Bob Rogers sees hundreds of safety violations every day from his desk in the TRAX control room.
The UTA control room, housed in a sprawling 300,000-square-foot facility that once served as the ZCMI warehouse, is a sterile and quiet space with white linoleum floors lit by overhead fluorescent lights. A couple dozen television screens hang from the walls and are lined up on long desks for two controllers, along with a supervisor, to direct train movement throughout the TRAX system and keep an eye on several of the light-rail lines.
From Bob Rogers’ perch, where he monitors four Utah Department of Transportation cameras and another 11 views provided by UTA cameras, he sees just about every safety violation imaginable—and he sees them often. Motorists rushing to beat the dropping gates and breaking off the safety arms. Driving under the gates immediately after the arms begin to ascend. Pedestrians with their backs to the tracks reading iPads with earphones in. Stepping over the platform’s raised, yellow safety border. Jaywalking across the rails.
“If you had people watching all the cameras, you’d probably have more than 50 violations an hour,” says Rogers, who has worked with the UTA for five years, mostly as a rail operations supervisor. “And that’s only a tiny bit of what’s really going on. It’s eye opening.”
The cameras cover less than 10 percent of the TRAX system, Rogers estimates, and the violations he sees live on the screens show only a fraction of actual dangerous behavior around the trains. Some 600 cameras, funded by a $2 million federal homeland security grant, are currently being installed by the UTA, and by fall, will monitor station parking lots, every platform and each intersection.
But what the cameras are missing, transit police are starting to crack down on in hopes of changing behavior around the rails. In March, the UTA board voted 11–3 in favor of creating fines for distracted walking around TRAX. First-time violations come with a $50 civil ticket; repeat offenses cost $100. Talking on cellphones, texting, listening to music with headphones, reading while crossing the tracks or putting on lipstick all constitute “distracted walking.”
“The changing demographics of society, plus the urban environment, affect our approach,” says Dave Goeres, who was named the UTA’s chief safety officer not long after Shariah Casper was killed. “Society today is very much encapsulated in its own world.”
TRAX is a prominent feature in Salt Lake, particularly downtown, where cars and the light-rail contend with the same challenges—rush hour, daytime foot traffic, lights and signals. Still, after nearly 13 years, motorists seem to forget about the train pulling up behind them as they make a left turn, veer slightly onto the tracks or cut a changing light a little too close.
Many simply seem to think they can beat the train. Sometimes they make it, sometimes they don’t, Rogers says, noting vehicles running through the gates break off the safety arms five to six times a week. Fines for drivers or pedestrians who try to rush through gates as the arms are lowering or when lights are flashing, according to an ordinance passed in March, are $300 for a first offense and $500 for repeat violations.
“Most of the incidents that have happened so far this year involved motorists running a red light,” Carpenter says. “We’re running at a very high frequency and are interacting more with motorists and pedestrians, and it means we have to be more vigilant. But people need to be more careful about trains, too.”