State, city and school officials stress safety on new Sandy-Draper TRAX line
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
DRAPER — It's a scenario the Utah Transit Authority and Unified Fire Authority hope they don't have to respond to but still have to be prepared for just in case.
On Tuesday, emergency crews responded to a TRAX train that hit a van where the rail crosses Pioneer Road (about 12400 South and 1100 East). The passenger of the van was ejected and pinned under the train.
But on this day, the scenario was a training exercise. The new Draper light-rail line is not yet open to the public. The "trapped person" was really just a mannequin. But both UTA and UFA officials said it was a great opportunity to practice emergency rescues on the new stretch of TRAX line.
Test runs have already begun on the 3.8-mile extension of the UTA Sandy-Salt Lake (Blue) Line from the terminal at 10000 South in Sandy to Pioneer Road (12400 South) in Draper. The line is scheduled to officially open to the public on Aug. 18.
The new TRAX line comes amid protests of residents who began raising concerns about seven years ago when plans for the line were announced. Residents noted the new TRAX line ran through residential areas and past at least one elementary school and a park. Their concerns ranged from safety to noise to pollution.
The line will run near Crescent Elementary School, 11100 S. 230 East. TRAX trains going through the intersection at 11000 South are on a straightaway and traveling at a high rate of speed. Many large signs have been posted by UTA at the crossing warning of "danger" and "high-speed trains."
Officials also have made efforts to educate the many children who attend schools in the area and walk over those TRAX rails every day.
Lisa VanWagnen recently was hired by Sandy to act as a temporary crossing guard at the intersection and to remind students about the dangers of the new TRAX line.
"They didn't have us out here before because the kids were used to crossing the tracks without any trains," VanWagnen said. "But even with just the testing and the training here and there, they want to make sure when the kids are crossing, they're aware a train could come by. I'm teaching them that even though you can't see the train, you're listening, you're looking, and if the lights are down, you still want to wait."
Taylor Robison, 11, is a sixth-grader at Crescent Elementary. He said the school has given students several warnings about the new TRAX line.
"Yes, we've had lots of them," he said Tuesday while walking his bike across the rail. "They've had assemblies for them. And this guy came and was telling us all about the safety and rules. They're just telling you how to walk safely, never ride your bike going across."
"You always stop (for the crossing arms), no matter what," added Brody Bauer, 9, a fourth-grader at the school.
New TRAX platforms have been built at 11400 South, 11800 South and Pioneer Road.
Rick McKinney, UTA rail safety administrator, said the new line does not present any challenges different from other portions of the railway.
"A lot of that stuff is pretty much taken care of in the design stage," McKinney said.
The biggest key to safety, he said, is continuing to educate the public, including posting more warning signs and getting out and talking to children in the schools.
"... People aren't used to seeing trains every 20 to 30 minutes, and even sometimes more frequently than that," UTA Police Lt. Gary McGrath said. "UTA has sent out a lot of safety messages, did mass mailings out to the neighborhoods (saying), 'We're going to open up these lines in a couple of weeks. They're going to start running. Pay attention to the signals, the flashing lights, the arms, the bells ringing, and know that the train is coming through.'"
McGrath said there will be a learning curve involved. The tracks have been there a long time, he said, but the trains haven't.
"(Residents) are used to no trains coming through, and now they're going to be coming through. So it's the learning curve that the train's coming and you have to look out for it," he said.
Residents should take certain steps to ensure their own safety, such as being alert and not trying to text or wear ear buds while crossing TRAX rails, McGrath said.
In addition to education, there will also be an enforcement aspect, he said. Citations will be handed out to people who trespass along the tracks. They may be warnings at first for the new stretch of track, but repeat offenders should expect to be cited, McGrath said.
UFA Battalion Chief Clint Smith said he doesn't expect the new Draper line to pose any unusual challenges.
"With any new form of transportation comes challenges with it. Our role is to be most prepared to deal with it," Smith said. "Our focus is to be prepared so if we are called, we know how to work in and around the equipment and work with the other agencies that are involved.
"We know, as these new forms of transportation come online, there's an education process. UTA does a great job in putting that education piece out there," he said.
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