Nearly 50 years since the last neighborhood streetcars rumbled though Salt Lake City, the S-Line marks the return of that transit option to the city. The first phase of the project eschews the street for a reclaimed rail corridor with green space and trails.

Photo by Brian Fryer
The S-Line uses the same vehicles as the TRAX light rail system, with some modifications to the exterior. Inside, the cars have more room for standing passengers and bicycles.

With a blast of celebratory fireworks and the sounding of a train bell, officials from the Utah Transit Authority, Salt Lake and South Salt Lake City and the U.S. Dept. of Transportation launched the newest addition to the transit mix in the Salt Lake Valley with the Dec. 5 opening the S-Line streetcar. Salt Lake now joins other cities in the region like Portland, Seattle and Los Angles in reintroducing the streetcar as an option to commuters in the city’s urban core.

With price tag of nearly $55.5 million, the S-Line runs two miles through a dedicated right-of-way (ROW) beginning at the Center Point TRAX light rail station and proceeding east, with seven stops through South Salt Lake City to a terminus at McClelland street in the Sugar House neighborhood. The project received $26 million in federal funding through a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery II (TIGER II) grant.

Unlike street cars in other cities that travel with street traffic on rails embedded in the road, the S-Line’s single guideway runs in a dedicated right-of-way with green space and pedestrian and bike paths on either side. The streetcars will travel at lower rates of speed than light rail trains, about 10-15 miles an hour. The line will utilize the same vehicles used on TRAX light rail lines but with more room for riders to stand and bring bicycles on board. With several sidetrack pullouts, two vehicles can operate on the line simultaneously.

The S-Line’s ROW was once a Union Pacific rail spur used for freight delivery. UTA purchased the ROW from Union Pacific in 2000 as part of property acquisitions for the Front Runner commuter rail lines. A second phase of the S-line, now in the planning process, will move it onto the city streets running along 1100 or 1300 east heading north toward downtown Salt Lake City.

Utah Transit Authority General Manager Michael Allegra praised the S-Line as another milestone in the agency’s efforts to introduce more transit options to Salt Lake City and the surrounding metropolitan areas.

“It was 14 years ago today that we opened the first TRAX light rail line prior to the Olympic Games Salt Lake City,” says Allegra. “We’ve continued to build on that success with more TRAX lines, commuter rail and now streetcars.”

U.S. Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff cites the S-Line as a TIGER II success story.

“This project is really returning taxpayer dollars to Utah for a better future, more jobs, more prosperity and a better quality of life and that is what these grants are intended to do,” says Rogoff. “You have a lot to be proud of here. Across the country, communities compete for TIGER grants, and this community came out on top because you have the right vision, the right partners and you were ready to put this money to work.”

Transportation engineering and construction firm Stacy and Witbeck, which has built light and commuter rail projects for UTA in the past, served as general contractor on the S-Line. Ryan Memmott, project manager for Stacy and Witbeck, says building in the ROW made construction of the line much quicker and easier than other streetcar lines.