A 15-year-old girl was struck and killed last week by a test train on an expansion line for the light rail system operated in the Salt Lake Valley by the Utah Transit Authority (UTA). It was originally reported that the girl, walking home with her cousin, had walked around a barrier onto the tracks in front of the train. That is not what happened because there were no barriers to walk around.
The accident occurred in an area that was recently designated as a quiet zone in which trains cannot sound their horns. On top of that, a 12-foot high concrete sound wall blocks views of oncoming westbound trains where she was hit at the crossing. There are crossing arm barriers for vehicles at the intersection, but they do not extend across the sidewalk. The girls did not stop even though the crossing arm barriers were down for vehicles, most likely assuming they were down because an eastbound train had just come through the intersection. Unfortunately, a westbound train was coming through as well and the girls didn’t see it coming.
UTA has indicated that the intersection design meets all legal requirements, but that safety is a priority. So, earlier this week, UTA started to remove sound wall panels nearest the intersection to open up sight lines. UTA is also considering other safety measures, such as pedestrian gates for the sidewalks, but no decisions have been made.
The notable light rail expansion in the Salt Lake Valley is a boon for sensible transportation options in an area where the population continues to grow at one of the highest rates in the nation. That said, safety has to be first as we are reminded by this tragedy.
Bret Hanna of Wrona DuBois in Utah, focuses exclusively on litigating plaintiffs’ medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has represented clients in state and federal courts, in mediations, and in administrative proceedings in Michigan and Utah since 1991.