Are Recent UTA Incidents Cause for Concern?

The Utah Transit Authority has suffered from a rash of collisions and derailments in the last 18 months. These incidents differ in nature from the more common incidents—collisions with vehicles and people at intersections and grade crossings, people trespassing on the right-of-way, individuals attempting suicide, etc.—in that they represent a possible failure of UTA’s equipment and/or safety protocols.


Photo: KSL TV

Photo: KSL TV

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Out of service Blue Line cars were northbound from Draper on their way back to the yard, when somehow the last car became uncoupled. Upon coming uncoupled the car’s brakes automatically engaged bringing the car to a stop as it approached the 8000 South grade crossing in Midvale. Assuming that it had been parked, the car’s controls shut off its exterior and interior lights.

A few minutes later, the next northbound Blue Line headed from Draper to Salt Lake Central approaches the stopped, unoccupied, dark car. Prior to encountering the car, the operator of the northbound Blue Line train first passes a yellow signal—warning that the next signal will be red—and then stops just before the red signal. The train’s operator radioed the dispatcher for permission to proceed past the red signal and was granted that permission. Moments later, the train’s operator spots the stopped car on the tracks ahead, activates the emergency brake, and collides with the stopped car at 31 mph. Two passengers are taken to the hospital with minor injuries. The operator and remaining passengers are examined at the scene. Despite the collision, neither the stopped car nor the two cars of the northbound train derail. The damage caused by the collision was report to the FRA as $3 million.

As reported by KSL, UTA issued a statement on November 13, which focuses on an investigation of the failure of the coupler. Absent is any attention paid to the procedures that allowed the northbound Blue Line train to proceed past the red signal, while assuming that the red signal was simply reporting a “false occupancy” of the tracks ahead. While it is disconcerting for a car to decouple from a train, it is irresponsible to override a safety mechanism based simply on the assumption of a glitch!

Sources: Deseret NewsFox 13KSLFRA Report


Photo: Michelle Tessier, Deseret News

Photo: Michelle Tessier, Deseret News

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A northbound Blue Line train headed to Salt Lake Central had just left Arena Station and headed towards the junction near the intersection of 400 West and South Temple, where Blue Line trains head to Salt Lake Central while Green Line trains head to the Airport. As the two-car train proceeded through the switch, somehow the switch changed directions just after the first set of wheels of the first car passed over it. This literally created a situation, where part of the first car was headed to Salt Lake Central and part of it was headed to the Airport. Both cars remained coupled, and the first car became derailed, while the second car remained on the tracks. One passenger was taken to the hospital with minor injuries. It is still unclear what caused the switch to malfunction while the train was passing through it. Since the derailment occurred in a street right-of-way rather than a traditional railroad right-of-way, no FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) accident report was required to be filed.

Sources: Deseret News4 UtahFox 13


Photo: Jay Dortzbach/KSL TV

Photo: Jay Dortzbach/KSL TV

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Just south of Central Pointe Station, two trains collided at the junction, where the Green Line converges with the Red and Blue Lines. A northbound Blue Line train headed to Salt Lake Central collided with a Green Line train headed to the Airport. Photos appear to show that the Green Line train was one car ahead of the Blue Line train, which caused the second car of the Green Line train to derail. There are two possible causes of the collision: 1. Human error—the operator of one of the trains passed a red signal and continued through the junction. 2. A failure of the interlocking system, which gave both trains a signal to proceed through the junction. This collision will require that an accident report be filed with the FRA.

Sources: Deseret NewsKSLFox 13


Despite these recent incidents, traveling by public transportation is still considerably safer than driving. However, the nature of these incidents question whether UTA needs to perform an evaluation of its systems and protocols.