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FrontRunner Commuter Rail

Index For This Page

This page was last updated on December 17, 2023.

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In April 2008, UTA introduced the state's first commuter rail line, FrontRunner. The line connects Salt Lake, Davis and Weber counties with stations in Salt Lake City, Woods Cross, Farmington, Layton, Clearfield, Roy, Ogden and Pleasant View. Each station has connections to UTA's bus system and park and ride lots.

The connection between Salt Lake City and Provo, known as Frontrunner South, began operations in December 2012.

Unlike TRAX, which is powered by overhead electrical wires, Frontrunner is a push/pull diesel locomotive system complete with bi-level cab cars and refurbished single-level vehicles. FrontRunner can travel up to 79 miles per hour along the 44-mile corridor.

FrontRunner North

Salt Lake City to Ogden

FrontRunner South

Salt Lake City to Provo

FrontRunner Cars

November 28, 2004
UTA spokesman Justin Jones said a facility for maintaining and storing commuter train cars will be constructed in the near future as part of that Ogden-to-Salt Lake project. That service center will be located at the site of an old Union Pacific Depot, near Warm Springs Road and 700 North. "It is an old building," Jones said. "We are currently working on refurbishing it. It was in disrepair so we've made some changes to it, but it will be part of the commuter rail construction." (Deseret Morning News, November 28, 2004)

On UTA's FrontRunner, the bi-level Bombardier cab cars are numbered in the 100-series, the passenger cars are numbered in the 200-series, and the former New Jersey "Comet" single-level cars are numbered in the 300-series.

In late March 2011 UTA was operating the Frontrunner North line with five or six locomotives, and 15 to 18 bi-level cars, about a third of its total fleet, which was listed as consisting of 18 locomotives, 38 bi-level coaches, and 25 refurbished older cars purchased from New Jersey Transit. (Deseret News, March 28, 2011)

March 2011
"A new 45-mile rail line from Salt Lake City to Provo is also under construction. UTA has ordered 18 bi-level regional railcars and 11 locomotives for this service." (Progressive Railroading, March 2011, page G11)

For the under-construction Frontrunner South service, UTA commissioned 10 Motive Power MPXpress locomotives, 10 Bombardier Bi-level cab cars and eight Bombardier Bi-level passenger cars for use on the FrontRunner South line. Additionally, 10 Comet single level passenger cars, refurbished by Bombardier, will also be used on the line.

Metra Cars

July 30, 2004
UTA received the first 10 of a total of 30 cars from Chicago's Metra transit agency. The cars came from Chicago, and had been in service in the Chicago area as late as 45 days previously. Chicago offered to cars at no charge to other transit agencies after receiving the last of a batch of 107 new cars. The cars were part of what is known as a "Federal Transfer of Assets", from one federally-funded project to another. While the cars were free, the cost of moving them to Utah was $1,200 per car. (Deseret News, July 30, 2004)

May 22, 2005
The following comes from the May 22, 2005 issue of the Chicago Daily Herald newspaper.

Metra selling old train cars for a buck -- Bargain hunters on eBay never had it this good: Commuter rail systems in Nashville, Tenn., and suburban Virginia got dozens of ex-Metra, bi-level cars for a dollar apiece. Compared to the Utah Transit Authority, which is building a new commuter rail line in Salt Lake City, they overpaid. The UTA got 30 Metra cars for free. The bargain-basement sale opened in 2000, when Metra began taking delivery of 300 new, stainless steel bi-level cars. That project cost $400 million -- or about $1.3 million per car. Two years later, Metra began phasing out 219 of its oldest cars, some of which dated from the 1950s and '60s, but found no takers. The alternative, officials said, was either to scrap them or to give them away.

"What's no longer useful to Metra is certainly useful to a smaller organization," spokesman Dan Schnolis said. "These cars did have some serviceable, usable life left, and our agreement with the FTA (Federal Transit Administration) is that if they have some life left in them, then the cars can be given to another railroad." FTA spokesman Paul Griffo said even though that's true, Metra could have disposed of the cars as it saw fit. But when a transit agency agrees to transfer cars to another agency, and those cars were either bought or refurbished with federal funds, then the transfer price must be free, Griffo added. Metra officials said the sale let them avoid an estimated $25,000-per-car scrapping cost.

