Weighing in at 44 tons and with a price tag of $1.886 million, it is the Utah Transit Authority's pride and joy.

"This is a little like being pregnant for 15 years," UTA General Manager John Inglish joked Wednesday after the long-awaited delivery of UTA's first light-rail vehicle.That's about how long Inglish and other UTA staffers have been developing a light-rail mass-transit system for the Salt Lake Valley.

A $312 million, 15-mile line between Salt Lake City and Sandy is now under construction and seems a little closer to reality with Wednesday's official unveiling of the 184-passenger, 82-foot-long Transit Express (TRAX) car.

"I think we'll find that we'll be glad to have this" new transit system, UTA board chairman Jim Clark told about 100 UTA employees, media representatives and residents who watched Midvale Mayor JoAnn Seghini cut the ribbon and open the vehicle for public inspection.

A tractor-trailer carrying the car left the Siemens Transportation Co. plant near Sacramento at 6 a.m. Monday and arrived about noon Wednesday.

Friday, the first of 23 light-rail vehicles UTA ordered nearly three years ago will be unloaded from the trailer, placed on tracks and moved inside the Lovendahl Center, the light-rail maintenance facility about 6700 South in Midvale. It will be stored there until at least three more cars arrive and vehicle testing, or commissioning, begins June 1.

UTA wanted to start testing the first car in mid-April, but UTA light-rail project director Rick Thorpe said completion of the test track, from 6400 South to 7800 South, is behind schedule. He said the agency recently negotiated agreements with utility companies to provide power along the rail corridor, ensuring vehicle testing can begin in June.

Richard Frankhuizen, commissioning and field service manager for Siemens, said the delay is actually beneficial. It gives the company more time to assemble its four-person commissioning team, which will include two local hires. And the tests can be conducted more efficiently and effectively with four or five cars to work on rather than just one, he said.

The second through seventh cars are now being completed in the Sacramento facility and will arrive at the rate of two a month. Siemens crews in Carson, Calif., near Los Angeles are assembling the shells for cars eight through 11.

The TRAX cars are the same style and model, series SD-100, as cars Siemens has produced for light-rail systems in Denver, Sacramento and San Diego. Some who tried out the seats on the new car Wednesday commented on their comfort. The seats are made of foam but covered with blue fabric instead of vinyl, just like the Denver cars.

"It is just beautifully crafted, very well-made," Inglish said, sounding like a proud papa. "We couldn't be happier to have this new vehicle here."

Even Sam Taylor, a UTA board member who has consistently opposed the agency's involvement in light rail, was impressed with the car.

"I have to admit that, although I voted against it," Taylor said.

When the system is operational in early 2000, two-car TRAX trains will depart every 10 minutes during weekday peak hours.

The entire project remains about $30 million under budget, Thorpe said.