Whenever a train has a collision—and most often when an incident involves a pedestrian—the public often turns an eye on the driver, with people thinking accidents are something the man or woman in the lead train car should be able to prevent. The public questions whether the driver was in the wrong, and though operators involved are put on administrative leave with pay while the incident is investigated, TRAX driver Arnold Tomlinson (name changed to protect identity) says there’s very little drivers can do if someone is paying attention to his Facebook update or dashing across the tracks to make the train.
“People don’t realize that when you run in front of a train, we don’t stop on a dime,” he says. “You have to keep your focus and know what you’re doing. We become watchers because we have to anticipate what people are thinking. And then we have to outthink them.”
UTA Operations Supervisor John Maxwell, a former English teacher, has been with the UTA for 21 years and treats safety as a 24-hour job, whether he’s on the rails or walking down the hallway. “Safety has to be something you do in everything,” he says. “If I see a floor mat that’s flipped up, I’ll stop and kick it back down because it’s a hazard. It has to be an all-inclusive thing.” For him and the 100 or so TRAX drivers, that means extensive training, staying alert, keeping an eye out from every angle and driving into platforms very slowly.
Training lasts well over two months, with drivers required to pass a pretest before even starting the class. Five or six weeks are spent on basic train operations, stopping at the access ramp and other key elements, adding other skills and tasks as the training goes on. After 10 weeks, the drivers hit the tracks, driving five graveyard shifts with no passengers.
“Safety is about looking 15 seconds ahead of you so that you can not just react, but respond to something that’s going on,” he explains. “If we see a person running for a car that’s parked along the side of the street a block ahead, for example, that’s a person to watch because they are in a hurry. When they pull out, they might not be looking and hit a train or even cause another car to swerve.”
To make sure communities, particularly school-aged children, are learning how to act around the trains as the system expands, the UTA has held educational bootcamps at all of the elementary and secondary schools near the new TRAX lines, as well as the FrontRunner expansion to Provo. “There are a lot of communities that have not had TRAX before, and we’re looking at starting the education process even before they start up,” Goeres says, noting the UTA will also run a media blitz in Utah County to make sure the message hits at several levels.