UTA says crossing arms safe

Nov 20 2011 - 7:53pm

LAYTON -- Utah Transit Authority officials say a crossing arm malfunction that would allow a car to travel unprotected through one of its FrontRunner crossings is not just highly unlikely, it's next to impossible.

Last week UTA announced it would step up its safety efforts and begin a new safety campaign after a year that has been plagued with safety incidents on the agency's rail operation.

The latest incident occurred on Nov. 14, when a woman's minivan was hit by a FrontRunner train at a crossing at 600 West and Old Mill Lane in Kaysville.

The woman was flown to McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden with a skull fracture.

In August 2010, a Sunset-area man was struck and killed by a FrontRunner commuter train when he attempted to drive around the crossing gates, which officials say were lowered at the time.

In both cases, crossing arm equipment was determined to be working properly. UTA officials say the crossing arms located at 26 different at-grade crossings along FrontRunner's 44 miles are the industry standard for safety.

UTA spokesman Gerry Carpenter said the arms are jointly owned and operated by UTA and Union Pacific.

Train officials from UTA and UP perform three separate types of inspections on the arms. The first, which is the least comprehensive of the three, occurs every 30 days. A second inspection, which involves more criteria, is performed every 90 days. The third inspection, which is the most comprehensive and takes the most time, is performed annually.

Whenever an incident occurs at a crossing, the most thorough and comprehensive inspection is performed on the crossing arm, Carpenter said.

All of the FrontRunner crossing arms are computerized and keep records of every event that takes place at a crossing, including how many cars travel through, when the arms go up, when they go down, and if the arms have been impacted. UTA workers monitor the commuter board activity at all times.

Carpenter said the lag time between when the arms go down and when a train passes through a particular intersection varies depending on the crossing, but the minimum standard is 25 seconds.

"If there is a big power outage, the gates continue to work for a minimum of eight hours," Carpenter said.

UTA and UP say the arms have malfunctioned before, but the function that makes it difficult, if not impossible for a car to travel unprotected through a crossing, is the equipment's fail-safe mode.

In the event that a crossing arm is malfunctioning in any way, the arms are lowered and warning bells and lights are triggered.

"The gates are designed so if they aren't working properly, they are down protecting the crossing," Carpenter said.

"So if there is something wrong with a gate, motorists won't be able to drive through."

Carpenter said on all of the arms is a telephone number that can be called if a motorist is stuck at malfunctioning crossing.

Aside from the safety equipment in place Carpenter said motorists should treat every crossing with respect, always yield and look both ways before crossing.

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