Railroad News

News Media Critical Of Utah Teenager/Train Tragedy

(West Jordan, Utah – June 16, 2011)

A leading SLC television station demanded answers in the wake of last week’s TRAX commuter test train tragedy that took the life of a vibrant teenage girl. “The death of a 15-year-old girl hit by a train at a crossing of the Utah Transit Authority’s new Mid-Jordan TRAX line last week should alert people across the Salt Lake Valley to what will be an unfamiliar hazard to many of them,” said an editorial in this morning’s edition of The Salt Lake Tribune.

“Because TRAX trains are electrically powered, they are relatively quiet. You can’t count on hearing them approach. They also accelerate quickly and can travel up to 65 miles per hour on long stretches of open track,” warned The Tribune.

The June 8 accident that killed Shariah Casper happened after she and her cousin had waited for a train to pass. A second train, shielded from view, suddenly appeared after the one they had waited on was passed.

The editorial further stated that “Flashing lights and a gate alerted drivers on the opposite side of the street, but no such gate across their path warned the walking girls. Obviously, UTA has a duty to provide additional warning devices for pedestrians at this and similar crossings. In the meantime, portions of sound walls which blocked the view down the tracks at the crossing at 3200 West at about 8400 South in West Jordan, where the accident occurred, will be removed.

Similar alterations will be made at three other crossings,” reported the newspaper. But answers to the tragedy and the remedies sought to prevent others are still too vague and slow-paced for Salt Lake City ABC affiliate KTVX-TV, Channel 4.

Reporting on the beginning of the removal of portions of the sound wall, KTVX pointed out that “Authorities have said it was a lack of visibility that contributed to the tragic fatal accident involving 15-year-old Shariah Casper.” But when WTVX Reporter Annie Cutler asked for further comment, such was void of specifics. When asked “What, exactly, is on the table when it comes to possible safety measures?”, UTA Spokesman Gerry Carpenter replied “we have operations people, we have engineers, we have safety personnel all looking at these crossings to determine what safety improvements can be made and it’s really premature at this point to say what exactly those will be other than to say really every option is still on the table.”

Reporter Cutler commented “No details there, so we asked about their top to bottom safety evaluation and what that entails.” The UTA official’s answer was no more specific. “We meet with the police agencies that responded to get their information on what occurred, we talk to the regulatory agency that has oversight for railroad crossings, we bring in our operations personnel, our safety personnel, our police department, engineers, designers, and they get together and determine what exactly occurred, try to understand why it occurred, and figure out how we can address it,” responded Carpenter. The reporter aptly summed it up with “UTA authorities are not releasing much more information.”