Rail safety bill advances to Senate

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SALT LAKE CITY — The simple physics lesson is that the driver of a vehicle or a pedestrian will fare worse if involved in a collision with a train.

"People just need to know they're going to lose. There's no second chance when you're dealing with a bus or train," said Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City.

Addressing the Senate Transportation, Public Utilities and Technology Committee Wednesday afternoon, Mayne remarked on the significant number of auto and pedestrian accidents involving TRAX and FrontRunner trains within the past year. She hopes to reverse that trend with SB195, which would restrict vehicles from "driving through, around or under a crossing gate or barrier."

There's no second chance when you're dealing with a bus or train.

–Sen. Karen Mayne

The bill also would restrict when vehicles may turn around in relationship to railroad tracks or railroad grade crossings.

"We need citizens to be alert and responsive. We have to blend with the culture of mass transit. It doesn't blend with us," Mayne said.

Bruce Jones, general counsel for Utah Transit Authority, said there had been 24 motor vehicle accidents involving TRAX trains in 2011. Fourteen of the accidents could be attributed to distracted driving but 10 occurred when drivers attempted to go around safety devices at crossings. There had also been two crashes involving FrontRunner trains.

Jones said UTA's goal is to clarify the law regarding rail crossings and "to bring public awareness of the importance of safety, primarily at railroad crossings."

2011 accidents
24 auto - TRAX collisions
  • 14 - distracted driving
  • 10 - drivers attempted to go around safety devices at crossings
2 auto - FrontRunner collisions

The bill, if passed, would complement UTA's public safety campaign, Jones said.

Mike Allegra, UTA's general manager, said the transit authority is trying to improve safety through three initiatives: education, engineering and enforcement.

"Most of our efforts are in those first two categories. Most of our incidents are avoidable. Most are distractions going on in our environment." he said.

Mayne, in an interview Wednesday night, said as Utah's population grows, so will the number of cars on the road and mass transit options.

"We want to set up a culture of safety so people will treat not as casually as they do now," Mayne said.


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Marjorie Cortez


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