Seattle light railPhoto: wings777 via FlickrIt’s been a long time coming, but starting this Saturday, it’ll be “all aboard!” when Seattle’s light rail trains pull into the station.

The Sound Transit trains will travel 14 miles from Westlake Center, in the center of downtown, south to Tukwila, two miles short of the Sea-Tac airport. By the end of the year, the trains will reach the airport.

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Thanks to generous Seattle voters, this $2.3 billion “starter line” will eventually reach north to the University of Washington campus (2016) and out to other suburbs like Federal Way, Overlake, and Lynnwood on a 53-mile track that is expected to serve some 280,000 daily trips by 2030.

But for now, ridership is expected to be much lower. More than 100,000 people are expected to go for a ride opening weekend, when all trips will be free. But starting Monday, regular fares will apply and Sound Transit estimates just 26,600 weekday trips on average for the next year.

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The light rail will provide some commuters with a fast and efficient way to get to work — and soon, the airport. And the project has generated some 7,000 short- and long-term (green) jobs. But it’s been an uphill battle all the way.

Years late and miles shorter than promised when voters approved the plan back in 1996, the light rail project has seen its share of engineering challenges — from toxic soil to sinkholes, as well as a couple of minor train-car collisions.

One of the long-time proponents of the light rail project has been Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels (D). He talks about finally seeing the dream realized in this short Seattle Times video from a recent media ride-along: