Are fines UTA's next step in stopping rail accident?

Mar 25 2012 - 11:05pm

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OGDEN -- If you're near one of the Utah Transit Authority's rail lines, and you aren't paying attention, it might cost you -- literally.

A string of accidents involving UTA's rail operations has the agency looking at taking a more hard-line approach to improving safety.

After launching a public awareness campaign called "Operation Lifesaver -- Train for Safety" in November, UTA is now considering making distracted behavior around trains and train crossings an offense subject to fines.

UTA spokesman Gerry Carpenter said the agency's Stakeholder Relations Committee is putting together an ordinance that would make actions like talking or texting on a cellphone, listening to a portable music device, reading and even attending to personal hygiene or grooming, illegal.

Under the proposed ordinance, a person caught doing such things near a train crossing could be fined by UTA police $50 on the first offense and $100 on any following offenses.

There have been two pedestrian fatalities involving FrontRunner and six on TRAX since last March.

Just last week, a Layton woman who, according to UTA police, was distracted, was clipped by a FrontRunner train. Although she did not suffer serious injuries, Carpenter said the incident could have been catastrophic.

"We're very concerned," Carpenter said. "We want people to be safe around our trains."

Carpenter said the law would be enforceable only by UTA's police force.

"It's kind of like a city that adopts an ordinance and only they can enforce it," he said.

He also added the UTA police will try to be reasonable when enforcing the ordinance.

"The intent is not to be punitive; it's to educate" he said. "This will give our transit police an opportunity to approach people and let them know they've violated the ordinance and try to educate them on why it's important to pay attention."

If an officer does issue a citation, the violator would have the option of taking a train safety class for $25.

The ordinance also includes a section that would fine motorists $300 on the first offense and $500 on following offenses for passing through gates or barriers at a railroad crossing while they are closed or in the process of opening or closing.

"We've had problems with people trying to gun it through the crossings while the arms are coming down or when they haven't fully raised," Carpenter said.

The ordinance is not final yet, but the UTA board is expected to adopt it at its monthly meeting Wednesday.

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