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UTA gets 30 rail cars from Chicago — free

3-decade-old trains will be used as backups

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Ten of the 30 commuter trains have already arrived in Utah. The Utah Transit Authority will shell out $500,000 to $750,000 to refurbish them.

Ten of the 30 commuter trains have already arrived in Utah. The Utah Transit Authority will shell out $500,000 to $750,000 to refurbish them.

Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News

In an effort to prepare for the anticipated commuter rail system from north Ogden to Salt Lake City, UTA officials have acquired 30 used commuter train cars from Chicago. The price tag: free.

Sure, the Utah Transit Authority will still have to shell out $1,600 to ship each car and about $500,000 to $750,000 to refurbish the 30-year-old cars, but compared to about $2 million for one new car, that's a deal, said commuter rail project manager Steve Meyer.

"We can't argue with free," said UTA spokesman Justin Jones, standing outside the UTA commuter rail "Warm Springs" service depot near Beck Street, where 10 of the 30 trains have arrived.

Walking down the aisle of one of these "gallery cars" the green tint of the windows throws a strange mood on the orange vinyl seats. The seat backs swing on metal levers so passengers can sit in either direction. Despite patches of rust, the cars are relatively clean for being more than 30 years old.

"These were in service a month an a half ago," Meyer said. "This is an opportunity to have these cars. Granted, they aren't the new beauties, but we can fix them up." Advertisements for recent Chicago events were still displayed in the cars.

Meyer said UTA routinely talks to other transit agencies across the country to share ideas and news. Last spring, Meyer said they caught wind that Chicago's Metra rail system was replacing its train cars with new ones. When they heard they were offering UTA the cars gratis, Meyer said they jumped at the chance. Other cars were snatched up by agencies in Virginia and Nashville.

The cars will be used as backup cars, when commuter rail ridership exceeds the capacity of new trains that officials plan to purchase. Meyer said projections by UTA indicate that when commuter rail is up and running — as early as 2007 — it may exceed popularity expectations, as did TRAX. Although UTA plans to have commuter rail running within five years, officials say it all depends on Congress and the White House to approve the federal funding needed to match state dollars for the $500 million system.

Jones said how much work and money will go into refurbishing the 30 used train cars has not yet been determined. Meyer said at least one issue UTA needs to deal with is making the cars compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

UTA General Manager John Inglish said the cars will become part of a "strategic reserve" to be used during peak commuter hours, as well as for special events, such as LDS General Conference and the winter holiday season.

Meyer said he hopes commuter rail will bring cities between Ogden and Salt Lake City closer together, so people feel free to catch a performance or event using commuter rail to get to another community.

Already the arrival of the used cars has generated excitement among local train fans. Meyer said UTA may consider train rides on existing UTA lines, before the system is completed, possibly to include discussions of Utah's railroad history.

E-mail: gfattah@desnews.com