"We didn't have a lot of people park there," McBride said.

UTA projects that 52 percent of Olympic spectators will use the park-and-ride lots, while 31 percent will board TRAX. The remainder, he said, will use the the UTA bus system.

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com