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Clean Vehicles

Salt Lake City’s Street Car Goes Electric

The S-Line is Utah’s first modern streetcar line // Photo courtesy of An Errant Night Photos via Wikimedia Commons Licensing

One Utah Transit Authority has announced that Salt Lake City’s S-Line streetcar, a major method of mass transit in the state’s capital, now functions entirely on renewable energy. The 2-mile stretch of tracks for the state’s first modern streetcar includes seven stops in highly trafficked areas. The S-Line originally launched in 2013, following a $26 million U.S. DOT grant. 

Carlton Christensen, chairman of the Transit Authority, said the S-Line’s newly announced switch to clean energy is “the equivalent of taking hundreds of cars off the road every year” and that the UTA “[continues to implement] more clean energy into [its] transit network.” 

The clean energy for the capital’s streetcar is being bought from Rocky Mountain Power, a company that is currently sourcing from wind and solar caches. 

The trolley system connects two major business districts in Salt Lake and is well-known amongst locals and seasonal visitors alike. The switch is seen by many as representing Utah’s forward-thinking stance on how modern transportation infrastructure can be optimized for the masses while also minimizing long-term environmental impact. The recent transition marks the first UTA mode of transportation to go electric. 

The S-Line operates on a single track, similar to a simplified light rail system, and moves at about 25 miles per hour on a dedicated trackway, making it ideal for skipping traffic and staying out of the harsh winter weather. 

An S-Line station in Salt Lake City // Photo courtesy of An Errant Night Photos via Wikimedia Commons Licensing 

In a state where the population swells by more than 4 million additional visitors during peak ski season, Salt Lake City has invested innumerable resources into easy-to-use public transit and pleasant travel experiences for visitors and permanent residents. The S-Line has achieved a substantial amount of these goals, offering an above-ground, easy-to-navigate option with conveniently placed stops, many of which are kept in pristine conditions compared to other metropolises. 

Much like its recent advancement to an all-electric path, planning for the S-Line was progressive from its inception. The idea was floated in 2006 and originally went by the name of Sugar House Streetcar — after the main commercial district in Salt Lake. The trolley was renamed S-Line prior to its launch in winter 2013 and is the first trolley operated by the Utah Transit Authority. 

Switching to 100 percent renewable energy for their stress car falls in line with other recent strides towards renewable energy and green policy advancements in Utah. 

Eastbound S-Line trolley // Photo courtesy of An Errant Night Photos via Wikimedia Commons Licensing 

Utah has been pushing hard in recent months to improve its transportation infrastructure across the board, too, not only with electric transit. 

In early March 2021, Utah’s state legislature passed HB433 — a $1B infrastructure package for “special projects,” including the expansion of the S-Line into other regions of the city. The bill’s floor sponsor, Senator Kirk Cullimore (R), said the funds would speed up Utah’s infrastructure project timelines. The funds are not yet available but are slated to be released at the beginning of the 2022 fiscal year, which starts in July 2021. The new appropriations would be directed towards new tracks for statewide rail service to improve timeliness, expansion of the S-Line as mentioned, and new water pipeline efforts. UTA Director of Government Relations, Shule Bishop, called the passing of the bill “historic.” 

From the newly, all-electric S-Line in downtown to ongoing efforts across the state to improve roads and transit, the Beehive State appears to be buzzing with forward-thinking policies and fund allocation, possibly setting an example for its neighbors.