Ogden • Even while adding four new rail lines in just over a year, the Utah Transit Authority decreased overall accident rates in 2013, kept serious crime on its system in check and saw fewer people cheating on fares.
That’s according to an annual report on safety and law enforcement presented to UTA’s board Wednesday.
The official report comes after The Salt Lake Tribune last month did its own analysis of UTA accident data obtained from an open-records law request. The Tribune found that major incidents dropped last year — but still were higher than when UTA began a two-year campaign to improve safety.
The rate dropped from 1.99 accidents per million miles in 2012 to 1.66 in 2013, which still topped the 1.53 rate in 2011. The rate of serious injuries and fatalities (1.81 per million miles) was lower than in 2012 when it was 1.96.
UTA had five deaths and 44 serious injuries in 45 accidents last year.
On its TRAX lines, the new official report said the number of accidents serious enough to be reported to federal regulators decreased from 24 in 2012 to 18 last year — including two fatalities and 14 injuries, said Dave Goeres, UTA’s chief safety officer. The decline came as UTA opened new airport and Draper TRAX lines during the year.
"We continue to reduce the number of accidents and significantly reduce the rate of accidents [per passenger miles traveled] that we have on TRAX," Goeres said.
UTA’s Frontrunner commuter rail had higher accident rates last year, but still showed an improvement over two years ago. It had nine serious accidents in 2013, including three fatalities and one injury. "The injuries to passengers were zero on commuter rail," Goeres said.
Serious accidents included one with a bicyclist, two with people trespassing on rail lines, two with vehicles and four involving employees.
Overall, UTA bus-system accidents increased from 563 in 2012 to 607 in ’13 — but the number of accidents considered avoidable by UTA drivers dropped from 224 to 193. Thirty accidents were serious enough to be reported to federal regulators. No fatalities occurred, but 34 injuries did.
Goeres said calls to UTA police increased 20 percent to 4,609 last year, following the December 2012 opening of the Provo-to-Salt Lake City Frontrunner line and the startup of the new Sugar House Streetcar line.
However, he said crimes against people, such as assault or theft, dropped a bit from 75 to 72. Criminal arrests increased from 3,110 to 3,169.
UTA police found the rate of people attempting to evade fares dipped slightly last year — from 2.57 percent of those who were asked to provide valid fares to 2.35 percent. That means about one of every 50 passengers is attempting to ride without paying.
Goeres also told the board that UTA is complying with federal requirements to randomly test employees for drug or alcohol use.
Few positives were found. Out of 1,302 tests, nine were positive — a failure rate of 0.7 percent. Three tested positive for marijuana, two each for alcohol and cocaine, and one each were for amphetamine and methamphetamine.
Goeres said those who test positive are subject to discipline allowed by federal rules and agreements with unions. Some were immediately fired. Goeres said the testing helps "keep the traveling public and our operators safe."
He was hired in 2011 to improve safety after a highly publicized rash of fatal accidents — and disclosure that UTA’s five-year accident rates were twice as high as similarly sized transit agencies.
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