LEHI — After four years of construction, UTA FrontRunner trains are running on the tracks in Utah County as testing gets under way in anticipation of a rail service beginning in December.
As a FrontRunner train rolled into the stop in Lehi Monday morning, it was music to the ears of commuters who now ride the bus to downtown Salt Lake City.
“I’m excited,” commuter Garrett Johnston said. “I hope it can get me to my destination faster.”
By 2015, the FrontRunner South line is projected to carry 8,000 passengers a day, according to UTA general manager Mike Allegra. But before passenger service begins, extensive testing, followed by training for operators, will take place on the line.
“This is the beginning of our testing and start-up phase,” Allegra said Monday. “We want to make sure the system is designed to the highest safety standards possible.”
Officials are warning people in Utah County that FrontRunner trains are now on the tracks. Unlike freight trains residents are used to stopping for, the FrontRunner trains will eventually travel at 79 mph.
“These trains run a lot faster,” said UTA Chief Safety officer Dave Goeres. “It's very deceptive. They come at you a lot faster than you think. We will warn you whenever the train is approaching at the crossing, so pay attention at those crossings.”
The FrontRunner South line will be located in a 45-mile stretch of existing Union Pacific Railroad corridor and will feature eight new stations — in Murray, west of the existing Murray Central TRAX station; South Jordan, Draper/Bluffdale, Lehi, American Fork, Vineyard Station (to be added in the future), Orem and Provo.
Each station will have park-and-ride lots and bus staging areas. The Murray Station, as well as the northern terminus of the project at the Salt Lake Intermodal Center, will feature cross-platform transfers to TRAX.
UTA promises a Provo-to-Salt Lake run in 50 minutes, and it believes passengers will line up to ride commuter rail, when it opens in December. The line will also connect to UTA’s existing FrontRunner line that runs from Salt Lake to Pleasant View in Weber County.
Initial testing will be intermittent. The trains will test the line at 45 mph, but within a few weeks will be going full speed at 79 mph along the new FrontRunner line, which starts in Salt Lake and travels south to Provo to a stop near University Avenue and 500 South. This fall, UTA will begin testing a full schedule with high-speed trains every 30 to 60 minutes.
Testing the line can be dangerous. On June 8, 2011, while UTA was testing its new TRAX line in West Jordan, a 15-year-old was struck and killed by a TRAX train near the intersection of 3200 West and 8600 South. A safety review resulted in several changes and implementation of supplemental safety features at three crossings: 3200 West, 2700 West and 2200 West.
The changes include removal of sound wall panels and relocation of yellow tactile strips to improve visibility, relocation of pedestrian train signals with audio notification to the track's center, installation of pedestrian approaches and swing gates, as well as changes to the "stop" and "look both ways" signs to reinforce safe stopping distances for pedestrians.
FrontRunner South is part of the $2.3 billion FrontLines 2015 project, which adds 70 miles to UTA’s existing 64-mile rail network. Local dollars fund about 80 percent of that project, while the remainder is federal money.
Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc