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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
The Sugar House streetcar takes a test run Friday, Oct. 18, 2013, in Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Transit Authority has begun testing trains on its Sugar House streetcar line.

The 2-mile extension will run from the 2100 South TRAX station (Central Pointe) to McClelland Street (1045 East) and Sugarmont Drive (2225 South). Testing will continue until the line officially opens on Dec. 8.

UTA officials said this phase of testing is designed to allow operators to get required training and become familiar with the streetcar vehicles and the line in general.

“Streetcars will be running daily on 20-minute headways. People can expect to see a streetcar at any given point approximately every 10 minutes,” UTA spokesman Marc Bowman said.

Planning for the Sugar House streetcar began in 2006, and construction on the line started in April 2012. Development of the $55.5 million project was a joint partnership between Salt Lake City, South Salt Lake and UTA.

What distinguishes the streetcar line from UTA’s TRAX light-rail lines is that most streetcars operate in a vehicle travel lane near the sidewalk, while light-rail lines typically operate in a dedicated guideway in the middle of a street.

The streetcar’s slower speeds and frequent stops generate pedestrian traffic and encourage support of retail businesses, UTA officials said.

The S-Line, as it's being called, runs in a historic rail corridor that will feature seven stations along the route.

“The S-Line name refers to the place as a whole,” Bowman said. “In other words, it’s the streetcar line itself, as well as the adjacent greenway space (that) is designed to reflect the region’s industrial history.”

During the testing phase, UTA will be conducting a safety campaign to raise awareness along the streetcar corridor. The majority of the crossings are controlled by traffic signals, with a few of the crossings — lesser travelled streets and alleys — controlled by stop signs, Bowman explained.

“Safety is very important to us,” he said. “In addition to the (media) outreach, we’ve had extensive communication and outreach to local schools and neighborhoods."

Fliers have been handed out in the neighborhoods near the stop-sign controlled crossings, Bowman said.

Despite safety issues with previous light-rail line openings, the agency said as long as people obey the traffic lights and stop signs and remember to look both ways, accidents can be avoided.

“The trains will also be going at slower speeds through the areas where most of those stop-sign controlled crossings are located — approximately 10 to 15 mph,” Bowman said. “At those slow speeds, people are able to see trains coming, and in the event of an emergency, trains are able to stop fairly quickly.”

The S-Line is the latest addition to UTA’s light- and commuter-rail system.

In April, the $350 million airport TRAX extension began taking passengers between Salt Lake City International Airport and Valley Fair Mall in West Valley City.

It was one of several rail projects UTA had on its construction agenda over the past few years. The others included the $535 million Mid-Jordan TRAX extension and the $370 million West Valley City TRAX line, both of which began operation in August 2011.

The $212 million, 3.8-mile Draper TRAX extension began operation in August, and the $850 million FrontRunner south commuter-rail extension that runs from downtown Salt Lake City to Provo began operation in December 2012.

The Draper TRAX line marked the completion of UTA's FrontLines 2015 project, which added more than 70 miles of new rail lines to the UTA system. The project was completed two years ahead of schedule and $300 million under budget, according to the agency.

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