New Utah law targets rail safety for motorists, pedestrians

Published: Monday, April 16 2012 3:02 p.m. MDT

After waiting for a UTA Train to pass, Ken Bohney bikes through a railroad crossing as the gates are raised in Salt Lake City on Monday, April 16, 2012.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A recent spate of fatalities and incidents around train crossings has prompted a new law aimed at increasing traffic safety along Utah railways.

Gov. Gary Herbert on Monday ceremoniously signed SB195, a measure that modifies the state traffic code, railroad provisions, and the Utah Criminal Code to address safety related to railroads.

This bill's restrictions include limiting when a vehicle may turn around near railroad tracks or railroad grade crossings, prohibiting vehicles driving through, around or under a crossing gate or barrier and limits what pedestrians can do around railroad crossings or bridges. The bill also clarifies several other issues related to railroad property and transportation.

The bill's sponsor, state Sen. Karen Mane, D-West Valley, said the measure addresses the growing concern about vehicle and pedestrian safety around light and heavy rail.

"As Utahns, we have to live with mass transit, it doesn’t live with us," she said. "We have to have education and be smart around mass transit."

Mayne said the new law, which takes effect May 8, will more clearly define the rules of what can and cannot be done at crossings or along rail lines in addition to strengthening law enforcement's ability to implement the laws. Violators would be cited for an infraction, while tampering with or damaging transit crossing equipment could be a felony, under the new law.

"We need to protect ourselves because transportation (and) mass transit will grow," Mayne said. "You will not win with a railroad train. You will not win with a bus … so we have to be smart (and) educated."

In the wake of numerous serious incidents involving light rail and buses, Utah Transit Authority chief safety officer Dave Goeres said the new law will make it clear to motorists and pedestrians when to proceed and when to stay put.

"You are not to go into the crossing or across the tracks until the red lights have stopped flashing," he said. "That's when it's safe to proceed. It's now clear in the law."

Goeres said eight people have lost their lives in the past year in incidents involving local mass transit. Any fatality in the system is unacceptable, he said, and doing whatever is necessary to reduce that number is what needs to be done.

"We have mass transit in our community now," Goeres said. "Just like you don't run a red light in a car, you don't run the red light at a crossing."

He said travelers must be vigilant in paying attention at crossings and obeying laws to avoid a potentially deadly encounter with TRAX.

"We're giving the warning well ahead of the train coming through," Goeres said. "Pay attention. Do what you're supposed to do when you're around trains." 

E-mail: jlee@desnews.com

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