"This rail line is now active. So look, listen and live," said Dave Goeres, UTA's chief safety officer. He noted that trains soon will travel up to 79 mph on the new rails.
The $870 million line stretches 45 miles from Provo's Center Street to downtown Salt Lake City, where it connects to the existing FrontRunner line, which runs another 45 miles to Pleasant View north of Ogden. The new section will have eight new stations in Murray, South Jordan, Draper/Bluffdale, Lehi, American Fork, Vineyard (to be added in the future), Orem and Provo.
The new FrontRunner line is expected to draw more riders than the current one. In 2015, estimates call for 14,000 FrontRunner passengers a day about 8,000 in the new south section and 6,000 in the north.
"This is one line, 90 miles long, the first interregional connection that we will have along the Wasatch Front, and it is so exciting," UTA General Manager Michael Allegra said. It was originally projected to be completed in 2015, but "it is ahead of schedule by a couple years and well under budget."
That early arrival comes despite big challenges, especially at the narrows of the Jordan River near Point of the Mountain.
"We literally moved a mountain there," said Allegra, noting he was part of the team that bought right-of-way in the 1990s. "[But] there was this steep hillside," and Union Pacific already had tracks in the only narrow area available there.
"They said, 'You can never put another track in there. It would never work,' " Allegra recalled. "That was the challenge we needed," and the hillside was moved.
"Passengers traveling on FrontRunner will have a great view of the Jordan Narrows, which is an area that few people have a chance to go through," UTA spokesman Marc Bowman said, "unless you go through on a kayak."
Transit officials stress safety along the new track especially after 15-year-old Shariah Casper was struck and killed during testing of a new TRAX line in West Jordan almost exactly a year ago. After her death, UTA removed sound walls that obstructed views at crossings and added numerous safety-enhancing pedestrian gates, fences and audio warnings throughout its system.
UTA has also suffered a high-profile rash of accidents during the past year 20 major pedestrian or car accidents in 2011, 16 on TRAX and four on FrontRunner. They resulted in four fatalities (not including several suicides involving trains during the year). The accidents prompted UTA to hire Goeres as a new safety officer and led to a systemwide safety review.
"You will see additional safety treatments along the new corridor," Goeres said. "We've learned some lessons."
For instance, he said, every crossing has red lights and gate arms. "There is fencing across the sidewalk and tactile tile on the sidewalk," he added, so distracted pedestrians "will actually bump into a fence before they bump into a train."
Goeres emphasizes four rules as trains begin using the new tracks:
• Never cross when red lights are activated or walk around lowered gates.
• Stay behind yellow tactile tiles in stations.
• Look both ways before crossing tracks.
• Never trespass along the corridor and never walk up and down the rail line.
"It is a dangerous corridor, and you need to stay off it," he said. "Cross where you are supposed to be crossing."
The new Salt Lake City-Provo line is complete. Crews will conduct six months of testing before the commuter train route begins carrying passengers on Dec. 10. Here are key statistics:
Cost • $870 million, including new engines and rail cars.
Length • 45 miles, connecting to the existing, 45-mile FrontRunner north line and allowing travel from Provo to Ogden.
New stations • Murray, South Jordan, Draper/Bluffdale, Lehi, American Fork, Vineyard (future), Orem, Provo.
Fares • Based on distance traveled. A ride from Provo to downtown Salt Lake City is projected to cost about $6.20 and would run about $9.50 from Provo to Ogden.
Travel time • 55 minutes between Provo and Salt Lake City, 1 hour and 47 minutes between Provo and Ogden.
Ridership • In 2015, 14,000 people are projected to ride various portions of FrontRunner each day with about 8,000 riding in the new south section and 6,000 in the north.
Frequency • Every half hour during peak times; once an hour in off-peak times.