If one man has his way, vegetable oil commonly used in the kitchen could one day help power a trolley between the 2100 South TRAX light-rail station and Sugar House. To some, however, it's just wishful thinking.
Salt Lake City resident Doug White wants to buy at least two 1950s-era German hybrid rail trolleys for $60,000 each from a railroad company, ship the cars from Berlin and run them through the Utah Transit Authority's 1.8-mile rail corridor between about 250 West and 1100 East.
The 56-person capacity German cars would run two-thirds cleaner than a typical diesel-powered trolley and without sulfur emissions, he said. Although, at about eight miles per gallon of vegetable oil, it's not the most fuel-efficient ride.
White made his pitch recently to the Sugar House Community Council.
Critics, including the Utah Transit Authority, are already saying that safety, liability and overall logistics issues make the plan almost impossible to implement.
Community Council chairwoman Helen Peters called it a "romantic" idea, one that needs some fuel of its own.
"I think that there are a lot of challenges to work through, especially with no venture capital," she said.
White's plan is to form a nonprofit company, Sugar House Trolley, and raise the $2 million he thinks it will take to get the project up and running. Some track would need to be added and existing tracks would need to be retrofitted. Several new crossing arms would be needed at each intersection on the route.
UTA general manager John Inglish said White is "way off the mark" in terms of start-up costs and that for a variety of reasons, the idea is "just not realistic." Getting across State and 700 East are just two major challenges.
"He's thinking of a world gone by when you could have done this. . . but not this day and age," Inglish said.
Regulations imposed by the Public Service Commission could further complicate things for White.
There are currently no plans to bring light rail into Sugar House before 2030. Efforts are under way right now just to get Sugar House on the Wasatch Front Regional Council's 2030 plan for future transit projects. Several planned or proposed rail and road projects throughout Utah are already in line for finite federal funds.
White said that if the $2 million in donations he needs for his trolley system were to show up tomorrow, he says he can get the cars running in seven months.
"It's not going to be a huge operation," said White, who works for a satellite TV company. "It's going to be a functional commuter (service) with tourist appeal."
Union Pacific "threw in" the Sugar House corridor as part of UTA's deal last year to purchase 175 miles of right-of-way. Getting light rail in that corridor, Inglish said, is less of a priority than maybe a trail system in the same area.
"Even that has its difficulties," he said.
Mike Allegra, UTA's director of transit development, said he encourages people coming up with ideas for use of alternative technologies in transit. Already, UTA is using new fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly diesel/electric hybrid buses in its fleet.
A Sugar House trolley, White said, would be slower than TRAX light rail but would have more stops on its route and therefore better serve the community. He has set up an e-mail address, [email protected], to gather public comment.
E-mail: [email protected]