Railroad freight traffic along the Wasatch Front is almost as busy as it was during World War II, and railroad officials say any discussion of commuter rail without talk of building more tracks is a waste of time and energy.
During a two-hour demonstration of regional commuter rail for lawmakers last month, Union Pacific officials strongly opposed the implementation of commuter rail unless more infrastructure is built.They argue that adding commuter rail trips to existing tracks would put freight traffic at a virtual standstill.
Dick Rauschmeier, UP manager of industry and public projects in Salt Lake City, said 60 to 80 trains pass through Ogden and Salt Lake City train yards each day.
The amount of train traffic is creeping toward the railroad's all-time high of more than 100 trains a day during World War II. Business has increased the past few years, in part because of mergers, including one in 1996 with Southern Pacific, he said.
With subsequent contract problems and bogged-down southern routes, the last thing UP needs is more delays, said Larry Smith, general director of UP passenger operations.
"We want our freight customers happy with us again," Smith said. "We're not forgetting that they're our priority, not commuters."
Smith insisted that UP is not against commuter rail. UP runs commuter trains in Texas, California and Illinois.
About 100,000 passengers fill 180 trains a day on Chicago's Metro. The difference, Smith said, is that commuter routes either run on their own tracks, or the areas have enough tracks that freight isn't held up.
Smith said UP will not give up on the commuter rail idea but will not consider large-scale demonstrations or limited service unless it runs separately from freight traffic.
During the Western Transportation Corridor Study, which Rauschmeier participated in, task force members looked at possibly building new tracks farther west than the existing UP and former D&RG western tracks.
The new tracks would have carried freight, leaving the existing track for commuter rail. But the cost was found to be too high, Rauschmeier said.