New railroad safety exhibit opens at Union Station

Tuesday , August 26, 2014 - 12:00 AM

OGDEN — When it comes to trains, Elizabeth Sutton is looking for that delicate balance between excitement and respect, between healthy curiosity and equally healthy fear.

As the new executive director of the Union Station Foundation, part of Sutton’s job is to promote the station’s Utah State Railroad Museum, which teaches visitors everything they ever wanted to know about trains.

“It’s important to us. As a museum, we want to get visitors excited about trains,” she said. “But we also want them to understand how dangerous trains can be.”

To that end, Operation Lifesaver, a nationwide railroad safety organization, has updated its longstanding display at Union Station. The old exhibit featured a mural and two information kiosks, according to Vern Keeslar, state coordinator for Operation Lifesaver.

The revamped exhibit includes a new mural, painted by local artist Sherry Ferrin, that incorporates both a Union Pacific freight train and a FrontRunner passenger train. It also includes two updated kisosks. The kiosks feature touch screens that play public safety announcement videos and interactive rail safety games. There are also coloring books and activity books for children, as well as pamphlets for adults.

The original rail safety exhibit had been on display at Union Station since 1999. The new update cost $17,000, funded by Operation Lifesaver. The new exhibit has been up for about a week now, and a ribbon cutting is scheduled for Monday evening. 

“Museums are educational in purpose, and one of the things we do is rail safety education,” said Keeslar, who is based out of Lehi.

Keeslar said the Union Station exhibit demonstrates “the uncomfortableness of driving or stepping out in front of a train.” He said the displays aren’t graphic — they’re suitable for the entire family — but the PSAs in particular do make visitors think about the consequences of a run-in with a train.

“The purpose isn’t to scare people straight so they completely avoid trains, but to develop of healthy respect,” Sutton said. “This is learning from others’ mistakes.” 

Keeslar says the Union Station display is the only rail safety exhibit in the state of Utah.

“I think it’s a wonderful asset for the museum,” Keeslar said. “We’re happy to continue our association with Union Station. What better place to have a railroad safety exhibit than at the State Railroad Museum?”

Operation Lifesaver is a national organization that started in 1972. It’s been in Utah since 1976, and today the state group has 120 volunteers who visit classrooms, church groups and youth groups, teaching railroad safety to the public. The organization also conducts an hour-long presentation for driver-education classes in public schools.

As for the overriding take-home lesson Keeslar hopes visitors get out of the new display?

“I would say: Always expect a train,” he said. “Trains only run on tracks, so whenever you see a track, expect a train.”

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Like him on Facebook at

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