May 23, 2005
As of May 23, 2005, UTA's fleet for its projected FrontRunner service consisted solely of, "30 Used Heavy Rail Passenger Cars - UTA acquired these vehicles from Chicago's METRA system at no cost and will be used to provide extra capacity on UTA's future commuter rail system." (UTA Fleet document, May 23, 2005)

After removing the truck assemblies, five of the ex-Metra cars were being scrapped during early 2008, with the last of the five cars completed during April 2009. (, January 23, 2008; May 3, 2009, reported by Lew Jeppson)

The remaining Metra cars were to have their truck assemblies removed and used as part of the refurbishment program for the Comet cars, and what remained would be scrapped. (Salt Lake Tribune, July 1, 2008)

In April 2009, 13 former Metra cars (11 coaches and 2 cab cars) were returned to Metra, and were returned to service in the Chicago area. Among the cars returned to Metra were 7787, 7788, 7789, 7791, 7794, 7795, 7801, 7804, 7806, 7810, 7811, 8738, and 8743; all of which still had METX reporting marks.

April 2014
"Concerning the Metra cars that UTA had for Frontrunner service. At least 10 have now been rebuilt and are back in service on Metra with their old numbers (7787, 7788, 7794, 7795, 7801, 7804, 7806, 7810, 7811, 8748). 7789 and 7791 have not been seen yet, but since the latest rebuild to enter service was 7795 in January, they might yet reappear. There is a bit of a mystery, though. Supposedly cab car 8743 was sent back also, however it has not been seen, but 8749, which was at UTA but not on the return list, has been, so it appears 8743 was swapped for 8749." (Andre Kristopans, email dated April 9, 2014)

Bombardier Cars

August 3, 2005
"Canada-based Bombardier Transportation has received a firm order from the Utah Transit Authority for 12 Bombardier Bi-level commuter rail vehicles that will be used between Weber County and Salt Lake City in a first phase. The contract is valued at about $29 million. Delivery is expected between June and October 2006. Future phases will expand the commuter rail from Brigham City to Payson. The contract includes an option for up to 23 additional cars. Bi-level cars are used by 11 public transit authorities across Canada and the United States." (Deseret News, August 3, 2005)

July 22, 2006
UTA's first car from Bombardier was delivered to UTA's Warm Springs Rail Service Center on July 22, 2006. The car had left Bombardier's facility in Plattsburg, New York, on July 13th, and arrived for interchange to UP at Chicago on July 18th.

August 2006
UTA took delivery of its first FrontRunner commuter cars in August 2006. The cars were moved into the Warm Springs facility upon arrival for final inspection and acceptance by personnel of both UTA and the builder Bombardier. (, September 6, 2006)

April 2007
Bombardier Transportation signed a contract with UTA to rebuild both light rail and commuter rail cars for UTA, using space provided at the Warm Springs facility. In addition to completing work for UTA, Bombardier Transportation will be allowed to lease space that will allow it to perform contract work for other transit agencies. (Deseret news, April 18, 2007; April 20, 2007)

February 1, 2010
"An order of eight new Bombardier bi-level coaches (212-219) and ten new Bombardier bi-level cab cars (112-121) are planned for delivery at Warm Springs (UP's North Yard in SLC) between now an the end of June." (Utah Railroading Yahoo discussion group, February 1, 2010)

Comet Cars

The Utah Transit Authority purchased 25 retired Comet coaches (known as "Comet I") from New Jersey Transit for its FrontRunner commuter rail project despite having acquired 30 former Chicago Metra galley cars which were already on the property. The Metra cars were no longer part of the current commuter rail project, UTA official Steve Meyer told Rail Transit OnLine. UTA had purchased the NJT Comet cars and would be rehabilitating them for use on the Weber County-to-Salt Lake City route. UTA spokesman Justin Jones said the Metra double-deckers were obtained at no cost (other than shipping) and, at the time they were available, were the best means to provide the necessary passenger capacity for the project. When the Comets became available, "they were found to be a more cost effective solution to meeting our needs," said Jones, adding, "The Metra gallery cars may still be utilized by UTA in the future as passenger demand on our commuter rail system increases." The single-deck Comets, which were withdrawn from revenue service in New Jersey in January 2006, were built by Pullman in 1972 and overhauled by Bombardier in 1986. Their overall condition is considered good. They were to be stored in New Jersey, where they were to remain until a rehabilitation contract was awarded. (Rail Transit Online, January 1, 2007)

