Murray • Officials are opening a second front in the fight for money to build a second parallel track for the FrontRunner commuter rail system — needed for the Utah Transit Authority to run trains more frequently, reliably and quickly.
Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams and Republican Rep. John Curtis announced Tuesday that they introduced legislation to change the rules for one of the nation’s biggest rail federal grant programs, which would allow FrontRunner to compete for some of the roughly $2.3 billion distributed through it annually.
That comes on top of a request by Gov. Gary Herbert for $34 million this year in state money to help double-track the system, but which is seen as a long shot because legislators say their budget is tight.
About 70% of the 90-mile FrontRunner system from Provo to Ogden now runs on a single track, so trains may pass each other only at stations and a few sidings.
“A delay at one station, for example, can cause a ripple effect of delays down the entire line,” said UTA Executive Director Carolyn Gonot, who said that led to long delays during heavy snowstorms earlier this month.
Single track also limits how frequently trains may travel. For example, FrontRunner trains may now run about every half hour at most. Double-tracking could allow service every 15 minutes or more. It would also cut travel time because passing only at stations would not be an issue.
“As Utah’s Wasatch Front population continues to grow, we need transportation solutions that keep up with our growth. Our transit system of buses, light rail and commuter rail is a big part of that solution,” McAdams said at a news conference at the Murray FrontRunner station.
For example, UTA has said that FrontRunner now removes the equivalent of two lanes of freeway traffic off of Interstate 15 during peak times. Double-tracking could help remove more as the area continues to grow.
The legislation by McAdams and Curtis could allow UTA to compete for federal grants that are now limited only to new starts or for systems considered overcapacity. Double-tracking does not meet those criteria, even though it could increase capacity, reliability, speed and frequency.
“Federal funds have long been important in the development of our system, and this would be a much-needed resource,” UTA Board Chairman Carlton Christensen said.
Gonot said double-tracking FrontRunner would be a game changer to make mass transit more attractive along the Wasatch Front.
It could redefine “fundamental assumptions like where you want to live, to get to work, whether you need to drive your car and how we achieve cleaner air in our community. This is where this legislation has such a game-changing potential,” she said.