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FrontRunner Commuter Rail

This page was last updated on October 17, 2023.

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The early studies...

As early as mid 1993, Union Pacific was working with local authorities in Salt Lake City (as well as Denver, Dallas-Fort Worth, Seattle-Tacoma, and Houston) in the development of local passenger projects. (Trains, June 1993, page 18)

Early 1997
In early 1997, the Wasatch Front Regional Council was to hire a consultant to determine the need for commuter rail between Salt Lake City, Ogden and Provo. The study was to analyze both the long term effects of a commuter rail system, and the short term feasibility of having an interim system in place for the 2002 Winter Olympics. The council agreed that the projected automobile gridlock between Sandy and downtown Salt Lake City would not be solved by the combined construction of a light rail system along the I-15 corridor, and the anticipated rebuilding and expansion of Interstate 15. (Pacific RailNews, April 1997, page 79)

December 1997
Commuter Rail Study (Pacific RailNews, January 1998, page 65):

Plans for a commuter rail system in the Salt Lake City area are advancing. The five-county regional planning agency has authorized further study of a proposed 117-mile route between Brigham City and Payson, Utah, after consultants determined that such an operation was feasible. A detailed study will determine how commuter rail could be implemented, what it would cost, and the prospect of utilizing freight railroads. The study will examine the possibility of running a demonstration service next spring between Salt Lake City and either Ogden or Provo. Consultants estimate the cost of establishing a permanent service at about $200 million, plus $12 million in annual operating costs. Projections indicate 4,000 daily weekday riders for the first year, with a sharp 30 percent increase for the following three years. The regional council approved a $1.6 million funding agreement between the Utah Department of Transportation and the Utah Transit Authority, allowing federal highway money to be used for transit studies. These include $300,000 for commuter rail, $500,000 for the proposed east-west light-rail line, and $200,000 for light-rail lines to West Jordan, Sandy, and Draper.

February 1998
Commuter Rail Delayed (Pacific RailNews, March 1998, page 31):

Union Pacific's congestion problems may force the eager Utah Transit Authority to postpone or cancel a commuter rail demonstration project. The authority wants to run four weekday trips; two in the morning and two in the late afternoon for four weeks between Provo and Salt Lake City. Additional stops would be made in Orem, American Fork, South Jordan, and Murray. The $4 million test was to have begun in mid-February, but as of press time UP's answer was no. "We have resisted any long-term demonstration because we can't support the schedule," said Julie K. Brown, director of passenger service development for UP. "We cannot afford the cost of delaying freight." Union Pacific claims that the Salt Lake City-Provo corridor is already overloaded with freight and has too few passing sidings for commuter trains. The Salt Lake City-Ogden corridor is also operating at capacity, making a regular service there all but impossible. The railroad has held out hope for commuter trains in March, but only for five days. Despite admitting that UP is in a tough spot, UTA General Manager John Inglish said a week isn't good enough. "It's got to be extensive enough that temporary stations are built so people can get a real feel for what this mode can do," responded Inglish. The authority hopes to begin operating a regular commuter service between Payson and Brigham City once funding and track space can be arranged.

February 11, 1998
UTA rented a train set from the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE), a commuter rail service soon to be operating in the southeast San Francisco Bay area between Stockton and San Jose, California. The cars of the train set were en route to California from the builder in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and the matching locomotives (one on each end of the four-car train set) were en route from the builder in Boise, Idaho. The test cost UTA $29,000, plus another $3,000 for lunches for the 425 persons on board the special promotional round trip between Salt Lake City and American Fork. Included among the passengers were about half of the 104-member state legislature, the half that already supported the concept of commuter rail. A test run prior to the demonstration run was operated on February 3, 1998, as shown in a dated photo by James Belmont. (Salt Lake Tribune, February 12, 1998, courtesy of McKay Ransom)

(The ACE train set continued its journey to its new home in California, and ACE service began on October 19, 1998.)

November 1998
The Regional Commuter Rail Phase II Feasibility Study was completed in November 1998 by the Wasatch Front Regional Council (WFRC), Mountainland Association of Governments (MAG), and Utah Transit Authority (UTA). The purpose of the study was to evaluate the feasibility of commuter rail in the region. The study was begun in 1997 and among its results were the following findings: Commuter rail is feasible, agreements with Union Pacific could likely be reached to use existing rail corridors for commuter rail service, forecasted ridership would support commuter rail service, and UTA should be the operating agency for commuter rail if it is implemented in the region.

October 1999
A study by the name of "Inter-Regional Corridor Alternatives Analysis" was initiated as a collaboration by four sponsoring government agencies:

Inter-Regional Corridor Alternatives Analysis 1999 to January 2002

The Inter-Regional Corridor Alternatives Analysis (IRCAA) was initiated as a collaborative effort in October of 1999 by four sponsor agencies: Wasatch Front Regional Council (WFRC), Mountainland Association of Governments (MAG), Utah Transit Authority (UTA), and Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT). The study was conducted to develop a comprehensive plan for the best mix of transportation solutions to meet long-term (30 year) inter-regional mobility needs.

Study Area
The Inter-Regional Corridor Alternatives Analysis study area covers a 120-mile corridor between the communities of Brigham City on the north and Payson on the southern end. The study area encompasses most of the urbanized areas in the State of Utah, as well as the primary commercial, business and education institutions. The corridor is linear and relatively narrow, located between the Wasatch Range on the east and the Great Salt Lake, Utah Lake and Oquirrh Mountains to the west. Over 50 cities and towns in the counties of Box Elder, Weber, Davis, Salt Lake and Utah are part of the study area.

The purpose for the IRCAA study was to address the increase in travel along the Wasatch Front. Both the WFRC and MAG identified improvements on I-15 and other parallel facilities for inclusion in their respective Long Range Transportation Plans. Therefore, the purpose of the study was to evaluate transportation solutions; in order to improve and keep up with capacity needs along Weber, Davis, Salt Lake and Utah Counties.

Locally Preferred Alternative
A Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) was determined, indicating commuter rail, as well as roadway, new interchanges, HOV Lanes and Bus Rapid Transit as necessary transportation improvements.

Commuter Rail
The IRCAA study determined commuter rail service to operate from Brigham City to Payson, using either locomotive hauled coaches or self-propelled diesel multiple units (DMU). The IRCAA study recommended trains to operate in the Union Pacific alignment from Ogden to Salt Lake City, and the Denver and Rio Grande Western alignment from Salt Lake City to Provo. Key elements of the proposed commuter rail service as addressed in the IRCAA study include the following:

  • 118 miles of commuter rail service from Brigham City to Payson;
  • Eighteen stations at: Brigham City, Pleasant View, Ogden, Roy, Clearfield, Layton, Farmington, West Bountiful, Salt Lake City, Murray, South Jordan/Sandy, Lehi, American Fork, Orem, Provo, Springville, Spanish Fork and Payson;
  • Trains were recommended to operate every 30 minutes during peak periods and every 60 minutes during the off-peak; and
  • Parking provisions were recommended at each rail station. A supporting network of feeder bus service to rail stations is also included in the Commuter Rail element.

October 17, 2000
UTA and UP ran a test and demonstration train from Salt Lake City to Ogden during the evening rush hour. The purpose was to show local politicians and residents the advantages (79 mph speed compared to adjacent I-15 commuters) and disadvantages of commuter rail. The capacity restrictions of UP's double track line was shown when the demonstration train had to wait in a passing siding at Clearfield while a southbound coal train left Ogden and slowly moved to the meeting point at Clearfield. The equipment used came from Sounder service in Seattle. (Salt Lake Tribune, October 18, 2000)