After a two-year campaign to improve safety, the Utah Transit Authority is starting to see significant improvement along its TRAX line — but mixed results with buses and other trains. Utahns aren’t exactly helping as six of every seven bus and train accidents are not UTA’s fault.
One example: An impatient man wearing headphones crawled under a stopped freight train last year, saw a northbound TRAX train coming and ran across the tracks to beat it, running into the side of a southbound train.
"[He] didn’t even look the other way," says Dave Goeres, UTA chief safety officer.
Another: A driver ran the gate at a TRAX crossing while he was texting on the phone and hit a train, Goeres says. "We had 254 gates broken last year. At about $1,000 each [to repair], it cost us about a quarter-million dollars." That comes to about five crashed gates a week.
And yet another: A man wearing headphones exited one train and while looking down, crossed around that train and walked into another pulling into the station. "He had to walk across yellow tactile squares" and past signs warning to look both ways while the other train was sounding warning bells, Goeres says.
Only 14 percent of UTA bus and train accidents last year were the fault of UTA and its operators. The other 86 percent generally resulted from what Goeres calls "distracted pedestrians and inattentive drivers."
Those numbers come from a Salt Lake Tribune analysis of UTA accident and safety data obtained through an open-records request.
It helps show how well UTA is doing with a drive to improve safety that began when it hired Goeres in 2011 after a highly publicized rash of fatal accidents — mostly on TRAX — and disclosure that five-year accident rates were twice as high as other, similarly sized transit agencies.
Results • The Tribune analysis shows the rate of serious accidents, injuries and fatalities on and around TRAX is showing significant improvement — although accident rates for UTA’s overall system is actually worse than when it started its safety campaign. Findings include:
• For the overall system, major incidents dropped last year — but still were higher than when the campaign began. The rate dropped from 1.99 accidents per million miles in 2012 to 1.66 in 2013, which was higher than the 1.53 rate in 2011. The rate of serious injuries and fatalities was lower in 2013 (1.81 per million miles) than in 2012 when it was 1.96. UTA recorded five deaths and 44 serious injuries in 45 accidents last year.
• TRAX has shown significant improvement. Its rate for incidents was 3.19 in 2011 — and dropped to 2.37 last year (after bumping up to 3.64 in 2012). The rate for injuries and fatalities fell from 3.44 per million miles in 2011 to 2.98 in 2012 to 2.37 in 2013. That was a two-year decrease of 31 percent.
• Buses saw initial worsening with safety, then some improvement. The rate for incidents rose from 1.11 per million miles in 2011 to 1.48 in 2012, then dropped back to 1.26. For injuries and fatalities, the rate rose from 1.59 to 2.25 the next year, then dropped to 1.47.
• FrontRunner commuter rail saw initial big safety improvements, then lost many of those gains last year. Its rate of incidents went from 4.64 per million miles in 2011 to 2.45 in 2012, only to rise to 3.91 last year. FrontRunner’s rate for injuries and fatalities was identical to its incident rate.
Reasons • Goeres acknowleges that much of UTA’s safety campaign over the past two years has been targeted to TRAX — and may be why that part of the system has shown the most improvement.
The emphasis on rail, he says, is because UTA has opened four new lines over the past two years — airport and Draper TRAX extensions, the Sugar House streetcar and the FrontRunner Provo extension — and the agency saw the need to help residents become accustomed to trains in new places.
As each line opened, UTA ran radio, TV and billboard ads and sent out mailers to promote safety.
He says the campaign did not target buses as much because "we have an operator in every bus, so the operator is our safety ambassador. He’s telling people, ‘Next time don’t stand in front of the bus, stand on the sidewalk.’ "
Such education is part of a four-part approach to increasing safety that Goeres calls "engineering, education, enforcement and encouragement."
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