"We are building a 90 mile link, basically the backbone of the Wasatch Front," said UTA General Manager Mike Allegra, while talking about the entire FrontRunner project plan as he rode through Utah County on Friday.
Allegra said the commuter option gives people a chance to use free WiFi, sleep, visit with friends, read a book, play games or text on their phones, all while having a "chauffeur" drive them.
Station stops span across 45 miles of track that begin at Salt Lake Central and then continue in Murray, South Jordan, Draper, Lehi, American Fork, Orem and end in Provo. The entire commute takes about 56 minutes with the train reaching a maximum allowable speed of 79 mph.
Initially, the FrontLines 2015 project deadline was 2015, but John Cluff, UTA project manager of engineering and construction for the FrontRunner south project, said by cutting budgets and finding ways to collaborate with designers and developers, it shaved two years off the previous deadline.
"We have added two stations [North Temple and Draper] and are still ahead of our 2015 promise," Cluff said.
The construction project moved 1.7 million cubic yards of earth, relocated two canals and existing Union Pacific rail lines near Point of the Mountain and built 20 bridges to make commuting from Salt Lake to Provo a smooth ride.
"There is a lot of excitement for this rail line from the public," Cluff said.
UTA board member and vice chairman H. David Burton said he is impressed with what has been accomplished.
"The dedication, the planning, the execution of these projects was really well done," said Burton.
Allegra said a survey showed eight out of 10 riders on FrontRunner own a car, so it is promising to know that people are choosing to use another mode of transportation to get to work or activities.
Allegra pointed out Draper's station has a park-and-ride with 600 stalls located next to eBay's new 36-acre campus. He said UTA wants to take advantage of developing transit where jobs are being created, and having a line adjacent to the online auction company is an example of that. UTA also has many future mass transit plans including extending train service to Payson and Brigham City and continuing to finish the Sugar House streetcar line.
Framed by panoramic views of Utah Lake and Mount Timpanogos, FrontRunner takes a tight ride through the Jordan Narrows, an area west of Point of the Mountain that Cluff said was the biggest engineering challenge in the project. Planning committees originally told UTA that moving so much earth and diverting water wasn't possible.
"We literally faced the impossibility of building here," Cluff said as he pointed at the mounds of dirt heaped away from the rail line next to a canal. "We did a lot of engineering to come through here."
There was a complex issue of moving many city utilities along the Wasatch front that run east to west, while UTA's rail line runs north to south. UTA also had to divert Union Pacific railroad lines and divert two canals twice that were in the pathway.
But all the work was worth it, Cluff said, when he sees how excited the communities are about having the $850 million project.
"It's kind of like a Christmas gift," he said.
Future passenger rail line openings
Airport TRAX Line April 14, 2013
Draper TRAX Line projected to open Aug. 2013
Sugar House streetcar line projected to open Dec. 2013