This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Utah Transit Authority has fired an employee after determining he improperly raised crossing gates at a North Salt Lake rail intersection, causing a FrontRunner commuter train to hit and tear apart a FedEx semi-trailer rig earlier this month.
"We have determined that the gates were raised by a UTA employee who responded to the scene, and the accident was caused by human error. The investigation verified that the signal system functioned properly, and [had previously gone] into a safe, down and active mode, as it's programmed to do," UTA Chief Safety and Security Officer Dave Goeres stated on Monday.
The Jan. 21 crash caused no serious injuries, but the collision shredded the truck and its load.
The gates at the 1100 N. 100 East intersection, due to accumulations of ice and snow that day, had defaulted as programmed to the "down and active" position. However, the employee decided to raise the gates again, where they remained when the crash occurred.
UTA said its investigation done in cooperation with federal and state safety officials and FedEx blamed the accident on the employee's "failure to follow existing Standard Operating Procedures and established protocols."
Under those protocols, the train itself should not have been traveling at more than 15 mph as it crossed the intersection.
"The standard procedure states that the protection is to be in place and verified with operators prior to getting authorization to raise the gates. This did not happen," Goeres said.
Instead, the train proceeded at its normal speed and was still traveling at 40 mph when it tore into the truck and its trailer.
"We're just very grateful that no one was seriously injured," Goeres said, adding that all UTA train controllers and system managers have since undergone "refresher" courses on protocols and procedures.
UTA did not identify the terminated employee other than to say he was an experienced and fully-trained member of the rail maintenance staff.
"This was the first time this type of accident occurred on our system in the nine years of operating FrontRunner," Goeres said, insisting that UTA had "responded to this incident with diligence and a focus on public safety."
While emphasizing the system is safe, Goeres also stressed that in addition to UTA's own workers, "the public should always be aware of their surroundings when near rail crossings and rail cars."
Numerous crashes involving both FrontRunner and TRAX light rail trains have occurred over the years when drivers attempted to go around lowered, flashing barrier arms.