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Michael Brandy, Deseret News
Clockwise from lower left, Ted Thomas, Jess Wright, Brock Lafreniere and Natalie Lafreniere ride FrontRunner on Monday's free day. Today and Wednesday are free, with fare rides starting Thursday.

Thousands of Utahns on Monday took advantage of a free ride on FrontRunner, the just-opened commuter rail line between Ogden and Salt Lake City.

The Utah Transit Authority, which runs mass transit along the Wasatch Front, hailed its success.

The train's popularity and novelty were evident Monday afternoon, as every train was standing-room only and passengers took advantage of close quarters to get to know each other. As many as 200 passengers were forced to wait on the platform for later trains, which were also running 20 to 30 minutes late.

Midday trains had been less crowded, and many passengers were mothers with children in tow.

UTA is offering free-ride days, which continue through Wednesday, following the train's grand opening Saturday.

The premium monthly fare of $145, which includes bus and TRAX service, begins Thursday.

UTA spokeswoman Carrie Bohnsack-Ware said 500 to 600 people per train were arriving at the Salt Lake City Central Station during the Monday-morning commute. By noon, about 5,000 people had ridden the train.

"It's better than expected today," Bohnsack-Ware said.

As of 6 p.m. UTA estimated 30,000 people had ridden.

UTA estimates that once fare service begins Thursday, 5,900 riders will use FrontRunner each weekday. That number is expected to climb to 12,900 by 2020.

When UTA's light-rail line, TRAX, opened for business in Salt Lake City in 1999, officials expected 15,000 people to ride daily with an increase to 25,000 per day after a few years. Now, 40,000 to 50,000 people ride TRAX each day.

Jef Sullivan, of Clinton, normally takes the 472 express bus to work in downtown Salt Lake. But he's giving FrontRunner a month to win him over.

Sullivan was on the train at 5:55 a.m. and said the ride was pleasant and fast.

"In the long run, it could be worth it," he said. "I hate traffic."

Sullivan said he appreciates that the trains offer wi-fi access and power outlets, as well as tables for electronic devices.

Wi-fi access seemed intermittent and favoring Windows-based operating systems. Later, Apple devices had better luck — and this story was sent to the Deseret News from the train.

But during the afternoon commute home, when Sullivan left the train at the Clearfield station, he said UTA could add an extra car or two because mobs of commuters were stuck waiting 30 minutes for the next train.

The train's popularity was also evident in Layton, where the parking lot was filled to overflowing by 7 a.m., Bohnsack-Ware said, though that's likely because the train was free. Most stations have parking lot expansion plans for the future.

Cars were still parked on Main Street at 7:30 p.m.

Justin and Eve Miller, of Salt Lake City, took advantage of the free ride to go to Ogden to visit family and expect to take the 10 p.m. train home.

"It beats gas," Justin Miller said.

But the fare-free day and overcrowded trains had disillusioned some commuters, like Doug Tolton and Wayne Hale, who work downtown.

They're toying with the idea of driving to work until the fares kick in and fewer people are riding.

Both Tolton and Hale had to watch a train depart the Salt Lake Central Station before they could get a ride.

Other commuters said they hope UTA will make Sunday service available.

The current schedule only has trains on weekdays and Saturdays.

Train service is also planned for Pleasant View but has been delayed because rail crews in Utah were called away to Oregon to dig out tracks buried by a landslide.

Until that service begins, Pleasant View commuters are being offered a free shuttle to the Ogden station.

Eventually, service will be extended from Salt Lake City to Utah County as far south as Payson.

More information is available at www.rideuta.com.

Utah County arrival 2012

UTA expects to break ground for the FrontRunner commuter-rail line from Salt Lake City to Provo this summer. The deadline for completion is 2015 but it should be done by 2012, said Carrie Bohnsack-Ware, spokeswoman for UTA. FrontRunner stops will be in Lehi, American Fork, Vineyard, University Parkway in Orem and University Avenue in Provo.

Contributing: Jared Page

E-mail: jdougherty@desnews.com