Like a whistle in the distance, there are already signs that commuter rail will arrive in Salt Lake, Davis and Weber counties within the next three years or so.

In a grassy field just west of I-15 in Farmington, lazy cows graze near a sign advertising prime "Farmington Station" commercial land. In other cities along the proposed route, plans for residential and economic development are banking on commuter rail stations to attract customers.

Chug-chug.

UTA commuter rail engineering manager Steve Meyer said that by 2007, the first leg of the commuter train system should be up and running. The 43-mile stretch of track will include nine stops from Salt Lake City to Pleasant View in Weber County.

Trains are expected to make about 48 trips daily on weekdays between 5:30 a.m. and 11 p.m., with trains arriving every 20 minutes during rush hours and every 40 minutes during off-peak hours. UTA isn't talking fares yet, but officials said the fare is likely to be distance-based, unlike TRAX, which has a fixed fare.

Before it can happen, a lot of work needs to be done, Meyer said. Last year, UTA purchased a 20-foot right-of-way corridor from Union Pacific. The100-foot-wide corridor runs parallel to I-15 from Payson in Utah County north to Weber County. UTA plans to eventually extend the commuter rail system to Provo, possibly by 2012 and up into Brigham City in years to come, but no date has been projected.

New rail track must be laid for most of the corridor in Salt Lake, Davis and Weber counties. Power line poles, which are currently in the train's expected path, also must be moved. In addition, train station platforms and parking lots will have to be constructed.

The $500 million project will be funded from a variety of sources. Federal transportation funds may match as much as 50 percent of the project cost with the rest coming from voter-approved quarter-cent sales tax revenues from Weber, Davis and Salt Lake counties. Other funding will come in the form of local station improvements made by cities.

Already city planners are hatching plans in anticipation of rail-riding commuters.

In Salt Lake City, construction on the city's intermodal center is already under way. The center will tie in bus, light-rail, commuter rail and taxi services. A walkway will be built from Rio Grande Avenue to the station.

The Delta Center TRAX line will be extended south on 400 West to 200 South, where it will pull up along the commuter train platform. Passengers will simply walk off light-rail trains and cross the platform to the train. Funding for the extension has not been secured, said UTA spokeswoman Andrea Packer, but she added it is the goal of UTA and Salt Lake City to have the extension completed when commuter rail gets rolling in 2007.

Just north of the Gateway Center, a second train platform is planned to tie in to a future light-rail line to the Salt Lake International Airport. With the airport TRAX line running up North Temple and commuter rail intersecting, UTA engineers are thinking about how the two rail lines will pass each other. One thought is to build a special overpass next to the current North Temple overpass for the TRAX line. With TRAX stacked on top of the commuter rail station, passengers would take an elevator or escalator to transfer.

Heading north, the next stop would be Woods Cross, where a train platform will be built, along with a 750-stall parking lot. Woods Cross City is also planning housing and commercial development near the station.

In Farmington, a new east-west overpass would link Farmington's east-side residential areas to a station. Because the commuter rail track is sandwiched between I-15 and the Union Pacific track, a pedestrian tunnel is planned so passengers can access the east train platform from the west parking lot.

Just off Gentile Street in Layton, the next proposed stop is to be built on Layton's west side. Layton City economic development specialist Seth Butterfield said the city envisions a mix of residential, commercial and business buildings near the station. "We want to be kind of a scaled-down version of the Gateway (in Salt Lake)," Butterfield said.

The estimated $136 million project would include a pedestrian-friendly shopping area with housing built on top, including senior housing. The first phase of the project is expected to be completed by 2009, Butterfield said.

Some residents have expressed disappointment that UTA has not chosen to use Layton's historic train station about a quarter mile south, but UTA officials said parking is an issue at that site. UTA director of transit development, Mike Allegra, said the historic station property is too small to put in the requisite 750-car parking lot. In addition, a freeway interchange is projected next to the historic station, making it a tight squeeze.

The Clearfield station is expected to serve an estimated 19,000 civil employees at Hill Air Force Base, some 9,500 employees at the Freeport Center and hundreds more at Weber State University's Davis County campus. But getting those passengers to their destinations is still being worked out.

"Hill Field has offered to do their own shuttle service," Packer said, which may solve potential security issues that UTA buses going into the base have encountered in the past. Another shuttle system is being considered to serve Freeport employees. Whether that system would be public or private is yet to be seen.

Ogden has already completed its hub, with bus depots and a center with coffee and sandwich shops.

Meyer said the Roy and Pleasant View stations would primarily act as collectors for those bedroom communities.

Though plans are forging ahead, Allegra said, specifics must await a public comment process, which is expected to take place in early 2004. UTA plans to hold public hearings and to make presentations to city councils. Once the plan has cleared public comment, Allegra said the design process will begin in earnest, followed by construction.


E-mail: gfattah@desnews.com