Mystery Train 

Draper residents say plans for a meandering TRAX line are way off track.

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They call it the Train to Nowhere.

Ah c’mon. Why would you call a high bench near Point of the Mountain “nowhere?” The plan is to take the train into Utah County, except for the fact that Utah County doesn’t want it'at least not if people have to pay for it.

So it looks like TRAX will stop up in the foothills, near those new multimillion-dollar homes. Never mind that it’s not going to happen until maybe 2025 or 2028. In about 18 months, the Utah Transit Authority will be busy finishing the first phase of its line to Draper City Hall.

Don’t think of this as anti-mass-transit drivel. Draper overwhelmingly favors mass transit. What city faced with gridlock and interminable construction cones wouldn’t?

“If it weren’t for the lack of empirical evidence, I’d be fine with it,” says Jennifer Schaerer, whose bedroom window abuts the UTA right-of-way planned for Phase 2 of the Draper line. Maybe she and her kids will be too old then to sleep much, anyway.

“A lot of Draper residents will not be immediately affected,” UTA spokesman Chad Saley says. “And we do own that right-of-way. It’s a train line.

This is not the first time a right-of-way has been reactivated to the surprise of neighbors. Salt Lake City’s west side has been battling Union Pacific for years over its decision to run trains through residential areas. How is it that people don’t see the possibilities?

Schaerer says it’s a combination of things, not the least of which can be unfulfilled promises made to homebuyers. And then there’s the reassuring effect of time. When the grass grows over rail lines, and kids play ball from lot to lot, no one really believes they’ll ever see a train speed by.

Up in Schaerer’s neck of the woods, UTA also owns the equestrian Porter Rockwell Trail that runs along its right-of-way, even though the City of Draper maintains it. The promise is that most of the trailhead will remain, although it will see “changes,” according to a UTA memo. Bottom line: Horses don’t vote.

Three or four years ago, there wasn’t so much construction on those foothills. Now there are several housing developments. For some developers, the TRAX line could be a plus, although a long-term one. For others, well, their buyers should have known what they were getting into.

Interestingly, Saley says, UTA chose the route because of its density. “The study found the ridership would be higher there because that was where all the people were.

Draper has been all a-muddle over the entire TRAX thing. A citizen group is unhappy with the Draper City Council’s insistence on the round-about, up-the-hill routing for TRAX, and even sued in hopes of certifying a referendum. The court ruled the council’s actions weren’t referable.

Schaerer and others have hoped that simple good sense would prevail. While she would prefer to see a line west of Interstate 15, she’d be fine with State Street, too. At least there, it would be passing businesses and connecting shoppers. Schaerer and her husband Marc own a shop in the city’s established business district. UTA, however, says it’s too expensive, what with all the grade-level crossings it would have to address.

According to an 88-page study of the Draper plan, UTA figures State Street would cost $276.3 million, while using the right-of-way would cost $248 million. Too expensive? Not by much.

Let’s move back to Phase I, though, which would take the line from Sandy’s 10000 South up the narrow 12300 South and loop-de-loop around to Pioneer Road and the Intermountain Farmers Association property. IFA'a landmark with the scope of Murray’s old smokestacks'would be gone. And there the line will end'temporarily, for 15 or 20 years.

Somehow, the Draper line got moved ahead of the Salt Lake airport, West Jordan and mid-Jordan lines. “They’re screaming for relief there,” Schaerer says.

The Draper City Council sees the line as integral to a plan to build a walkable town center. No one’s really asking why people would take light rail there'or from where. It will take an hour and 45 minutes from the University of Utah to Draper. The FrontRunner commuter rail will be nearby, and faster. Saley says the two lines will have different riders.

Indeed, says Schaerer. The Draper TRAX line may just attract folks from Utah County to ride all the way in to … Sandy?

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More by Katharine Biele

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