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Spate of Train Vs. Public Accidents, Newspaper Probe Force Utah Transit Authority To Seek Safety Director

(Salt Lake City, Utah – November 23, 2011)

Obviously an afterthought, but something the rail operations of the Utah Transit Authority could have employed and spared considerable grief, UTA recently announced a search for a system safety director.

“Safety is our number one priority,” declared UTA General Manager Michael Allegra at a Nov. 17 news conference. “Nothing else comes close.”

Meanwhile, The Salt Lake Tribune exposed the horrendous safety record of both UTA “TRAX” light rail operations as well as the standard, heavy rail “FrontRunner” program, which had resulted in five fatalities and five non-fatal injuries from 11 accidents in “TRAX” incidents thus far in 2011, plus an additional four accidents which produced two fatalities and three injuries from FrontRunner incidents.

The Tribune, in a story by SLT Staffer Lee Davidson, utilized Federal Transit Agency statistics to show that UTA’s rate of “incidents” (fairly serious accidents) between 2007 and June of 2011 double the rate of its peer agencies. The study included the systems of Denver, Minneapolis, Sacramento, Portland and Santa Clara in addition to Utah.

The rate for the conglomerate, which included UTA, was 14.2, while Utah’s alone was 30.7. Meanwhile, the conglomerate’s injury rate was 17.1, compared to UTA’s 27.1, and the fatality rate for UTA was 2.13, while the six similar agencies experienced a 1.18 rate of deaths per million passenger miles.

The FTA offered figures on all light rail operations nationwide for 2009, where the method used was “deaths per 100 million passenger trips”, and still found UTA doubling the national average of 7.3 with an embarrassing 14.9.

UTA media relations spokesman Gerry Carpenter charged that the comparison of the similar systems’ statistics was like “comparing apples to oranges,” citing that UTA tends to have more grade crossings as well as the necessity for TRAX trains to share right-of-way in downtown Salt Lake City with street traffic.

While promising that the establishment of a safety officer position would lead to “a review of the entire system, looking for ways to bolster safety” Allegra alluded to the obvious lobbying for influence by the railroad-led Operation Lifesaver organization. The new program “involves three E’s: education, engineering and enforcement,” a slogan employed by OLI and its federal agency allies (FRA and FTA, among others) for decades, proving that the railroad industry-run non-profit OLI has obviously already engaged itself in lobbying for a candidate from their organization to be the successful hire.