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FrontRunner service starts amid festivities

Officials hail return of commuter rail to Utah

A new chapter in Utah's storied railroad history began Saturday with the inaugural run of the Utah Transit Authority's FrontRunner commuter-rail service.

Festivities kicked off early Saturday morning in Ogden and headed south to Salt Lake City with a train full of invited dignitaries, guest speakers and UTA officials. Mini-celebrations were held in Ogden, Roy, Clearfield, Layton, Farmington and Woods Cross, leading to the featured grand opening event in the plaza of the new Salt Lake Central Station.

In a theme that was revisited in presentations at the new rail stations, the idea of what once was old becoming new again took on a new significance in the form of the red, white and blue FrontRunner engine and bi-level passenger cars.

At the Ogden kick-off, UTA Board of Trustees vice president Robert Hunter introduced Gordon Cardall, a Davis County native who grew up listening to the sound of the Bamberger electric commuter trains that passed his boyhood home in Centerville. Cardall would eventually go to work for the Bamberger, which plied a nearly identical path between Ogden and Salt Lake as the new FrontRunner trains.

He started as a 15-year-old and worked his way to full-fledged "trolleyman" by the time he reached 16. Cardall recalled his days with a wry humor.

"Working for Bamberger was like being in the Russian Army," Cardall said. "If you had 20 years with them, you were still a rookie."

Cardall said the electric-powered train, which began service in 1905, whisked passengers along at a pace in the range of the new service — about 75 mph — and could make the Ogden-Salt Lake run in an hour. Cardall also had the distinction of driving the last train operated by Bamberger, a swan song that played out on Sept. 15, 1952. Cardall said he was very happy to be around to see the rebirth of commuter rail on his old run.

Transit as a seed of development opportunity was a concept also recognized by speakers honoring FrontRunner's maiden journey. Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey praised UTA, local officials and the Ogden community for supporting the project and raised the possibilities the new service brings.

"Trains have been an important part of Ogden's economic stability ... for more than 100 years," Godfrey said. "This very platform can once again be a gateway for economic prosperity for our community if we are prepared for it and we do the right things."

Clearfield Mayor Don Wood encouraged the audience at his community's new station to celebrate the FrontRunner service as a first step toward bigger goals.

"What you see here today is just the basic beginnings," Wood said. "One day you will see high-rise office buildings, you will see restaurants ... retail ... you will see this 70 acres developed to be a showplace for Clearfield city."

Hundreds of people were gathered at the new intermodal hub in downtown Salt Lake City when the rolling celebration came to its last stop. The new transit center combines the Salt Lake central FrontRunner station with the new TRAX extension, Amtrak service, Greyhound bus service and UTA bus transit.

As an homage to the famous image that captured the driving of the golden spike at Promontory Summit in 1869, UTA put two FrontRunner trains nose-to-nose behind the speakers' podium as a backdrop to the grand ceremony.

Utah Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, took a glance at the two trains before he spoke to the crowd.

"It is truly a historic moment," Valentine said. "None of us were here in 1869 when the great trains from the East met the great trains from the West ... but we've all seen the picture where they reached across the tracks and connected the East Coast and West Coast of this country.

"Remember where you are today ... remember that you are that picture that was Promontory ... you are the picture, you were there."

Salt Lake City Councilwoman Jill Remington Love spoke on behalf of city government and touted the close ties and ongoing support Salt Lake City has pledged, and is continuing to pledge, on behalf of public transit. That support, she said, is a necessity in the face of Utah's booming population.

"We all have an obligation to make the Wasatch Front, where 80 percent of us live, accessible to every Utahn," Remington Love said. "We have an obligation to prepare for the projected 5 million people who are expected to live along this narrow spine in the next 40 years."

Sens. Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, were also in attendance at the downtown gala. Hatch said the evolution of transit in Utah was setting a standard for other states to follow and that "people brag about us that you don't even know about." Bennett said that, until recently, Utah's population was dispersed too widely to make transit an effective solution. That, Bennett added, is no longer the case.

"When I worked at the Department of Transportation back in the Nixon administration, I learned one thing about mass transit ... you need a mass that needs to be transitted," Bennett said. "In the time I've been in the Senate, we've added 900,000 people to the population of this state ... that's a lot of mass. If we don't solve our transportation problems, we will strangle on our own growth."

Bennett said that the Utah Transit Authority has made the right steps to make sure that such a strangulation will not occur.

"The vision of UTA ... starting with TRAX and now going to FrontRunner is a vision we must applaud," Bennett said.

The new FrontRunner commuter-rail service is not available on Sundays but will operate on a free basis Monday through Wednesday, with the start of fare service on Thursday. The new TRAX extension, which runs from the EnergySolutions station to the intermodal hub, begins regular service on Monday.


E-mail: araymond@desnews.com