July 1, 2008
UTA purchased 25 cars from the New Jersey Transit agency. Known as "Comet" cars, for the service they were used for in New Jersey, the cars were purchased for $35,000 each, a total of $875,000 compared to $2.2 million for new additional bi-level cars purchased from Bombardier. UTA planned to refurbish 15 of the cars, at a cost of $400,000 each. Four Comet cars had already been refurbished, but were being stored until ridership was expected in the fall. Fifteen of the Comet cars were to be refurbished to add to the capacity of UTA's existing fleet of 20 Bombardier bi-level cars. The cars were built by Pullman in the early 1970s. (Salt Lake Tribune, July 1, 2008; Fox13 local news, July 1, 2008; Wired blog network, July 1, 2008; ABC 4 news, September 17, 2008;, September 18, 2008)

September 8, 2008
The refurbished former NJT Comet cars entered service on Monday September 8, 2008. A test run using an unrepainted Comet car was completed on July 20, 2008. By July 18, 2008, four Comet cars had been refurbished.

The UTA Comet cars were numbered from 301 to 325, with an A or B suffix denoting which end of the car was being viewed.

In April 2009, UTA leased several former New Jersey Transit Comet cars to MetraLink in Los Angeles, pending the arrival of new cars for MetraLink later in 2009. (, April 17, 2009)

Ridership on UTA's Frontrunner trains fell sharply with the worldwide COVID pandemic in 2020. Prior to 2020, the common Frontrunner train included a locomotive and four cars (one Comet car, and three Bombardier bi-level cars). On March 19, 2020 Frontrunner trains were changed from four cars, to three cars (one Comet car and two Bombardier cars). Train frequency was changed from every 30 minutes, to every 60 minutes. On August 23rd, on UTA's regular "Change Day," and although ridership was still as little as 30 percent of pre-pandemic levels, Frontrunner trains were returned to their previous four-car consists that included a single Comet car.

With maintenance costs for the Comet cars continuing to increase, the decision was made to retire the fleet of 25 cars. The last day of regular service was on April 18, 2022. Although the fleet had been retired in April, two cars were taken out of retirement for a projected peak ridership weekend for the "Warriors over the Wasatch" Air Show at Hill Air Force Base on June 27 and 28, 2020. This was the final run for UTA's Comet cars.

By 2022, although they had been refurbished prior to entering UTA Frontrunner service in 2007, the Comet cars were 50 years old, with high maintenance costs, much more than the newer Bombardier bi-level cars.

UTA wrote the following in the invitation to bid.

Utah Transit Authority recently removed the commuter rail Comet cars from regular service as of April 18, 2022. This was due to the 1970 Comet cars having mechanical issues, aging issues, reliability issues, and lack of parts being manufactured.

The Comet cars were initially put into a reserve capacity for large community events or unexpected spikes in ridership. However, it has become too great of a logistical and financial burden to continue servicing these vehicles. So in order for UTA to apply for federal grants to purchase newer rail cars, we need to auction off the Comet cars.

In mid October and early November 2022, UTA auctioned off all 25 Comet cars to the highest bidders. Thirteen cars were movable and received higher bids. The remaining 12 cars had been used as parts sources to keep the others cars in service, and received lower bids. They were purchased for their scrap value, and were to be scrapped on site at UTA's Becks storage yard at 1800 North in Salt Lake City.

The 13 Comet cars sold at auction in November 2022 were moved to temporary storage on the Abilene & Smoky Valley Railroad in Abilene and Enterprise, Kansas. The special movement of 13 cars was interchanged from UTA to BNSF on August 31, 2023, and arrived at Abilene on September 4th. The cars were marked for their new owner, Heritage Rail Management (HRMX), a subsidiary of American Heritage Railways. American Heritage Railways had signed an agreement in November 2022 with Abilene & Smoky Valley Railroad to improve their tourist train operations, and the 13 former UTA Frontrunner Comet cars were part of that agreement.

