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Monday, February 23, 2009
Some FrontRunner Follow-Up

Miscellaneous notes accumulated on the FrontRunner junket.

Here are some additional notes from my day as a surrogate VIP on a guided trip to Ogden and back on FrontRunner, the new commuter line that is beginning to extend to Utah County. For the most part, they are in no particular order, and they don't often duplicate anything in the previous post.

Our guides and transit gurus were Hugh Johnson, General Manager of Utah Transit Authority's Timpanogos Region, and Justin Jones, UTA's Government Relations Manager. If I heard correctly, both are American Forkers. Johnson, Jones, and another UTA employee or two whose names I neglected to note, along with printed materials supplied by UTA, are my sources for the following details.

Councilman Rick Storrs and his wife were part of the group; the only other elected official represented was MFCC, who was there by proxy in the person of . . . me -- and, I suppose, in the person of the ten year old formerly known as Vito, the deported Italian communist rabble-rouser. (Yes, I'm still having fun with that.) Some members of the American Fork Planning Commission and some City staff were also present, as were some their spouses, none of whom, so far as I know, are Italian revolutionaries.

A major revision of UTA's service is planned between now and 2015, in addition to major expansion of bus service, FrontRunner, and Trax. The stated goal is to make it possible for anyone to get anywhere on the Wasatch Front via UTA service within three or four blocks of home or business. It sounds good to me; I'd much rather be taxed for this than to pay for other folks' rent or mortgages.

FrontRunner South, the line from downtown Salt Lake City to Provo (someday to Payson) is supposed to be operational by 2015, but may be running by 2013 -- and that's after several months of tests. They're ready to lay rail this summer for at least part of the line. Trax trains and buses will be timed for convenient transfers to and from FrontRunner at intermodal hubs in Salt Lake City, Ogden, Provo, and elsewhere, and the same will be true of bus service connecting to all the stations.

Stations on the south FrontRunner line are planned for Murray, South Jordan, Draper/Bluffdale (later), north Lehi (Thanksgiving Point), American Fork, Vineyard (later), Orem (near 1200 South), and Provo. Each station will have park-and-ride lots.

I heard lengthy descriptions of safety measures implemented on the FrontRunner system to eliminate the possibility of a crash, despite the use of a single track for now. I won't try to reproduce them.

Weather is not much of an obstacle to commuter rail. The cars and engines are much heavier than Trax trains, so snow and ice (in reasonable amounts) are only an issue at the switches, which are heated by natural gas to avoid problems. There was only one weather-related delay on the FrontRunner line this winter.

A lot of the system's electronic communications use the rails as cables, which works well because the rails are continuous.

About forty percent of trips to the University of Utah now use UTA instead of private vehicles. This has eased parking problems on campus to the point that buildings are now being planned where parking lots and structures were previously planned. Our hosts called the U "a national showpiece for integrating campus and transit."

American Fork's FrontRunner station will be west of the freeway, near Main Street.

Numerous interesting things are planned to accommodate bicycles and their riders throughout the system, but I wasn't taking careful notes at that point of the discussion. Bikes are already abundant on buses, Trax, and FrontRunner. There are also some interesting plans for rent-by-the-hour, miniature hybrid cars for use by rail passengers arriving in downtown Salt Lake City.

There will not be sound walls along the FrontRunner line through American Fork. As I noted in the previous post, the FrontRunner trains are far quieter than Union Pacific freight trains. Moreover, sound walls are only effective if you can get them in the right proximity to the rails, which apparently is a problem through American Fork because of the Union Pacific lines. Careful landscaping along the line should have some positive impact on noise levels, however. The bottom still is, these are fairly quiet trains.

For more information, or to see what a competent government public relations operation looks like, go to UTA's Web site. Further information about transportation studies, plans, and projects in Utah County is available at the Mountainland Association of Governments (MAG).

David Rodeback comments (2/25/09):

Here's Barbara Christiansen's related article in yesterday's Daily Herald.

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