At a trackside ceremony on the site of the future Farmington station, US Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta formally signed the $489m Full Funding Grant Agreement for the first segment of Utah Transit Authority’s FrontRunner commuter rail project on June 16.

The agreement will fund more than 80% of the $581m capital cost for the 71 km initial route linking Salt Lake City with Pleasant View. UTA is already planning future extensions north to Brigham City and south to Payson. The $80m first instalment is included in a transport spending bill which was being debated in Congress during June. Construction work is already underway, with revenue service scheduled to begin towards the end of 2008.

Mineta said the projected average weekday ridership of 12000 would take around 6000 cars off the congested roads of Salt Lake City. UTA General Manager John Inglish pointed out that the TRAX light rail network has consistently exceeded its ridership projections, and suggested that FrontRunner would do the same.

UTA has already awarded a contract to Wabtec’s MotivePower subsidiary for 11 MPXpress diesel locomotives under a US$60m order which will see 11 more supplied to Scrra for the Los Angeles Metrolink network. The deal includes options for another 45 locos worth $120m for delivery to other commuter operators over the next five years, including MBTA in Boston and the planned Northstar project in Minneapolis. UTA expects to operate FrontRunner services using its own staff, rather than employing a contractor. n