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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Transit Authority’s FrontRunner trains have experienced major delays this week following a massive Monday snowstorm and subsequent smaller ones, leaving many riders late and frustrated as they commute to and from work.
On Twitter, where UTA often posts information and communicates directly with riders, many Utahns have posted about hourslong waits and delays. One tweet complained of wintertime delays happening “year after year”; another inquired about “long term” solutions, saying the delays are “simply madness” and are pushing people back into cars.
Late to work and late going home yesterday. Late to work again today. Year after year same delays with the Frontrunner in winter.— G Weerasekare (@Ninamitto) February 5, 2020
Could you find out what is being done to solve this? Long term? This is simply madness. It is literally freezing outside and we cannot put up with this. Driving seems to be the only practical solution at this point...— Colton Mortensen (@ColtMort1) February 5, 2020
UTA spokesman Carl Arky said Thursday that problems with FrontRunner trains can have a “ripple effect.” Because the trains run on a single track, he said, problems that delay northbound trains can’t help but delay southbound trains, and vice versa. And there have been plenty of problems this week.
“We had kind of a freak event that happened on Monday with FrontRunner,” Arky said. “There was a power surge that affected the section of track between Draper and South Jordan. Why was there a power surge? Don’t know, but it did. And that really played havoc with a lot of the electrical equipment we have in that area.”
Arky commended the UTA crew that combed that entire 5-mile stretch of track overnight in the bitter cold and fixed the problem by the following morning’s commute. But that’s not the only issue FrontRunner has contended with this week.
Arky said snowmelt can cause problems with buried electrical equipment that operates crossing gates and lights. He also said that blowing snow sometimes keeps FrontRunner doors from closing and builds up on train platforms, causing further delays.
Arky said Thursday afternoon there was “no way of knowing” whether the Thursday evening and Friday commutes would be delayed. “We’ll have to see,” he said. He recommended that commuters check the UTA website, Twitter feed or app for the most up-to-date information.
UTA tweeted at 2:54 p.m. that all trains "have resumed their regular schedules with some possibility of residual delays of less than 10 minutes."
#FrontRunner Update 2:54 PM: All trains have resumed their regular schedules with some possibility of residual delays of less than 10 minutes.— UTA (@RideUTA) February 6, 2020
Arky did offer one potential solution to the major delays — a double-track railway that would allow northbound and southbound trains to operate independently, without stalling the other if delays occur on one.
“That might solve some of these problems,” Arky said. “Maybe not all of them, but double-tracking for FrontRunner would certainly improve the situation and make it a lot better.”
He said the Utah Legislature would likely have to act to fund such a project. Currently, there are only a few "meets" where the track splits in two and trains can pass one another. But when one train is delayed, Arky said, that forces other trains to sit and wait at the meet in order to be passed.
"You see how it snowballs," he said. "It just kind of throws everything kind of out of whack."
And the trains can't go faster than 79 mph, he said. "So we can't really speed to make up the time. We've got to operate safely as well."
Arky thanked UTA riders for "bearing with us" during the delays.
"We know it's been tough," he said. "We know it's been frustrating, it's been aggravating." He said many UTA employees utilize public transportation themselves.
"We're sorry that people are delayed, and we'll always do our very best to try to rectify situations and get people going from point A to point B as quickly and safely as we possibly can."