UTA's Deal of the Century With Union Pacific

(With Apologies to Steve Coll - "The Deal of the Century: The Break Up of AT&T")


As reported in Mass Transit Magazine, September 2003, the Utah Transit Authority made the deal of the century in 2002 when it purchased 175 miles of railroad right-of-way, most of it parallel to I-15 and along side Union Pacific freight mains, from Brigham City on the north (north of Ogden) to Payson on the south (south of Provo) for a mere $185 million. Also included were two sites for intermodal hubs (Trax light rail, Frontrunner commuter rail, and bus) in SLC and Ogden, as well as some rail right-of-way through Salt Lake County for Trax expansion. When completed Frontrunner will run from Brigham City to Payson entirely on its own tracks. No other commuter rail project in the country can compare with this one. Frontrunner trains will be push-pull with cab signaling, and hence the potential for exceeding the original planned for 79 mph. It is anticipated that trains will operate on 20 minute headways.

Motive power will be provided by MP-36's. Cars are being provided by Bombardier (all will have control stands) and used cars have arrived from NJT transit.

The original Utah interurban network extended from Payson on the south (Salt Lake & Utah), to SLC, on to Ogden (Bamberger), and then still further on to Brigham City, Utah, and to Preston, Idaho. The only part of the original network not being rebuilt is the Brigham City - Preston segment.

This "Deal of the Century" was negotiated by then Governor Leavitt and Union Pacific president Davidson. They must be given substantial credit for being able to pull all of this off.

Typically Frontrunner right-of-way consists of about 20 feet parallel to Union Pacific freight trackage. Cross-overs are being installed between the two systems for emergency use. Frontrunner also has periodic passing sidings.

Most of the local funding is from a quarter cent sales tax, added to Federal appropriations.

The Frontrunner deal was made easier by the success of Union Pacific's selling of their Provo subdivision to UTA for Trax use. This occurred in the late 90's and allowed for Trax to operate off of city streets most places. It also allowed UP to retain its customer base on that line. Every night from 1:00 AM to 5:00 AM Utah Railway operates on Trax, doing industrial switching. It actually feeds more traffic to Union Pacific than UP generated for itself when it owned the subdivision.

The first phase of Frontrunner construction is nearing completion (SLC to Ogden). Operations over this first segment will commence in April of 2008. The cost of this phase is between $350 million and $450 million.

The entire Trax and Frontrunner process is the product of a joint planning effort between the Utah private sector and state government. It is expressly designed to slow and control sprawl, and avoid the California experience.