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Nick Short, Deseret Morning News
TRAX operator Darin Hansen of Tooele waits to leave Sandy for the 37-minute run to the Delta Center. The north-south line is Hansen's favorite.

Darin Hansen likes to get keyed up.

It's something Hansen — a Tooele resident, husband and father of three — does five days a week.

He turns a key, flips a switch and changes the power from one end of his train — keying down — to the other, where he keys up.

Now he's ready to bring a TRAX light-rail train 15 miles from the end of the line in Sandy back to the Delta Center in Salt Lake City in about 37 minutes. He, like more than 50 Utah Transit Authority train operators, also takes turns driving TRAX to the University of Utah.

The north/south Sandy line is Hansen's favorite.

"I like the thrill of getting up to a faster speed," he says. "And there's more to see on the Sandy line."

TRAX can and does go up to 55 mph and automatically slows down to a safer speed when necessary.

Hansen has been with UTA seven safe years, two as a train operator with only one accident (ruled not his fault) in all that time. His children, all under 10 years, love it that Dad drives a train.

"They'd ride it every day if they could," he says. "Kids like 'em … I don't know, I think they find it fascinating. There's just something about a large vehicle on the rails that makes them smile."

Hansen loves his job. And life's always a little better on the way to and from Sandy.

"I like seeing more than automobiles," Hansen says. "I feel safer on the Sandy line."

People driving cars take a lot of risks. Some make U-turns in front of a train. Others drift into its path. The real nutty folks try to beat the train by slipping through crossing arms.

"I'm shaking like this." Hansen imitates trembling hands when describing close calls.

New freedom

Hansen helps Don Lockhart, Sandy, get on at the City Center stop at 3:30 p.m. on a Thursday. Lockhart, destined for the Historic Sandy (9000 South) station, boards the train in a motorized wheelchair.

Before TRAX came along, Lockhart used the bus. The fact the buses were cumbersome to use was just a footnote to a much more serious drawback —sometimes the air conditioning wouldn't work, which would trigger an illness that caused him to lose his abilities to talk, move, even breathe.

Lockhart, a Vietnam veteran, traces his health battles to exposure to Agent Orange. Lockhart says TRAX has improved his life in the nearly four years since it came on line. "Oh, 100 percent," he says.

Now he rides TRAX almost every day with his Freedom Access Pass, which expires in 2005. He'll have to reapply and qualify for free ridership after that. "I try to force myself to go out," he says. And TRAX helps him do that.

Rules of the rail

Don't smoke. Don't eat or drink. Ditch the combustibles. Curb the cussing and another would-be "offensive" conduct. Absolutely no vandalism.

Oh, and if you're listening to a radio, use earphones. Moms and dads, fold your strollers. Put your pets in cages. Keep your shirt and shoes on — and keep your feet off the seats.

And, finally, if a senior citizen gets on board — careful how you make that determination — or if a disabled person boards, you're advised to yield your seat.

No kidding — all this stuff is on signs inside a TRAX car.

After reading about all that, you can begin thinking about getting comfortable on one of the padded blue seats amid the benign light gray interior of a TRAX car.

"How are you doing today?" Kelly Owen suddenly queries. He's an armed UTA public safety officer, about to ask if you've got a ticket.

He checks with about 20 people in one car and everyone is legit. All he asks is that one young man, listening to music on headphones, stay with his bike.

Most usually have tickets. UTA spokesman Kris McBride says that TRAX riders exhibit a high integrity quotient. Nothing like a $90 fine compared with the $1.25 cost of a ticket to spur honesty. Oh, and for the record, that fare will stay unchanged for a while, despite recent talks to hike the price.

Hint: It's just as easy, according to Owen, to talk yourself into a fine as it is to get out of one. There are some acceptable excuses, like forgetting a pass at home or not paying attention to where the free zone begins and ends — which is between the Delta Center and Courthouse stations. The dog eating your ticket probably won't wash on most days.

"We're not hard core," Owen smiles. "We don't cite everyone."

Ticket to ride

So, you studied the posted confluence of numbers — times trains are scheduled to arrive at each station — and you're ready to get a ticket.

Hablo Espanol? No problemo. Spanish-speaking riders can purchase "boletos" in their native tongue.

Waiting etiquette is about as rigid as the riding rules.

Stay off the tracks. Use the crosswalk or risk getting a jaywalking ticket. No smoking. No riding your bike or skateboard. Help children get on board.

Again, TRAX wants to make sure folks get it, so there are plenty of reminders of the aforementioned at any one of 20 stops.

Headed to the U. from downtown Salt Lake City? You get on the train at the Gallivan Plaza station between 200 South and 300 South. There should be a train every three minutes.

"It's very consistent, actually," says McBride.

Want to get on at about 900 South or 1200 South? Lots of people do, but this is still TRAX no-man's-land — still awaiting stations until further ridership studies are done. Then the politicians will get a chance to have their say, and finally UTA brass has to work out the details.

Want to ride for the heck of it, maybe to the end of the line for some stellar views of Mount Olympus and Lone Peak?

Just make sure you listen for the soothing female voice that makes announcements periodically. You'll know you've arrived when she says, "The end of the line, as far as we go."