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The new airport TRAX line achieved a better initial liftoff than officials had projected.

It had 4,800 average weekday boardings last week during its first business week of operation, according to preliminary Utah Transit Authority data requested by The Salt Lake Tribune.

That was a bit above the 4,600 average weekday boardings that UTA had projected the line would achieve at its opening. Recently, other TRAX lines in West Valley City and to South Jordan had significantly lower ridership than projected at opening because of the recession and slower growth but had been improving slowly over time.

"People here are very encouraged by the ridership for the first full week of operation. They are hopeful the number will go up from there as more people find out about it," said UTA spokesman Remi Barron.

"As more people find out how convenient it is, and the fact that the TRAX train takes you virtually to Terminal 1, I think the numbers are going to improve," he added.

The new six-mile extension runs between the EnergySolutions Arena Station to the airport as part of the Green Line from West Valley City. The $350 million line includes five new stations along North Temple, plus a new station at the airport.

As positive as the numbers were during the first week, they were dwarfed by how many people may have ridden the airport TRAX on April 13 — a Saturday when free fares were offered to introduce the line.

But an unusual contest offered by UTA that day may make it difficult to know how many separate passengers actually rode the trains.

Electronic counters found a whopping 16,161 boarding trains that free fare day. (These numbers were not included in the first week daily average.)

However to encourage riders to explore shops and celebrations at all stations along the new line, riders were given "passports" for each station. If they collected stamps from at least five of the seven stations between the airport and Arena Station, they could submit the completed passport for drawings for prizes from merchants along North Temple.

Because of that, the same riders were often boarding, exiting and reboarding trains during the day. About 1,500 completed passports were turned into UTA by the end of the day.

Riders that first day were also asked to donate a can of food in lieu of paying fare. Chad Saley, another UTA spokesman, said 3,726 pounds of food were collected for donation to food banks.