To keep trains moving after storm damage, UTA chief jumps in to act as flagger at crossing

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune File Photo) Steve Meyer, now interim executive director of the Utah Transit Authority, pictured in 2010 when he was a project manager for construction of the FrontRunner South rail line from Salt Lake City to Provo.

When a powerful thunderstorm damaged rail crossing guard arms in downtown Salt Lake City this week, a Utah Transit Authority employee rushed out of the agency’s headquarters next door with red flags to safely control motor traffic there.

That conscientious worker happened to be UTA’s current chief: Interim Executive Director Steve Meyer, who apparently will do almost anything to keep the agency’s FrontRunner trains on schedule.

“A nasty microburst came through” on Monday, Meyer said Wednesday. “The wind was so strong that it blew the crossing arms back so far that a Union Pacific train hit them and broke them off.”

It happened at a crossing at 200 South about 650 West. Half of the rails there belong to UTA, and the rest belong to Union Pacific and are used for its freight trains. The two agencies share the same signals and crossing arms there.

Meyer said that when a signal is damaged at a crossing, FrontRunner commuter trains must come to a full stop if no one is present to act as a “flagger” to stop cars from crossing in front of it.

“That just kills us” and UTA’s schedule, Meyer said.

So when he noticed the problem, he grabbed a vest, some flags and ran out to act as the needed flagger to help keep FrontRunner moving.

He also called crews for help and reported problems to Union Pacific. “We can’t touch anything on Union Pacific’s side of the tracks,” he noted.

Meyer was flagging at the crossing for about 15 minutes before others relieved him, he said.

Meyer has been serving as the interim executive director for the past year as UTA implements restructuring ordered by the Legislature. UTA is expected to name a permanent director soon.

Meyer, a longtime engineer at UTA who oversaw the design and construction of FrontRunner and helped direct expansion of TRAX, had planned to retire in January, but was persuaded to remain for several months during the transition.

Meyer wasn’t the only top UTA executive doing some surprising work this week.

UTA Board Chairman Carlton Christensen was among volunteers helping TRAX riders figure how to navigate construction replacing tracks at 400 South and Main Street downtown. They must catch shuttles around construction, or walk between TRAX stations.

Christensen took a three-hour shift as a volunteer late at night. “I was surprised at how many people were still out at 11,” he said at a board meeting on Wednesday.