FrontRunner Locomotives

June 12, 2006
UTA ordered its first locomotives:

Powering Up -- Utah, California agencies place joint locomotive order with MotivePower -- Purchasing rolling stock can set a transit agency back several million dollars. So, some agencies are teaming up to acquire cars and locomotives. Case in point: Utah Transit Authority (UTA) and Southern California Regional Rail Authority (SCRRA) recently signed a joint $60 million contract with Wabtec Corp. subsidiary MotivePower Inc. to provide 11 MPXpress® locomotives to each agency.

To be delivered to UTA in 2007 and SCRRA in 2008, the locomotives will be built at MotivePower's Boise, Idaho, facility. The units will feature higher-horsepower engines, better fuel efficiency and reduced emissions compared with the agencies' current fleets. The locomotives also will include microprocessor controls and meet new American Public Transportation Association crashworthiness and safety standards.

The contract includes options for an additional 45 units costing $120 million that could be exercised by UTA, SCRRA, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority or Northstar Corridor commuter-rail authority. (, June 12, 2006)

January 5, 2007
UTA Number 1, the first Frontrunner locomotive, was released by Wabtec's MotivePower factory In Boise, Idaho. (, January 5, 2007)

February 23, 2007
UTA held a public open house at the Warm Springs facility to show its new locomotive. (Deseret News, February 24, 2007)

March 2008
Utah Transit Authority awarded a contract to Wabtec Corp. subsidiary Motive-Power for an additional 10 MPXpress diesel-electric commuter locomotives, bringing the fleet to 21 units. The $31 million contract includes four years of maintenance services on all units. MotivePower will provide on-site labor and management at UTA's Salt Lake City facility. It will develop work scopes for scheduled and unscheduled maintenance and manage material requirements. The 10-unit option is to be manufactured in Boise, Idaho, with delivery in 2010. UTA's new commuter rail service operates between Salt Lake City and Ogden, Utah. The new locomotives are needed for a southern extension between Salt Lake City and Provo, planned for completion in 2010. (Railway Age, March 2008, page 7)

In late March 2011 UTA was operating the Frontrunner North line with five or six locomotives, and 15 to 18 bi-level cars, about a third of its total fleet, which was listed as consisting of 18 locomotives, 38 bi-level coaches, and 25 refurbished older cars purchased from New Jersey Transit. (Deseret News, March 28, 2011)

Locomotive Roster

MPI MP36PH-3C -- 20 locomotives

Date To
UTA 1 0206-01   Jan 2007 5 Jan 2007    
UTA 2 0206-02   Mar 2007 28 Mar 2007    
UTA 3 0206-03   Mar 2007 28 Mar 2007    
UTA 4 0206-04   Mar 2007 29 Mar 2007    
UTA 5 0206-05   Apr 2007 20 Apr 2007    
UTA 6 0206-06   May 2007 4 May 2007    
UTA 7 0206-07   May 2007 25 May 2007    
UTA 8 0206-08   Jun 2007 27 Jun 2007    
UTA 9 0206-09   Jun 2007 26 Jun 2007    
UTA 10 0206-10   Jul 2007 27 Jul 2007    
UTA 11 0206-11   Jul 2007 27 Jul 2007    
UTA 12 0407-01   Jun 2009   MNRX 512 1
UTA 13 0407-02 5202 Jun 2009   MBTA 010 2
UTA 14 0407-03 5203 Jul 2009   MBTA 011 3
UTA 15 0407-04   Sep 2009      
UTA 16 0407-05   Jul 2009      
UTA 17 0407-06   Aug 2009      
UTA 18 0407-07   Aug 2009      
UTA 19 0407-08   Aug 2009      
UTA 20 0407-09   Aug 2009      
UTA 21 0407-10   Aug 2009      

General Notes:

