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Final decision: Airport TRAX will miss early, late flights

Published March 26, 2013 11:40 am

Transportation • Line is scheduledto open April 14.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

While passengers asked in recent public hearings for additional early and late trains on the new TRAX extension to Salt Lake City International Airport, the Utah Transit Authority has decided it cannot afford it.

So when the $350 million extension opens on April 14, it will not operate early enough to deliver passengers to some early-morning flights — and will close before it can take people home from several late-night arrivals. The problem will be worse on weekends. Still, TRAX would serve the vast majority of flights.

"Unfortunately, it's not as simple as just running the airport line later. For the system to really work, if only the green line is running early, it doesn't help" because riders need to make connections to it from UTA's other bus and train lines, said UTA spokesman Chad Saley.

"It doesn't mean we wouldn't love to offer all of our service for more hours. But it just comes down to being a budget issue," he said.

That comes as UTA has made final decisions and posted its schedules online for its April 14 "change day," one of three times a year that the agency makes schedule changes. It is also the day that the airport TRAX extension is scheduled to begin service as part of the green line from West Valley City.

The first weekday train that runs the full length of the green line is not scheduled to arrive at the airport until 5:46 a.m. — too late for the suggested hour-ahead-of-departure arrival time for about a dozen flights, according to flight schedules posted online.

The last train that travels the full line is scheduled to leave weekdays at 10:37 p.m., likely too early to serve passengers from about 17 night arrivals.

Limited TRAX service on weekends makes the problem worse then.

For example on Sundays, the first train to the airport that travels the full length of the green line will not arrive until 10:47 a.m. — apparently too late for more than 100 morning flights. The last full-line train out on Sunday evenings leaves at 7:45 p.m. — apparently too early to serve more than 60 late flights.

Besides just budget problems, another reason the green line will not offer more late-night service is that a northern portion of the line in West Valley City must shut down then to allow freight service on tracks that cross TRAX lines there, said Christopher Chesnut, UTA manager of service planning.

UTA is planning a grand opening for the new airport TRAX line on Saturday, April 13. "People can donate a can of food to ride the line that day. Food is your fare. From 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., people will be able to ride the line from Arena Station [at EnergySolutions Arena] out to the airport," Saley said.

Celebrations will be held at new stops along North Temple. "We're encouraging passengers to get off the train and come see what North Temple offers. So we're having a lot music, food and different activities at each of the stations," he said.

A formal opening ceremony with dignitaries is scheduled for 2 p.m. that day at the North Temple Bridge station shared by TRAX and FrontRunner.

Other UTA changes scheduled for April 14 are relatively minor compared to recent change days — such as the last one in December that canceled or rerouted scores of bus routes to connect them better with the new Salt Lake City to Provo FrontRunner line that opened then.

UTA found when the new line opened, FrontRunner's schedule was too tight to keep on time, which led to an emergency schedule change. Saley said the revised schedule seems to be working well now, and no more changes are planned on FrontRunner for the April change day.

"The trip takes a little bit longer now. But it's reliable," Saley said. UTA plans numerous minor tweaks on April 14 to schedules of bus routes that connect to FrontRunner. Schedule changes are available online at rideutah.com.

UTA is also planning to cancel some bus routes — or cancel Saturday or Sunday service — where ridership has been low. It also will shorten or reroute several routes in western Salt Lake City to better connect to the new airport TRAX.

Among bus routes being canceled are routes 523 Business Park Shuttle, 527 Daybreak Shuttle, and F628 Syracuse/Hooper.

Sunday service will be canceled on routes 6 Sixth Avenue and 240 Dixie Valley. Saturday service will be canceled on Route 227 2700 West.

Of note, the next change after April 14 will be in August —when the new TRAX blue line extension to Draper is scheduled to open. The next change day after that is in December, when the new Sugar House streetcar line is scheduled to open.

ldavidson@sltrib.com