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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - A new C$2 billion ($1.8 billion) rapid transit line that is expected to carry thousands of tourists during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver will start operations Monday three months ahead of schedule.
Commuters will be able to ride free of charge for the day on the 19-km (12-mile) Canada Line between Vancouver's downtown, its international airport and the neighboring city of Richmond, a trip that takes in two tunnels and a skybridge and is expected to take 26 minutes.
The electric-powered line, which is the biggest and most expensive infrastructure project to be built in British Columbia, is opening its doors to the public six months ahead of the start of the Winter Olympics.
Unlike many large North American cities, Vancouver does not have an extensive highway system linking its downtown core with the suburbs and its airport, and potential congestion was considered a weakness in its Olympic bid.
The transit line, which took four years to build, is being touted as the equivalent of a 10-lane freeway and is expected to take 200,000 automobile trips off the West Coast city's busy road network.
Funding for the line, which is forecast to carry 100,000 passengers a day by 2013, was provided by a public-private partnership consisting of the provincial and federal governments and a private sector consortium that includes engineering group SNC-Lavalin Group Inc.
Reporting by Nicole Mordant; editing by Rob Wilson