  1. UTA number 1, the first FrontRunner locomotive, was released by Wabtec's Motive Power, Inc., factory In Boise, Idaho on January 5, 2007.
  2. UTA number 1 was on display during a UTA open house on February 24, 2007, at its Warm Springs facility.
  3. April 26, 2008 was opening day for UTA's FrontRunner commuter rail between Salt Lake City and Ogden.
  4. In March 2008, Utah Transit Authority awarded a contract to Wabtec Corporation subsidiary Motive Power, Inc., for an additional 10 MPXpress diesel-electric commuter locomotives, bringing the fleet to 21 units. The $31 million contract included four years of maintenance services on all units. Motive Power will provide on-site labor and management at UTA's Salt Lake City facility. It will develop work scopes for scheduled and unscheduled maintenance and manage material requirements. The 10-unit option is to be manufactured in Boise, Idaho, with delivery in 2010. (Railway Age, March 2008, page 7)
  5. To reduce overall manufacturing costs, all the UTA locomotives are equipped with remanufactured components:
    • AR10CA5 main alternator
    • EMD 16-645E3B engine
    • Air compressor
    • Blomberg trucks with remanufactured D78 traction motors
    • New 2500 gallon fuel tanks
    • The overall weight specification is 295,000 pounds
  6. Sources include Dave Santos, Doug Cummings (Extra 2200 South), and Diesel Era magazine.


  1. UTA 12 (now MNRX 512) was leased to Minnesota NorthStar service in November 2009, lease extended in April 2010; lease cost was reported as being $300 per day. (Deseret News, March 28, 2011); painted to NorthStar colors in September 2012.
  2. UTA 13 (now MBTA 010) weight is 291,805 pounds; in service on MBTA on January 28, 2011.
  3. UTA 14 (now MBTA 011) weight is 291,169 pounds; in service on MBTA on February 11, 2011.


EMD GP40 (RP39-2C) -- 1 locomotive

Date To
UTA 901 VRE V07 33464 Sep 1967 29 Aug 1991 Dec 2013

Painted all-white with black trucks and underframe.

On the engineer side there is an MK rebuild plate with the following:

Serial Number -- 33464
Date -- Sept. 1967
Rebuild Date -- 27 Aug 1991
Model -- RP39-2C

On the fireman side there is an NRE EPA plate for the diesel engine, showing a install date of Dec. 2013.

Photos of UTA 901, including three builder plates, taken on October 6, 2014

UTA 901 was built as L&N GP40 3025; renumbered to Seaboard System (SBD) 6821; renumbered to CSX 6821; rebuilt by Morrison Knudsen to Virginia Railway Express (VRE) V07 in August 1991, changing as-built 16 cylinder 567 engine to 12 cylinder 645 engine; retired by VRE in 2011 and returned to Wabtec-Boise ownership, stored until reconditioned by National Railway Equipment (NRE) in December 2013; to UTA 901.

NRE bought the locomotive from Frank Sahd & Sons, reconditioned it and delivered it to UTA in Salt Lake City in December 2013.

UTA 901 was out of service from its delivery in December 2013, until at least October 2014.

UTA 901 was used regularly to switch the few remaining industries along the east side of Union Pacific's 4th South Yard. Access to the yard by Union Pacific locomotives and crews had been blocked when UTA finished its Frontrunner South mainline in 2012. The two industries that received the most number of rail cars were the Cereal Food Processors mill (Grain Craft after 2014) on 5th South between 400 and 500 West, and the Mountain Cement distribution terminal between 8th and 9th South. The Cereal Food Processors mill closed in 2018. Mountain Cement stopped receiving rail cars in late 2021.

(View a James Belmont photo of UTA 901 doing what it was purchased to do)

The UTA yard tracks along 600 West extend between 4th South and 8th South, and are without overhead catenary for use by UTA's TRAX light rail. The TRAX overhead catenary and light rail tracks end immediately under the 400 South overhead viaduct.

(View a Google map showing the two spurs, Grain Craft and Mountain Cement, served by UTA between 2014 and 2018)

Union Pacific and UTA had an agreement that UTA would provide switching services to the industries on the east side of the 4th South Yard, east of the Frontrunner tracks, using UTA 901 as the motive power. But UTA 901 was regularly out of service for a variety of reasons, forcing UP to provide the needed switching, which required coordination with the UTA dispatchers in order to cross the Frontrunner tracks in order to access the industrial spurs.

The switching contract between UTA and UP went into effect in late October 2014, and was dissolved during the summer of 2018 when Grain Craft closed its mill. In that time period, UTA 901 was usually based at UP's 4th South Yard, until sometime between late August and early September of 2018. Between 2018 and 2021, rails cars for Mountain Cement were switched by Union Pacific locomotives and crews.

As of late 2023, UTA 901 is used at the UTA Warm Springs shop to move equipment as needed, and occasionally for special maintenance moves along UTA's Frontrunner North and South mainlines.

