OGDEN — While the Utah Transit Authority continues with a long-term plan to move its FrontRunner commuter rail north of Ogden, the agency is also working on a significant upgrade to the existing system in the near future.
In an effort being called “FrontRunner Forward,” the transit agency is looking at a host of “strategic investments” in the service over the next five years. UTA Executive Director Carolyn Gonot said details of those investments are still being scrutinized, but the overarching goal of the plan is to increase service capacity and reliability on the existing FrontRunner system. Fulfilling that vision includes several actions — from enhancing safety at grade crossings to providing more options to connect people with jobs and supporting real estate and economic development.
Manjeet Ranu, director of capital projects at UTA, said much of the process is being driven by growth. Ranu said the population in UTA’s Northern Utah service area is expected to double by 2065.
Perhaps the most significant part of the plan involves “double-tracking” sections of the current commuter rail line. The vast majority of the FrontRunner system, which stretches 90 miles from Ogden to Provo, runs on a single track shared by trains running both north and south. The configuration makes it so trains can only pass each other at stations and a few other expanded sections of track along the line. The setup can touch off a domino effect of delays when even one train gets off schedule.
Ranu said double tracking at strategic locations would increase peak hour service frequency to every 15 minutes at key stations like Ogden and Clearfield. Right now, at best, the train stops at those stations only every 30 minutes during peak evening and morning commute times. Double tracking would also allow UTA to run trains faster and put more of them on the track at the same time. Ranu said maximum running train capacity would grow from eight to 14 cars.
Right now, the idea is estimated to cost about $350 million, Ranu said, though that could change as UTA continues to fine tune the plan. That cost breakdown includes about $10 million for station improvements, $115 million for additional vehicles and $225 million for the actual tracking.
Gonot said the immediate plan for the project is to work to secure funding.
“We’re excited we’re able to start moving things along,” she said. “We’ll be continuing to push for it at the state level for state funding.”
Beth Holbrook, a member of UTA’s Board of Trustees that serves the Northern Utah region, said the infrastructure investments associated with the program will have “longterm impacts, not just on one specific region ... but along the entire Wasatch Front.”
While the double tracking conversation is heating up, UTA is simultaneously working to move the train north of Ogden.
The Wasatch Front Regional Council’s Transportation Improvement Program calls for the continued preservation of corridor between Ogden and Brigham City for future transit service. Though there’s no hard timeline for when it will come, the service would bring back a shuttered Pleasant View station and add additional stations at Business Depot Ogden, in Willard and in Brigham City. The expansion would involve nearly 20 miles of new mainline track.
Late last year, UTA purchased an approximately 38-acre piece of raw land, located at roughly 550 W. 750 North in Willard, immediately east of Interstate 15, for just under $2.5 million as part of the expansion plan. In January, Ogden City finalized an agreement between the city, UTA and Weber County funding the purchase of an approximately 5-acre piece of property on west 2nd Street, immediately east of the Union Pacific rail tracks, which will serve as the site for the future BDO station.