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SALT LAKE CITY — A bipartisan proposal by two Utah congressmen aims to secure federal dollars for double-tracking the FrontRunner commuter rail line.
Reps. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, and John Curtis, R-Utah, have introduced legislation that would make projects like FrontRunner eligible for funding to increase service by installing more miles of double track.
The Transit Revitalization and Infrastructure Needs Act would expand eligibility for transportation grant funding to electrify transit systems, like FrontRunner, and move away from older, outdated diesel-powered engines.
McAdams, Utah Transit Authority Board Chairman Carlton Christensen and UTA Executive Director Carolyn Gonot are scheduled hold a news conference Tuesday to unveil the proposal.
A federal transportation bill also is up for renewal in Congress, providing the opportunity for changes in grant program criteria to be included in the new law, according to McAdams, who uses UTA when he is in Salt Lake City.
Gov. Gary Herbert supports double-tracking as way for Utah to address ongoing air quality problems. He’s proposing the state spend $34 million a year to begin work on FrontRunner tracks.
While that money would help expedite the first steps in upgrading the 89-mile line that includes 16 stations, UTA’s current estimate for the project, including electrifying the trains and adding additional stations, is at least $3 billion.
Running two tracks for the length of the system would increase passenger capacity, cut the times between trains in half and allow the diesel-powered locomotives to up their top speed to 90 mph, officials say.
Doubling the tracks would also be a step toward converting the combustion-engine locomotives to electric power, which would increase efficiency and drastically reduce environmental impacts.
The 12-year-old FrontRunner has been running on a largely single-track system since inception, with some sporadic twin-track sections on the Provo-to-Ogden line that allow for one train to park temporarily while another train passes in the opposite direction.
A 2018 Utah report noted the single-track configuration “limits the frequency of train service and forces the system to operate at lower than optimum speeds” and that “reliability is reduced when trains are delayed due to large passenger loads, equipment malfunctions or other incidents.”