UTA Locomotives Leased To Other Systems

Locomotive Leased/Sold to Minnesota Northstar Service

UTA number 12 was leased to Minnesota Northstar commuter rail in April 2010. The Northstar service began on November 16, 2009. UTA number 12 joined five other MPI MP36-3C locomotives already in service as Northstar numbers 501-505. (Wikipedia - Northstar_Line)

Overview from the Minnesota Northstar web site:

The Northstar Commuter Rail Line, operated by Metro Transit, provides service on the 40-mile segment of existing track along Highways 10 and 47 from Big Lake to downtown Minneapolis. Northstar trains offer commuter service during prime morning and evening week day rush hours, as well as regular weekend service and some special event service.

The Northstar Corridor Development Authority (NCDA) is a joint powers board of 30 governmental entities representing counties, cities, townships and regional railroad authorities along the Northstar Corridor, which covers an 80-mile stretch from downtown Minneapolis to St. Cloud. (

Locomotives Leased/Sold to Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority

MBTA agreed to purchase two locomotives; UTA numbers 13 (built in June 2009) and 14 became MBTA numbers 010 (delivered in early January 2011) and 011 (delivered in February 2011). (

In 2005, MBTA agreed to purchase and/or lease up to nine of the ten locomotives being built for UTA by Motive Power, Inc., of Boise, Idaho. The purchase was set at $3.5 million each, with 20 percent being funded by the federal government. (Massachusetts Department of Transportation [MassDOT] news release dated June 2, 2010)

MBTA 010 (ex UTA 13) entered service on January 28, 2011. (from Dave Santos via email dated February 5, 2011)

From the MBTA Roster web page:

June 2, 2010: The MBTA Board of Directors approved the following: "Authorization to purchase up to four (4) passenger service locomotives and/or lease up to seven (7) passenger service locomotives, or any combination thereof, from Utah Transit Authority, for an amount not to exceed $14,000,000"

The units are MP36PH-3C locomotives built for UTA by MPI. Eleven units were built for UTA in 2007-2008, and 10 more were built in 2009-2010. Once a final agreement is reached, the first units could be in service on the North Side by October 2010 after repainting and minor modifications. Units would need ACSES signal equipment installed for South Side service. This procurement is in addition to and not a replacement for the RFP for 20 new units.

July 14, 2010: The MBTA Board of Directors voted on a contract with MPI (Motive Power Industries) for 20 new HSP-46 locomotives for $144 million. These units will feature General Electric GEVO prime movers. The Motive Power proposal was chosen over a competing one from Vossloh Espana, which would have used an EMD 710 engine in their proposed unit. Deliveries from MPI are expected to start in 2013. (MBTA online roster; web page service deleted by Verizon)

Positive Train Control on Frontrunner

The following was published in the November 2011 issue of Progressive Railroading magazine:

Heading north and south -- The Utah Transit Authority (UTA) expects [PTC] implementation to cost "at least $20 million," says UTA Senior Program Manager Todd Provost, who oversees rail projects.

The agency needs to install PTC on 45 miles of existing FrontRunner commuter-rail track to the north as well as on 45 miles of track UTA is building to the south from Salt Lake City to Provo that's scheduled to open in a few years.

Since 2008, the railroad has used a GE "carborne" system to help prevent train-to-train collisions and overspeed derailments, but UTA will need supplemental systems to cover two other PTC requirements: accident prevention in work zones and proper switch-position movements, says Provost.

In the existing north system, where UTA has seven miles of jointly used track with UP, two locomotives and cab cars will feature I-ETMS capability; in the soon-to-be-built southern extension, UTA plans to install an Alstom system.

"We will start in the south first because it's not in service and we can get it implemented in time, " says Provost. "In the north, design is rolling."

As implementation draws closer, a key issue for UTA is recruiting enough qualified technical workers to complete the work, such as testers, installers and communications experts, he says.

"The Class Is will get the most attention from those people," says Provost. "How do we get those folks?"

Early Studies

Early Studies about the need for commuter rail along the Wasatch Front.

Frontrunner Photos

Photos of Frontrunner -- Photo albums of UTA's Frontrunner, including photos taken during the construction of both Frontrunner North (206-2007) and Frontrunner South (2008-2012)