Thousands show up for light rail's 1st run

CHARLOTTE -- Thousands of riders flooded Charlotte's new light rail line Saturday to participate in the train's inaugural day of service.

The largest crowds overwhelmed the southermost station at Interstate 485 and South Boulevard. Families, many bundled against the cold, formed a line that snaked from the platform back into the parking garage. Police closed the garage to incoming cars because so many people filled the area.

Stations farther north were less crowded. Service today is free, and trains depart every 10 minutes.

Passenger Kevin Crockett rode one of the first cars that departed at 10 a.m. sharp from the uptown station near the arena. He shared the car with other dignitaries and officials, including Mayor Pat McCrory, a longtime champion of the $462.7 million project.

"I think it's beautiful," Crockett said. "It's another notch in Charlotte's belt. I'm really glad to see people supporting it."

The rail line has been a source of civic pride and excitement and also the cause of a spirited, but unsuccessful, opposition.

Contractors spent much of the past week scrambling to finish the line, or at least get it in good enough shape for riders. CATS spent Friday cleaning elevators at some stations and installing glass wind screens at stations.

Free service will continue today until 1 a.m. People also can ride the train for free today, from 7 a.m. until midnight.

When regular service begins Monday at 5:25 a.m., passengers will need a ticket. If they don't have a CATS pass, they should bring cash or coins. The self-service kiosks at the stations don't yet accept credit or debit cards.