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Extra-cold weather has led to a high number of rush-hour delays on TRAX and FrontRunner trains this month — forcing the Utah Transit Authority to take steps against winter weather not normally needed until January or February.

UTA has had issues with frozen switches, doors, car couplers and arms on TRAX trains that reach up to overhead wires — and is now taking extra steps to heat them. But road traffic accidents made matters worse — with cars sliding into each other at rail crossings, or sliding onto rail medians and high centering to block trains, said UTA spokesman Remi Barron.

On Wednesday, delays even came when a stolen U-Haul truck stalled and then was abandoned on a TRAX crossing, Barron said. "It's been a bad mix over the past few days."

As an example of problems cold weather is creating with equipment, Barron said track "switches are heated, but they only activate when they detect moisture." They didn't activate in dry weather that was so cold it froze switches freeze without snow or ice. So crews are turning on those heaters full-time.

Also, couplers between train cars "only heat when they are coupled with another car," Barron said, so "they are trying to leave the cars coupled now so the heaters are activated [and] the operator doesn't have to find out in the morning that the couplers are frozen."

Barron said TRAX trains' arms that connect to overhead wires are often lowered when they are out of service. "Extreme cold makes it difficult to pan those back up," so crews are leaving them up now.

Finally, TRAX train doors have had trouble with accumulation of tracked-ion ice and snow, so he said now "they will just close off the door" and "continue on … to save some time," rather than have an operator immediately try to clear snow and ice.

Lee Davidson

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