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FrontRunner accident highlights rail safety

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She said prior to last week’s incident, she used to travel in the area two or three times a week, “but I’m not coming this way anymore.”

KAYSVILLE — Jill Welch said her knees still shake just being near the train crossing where "the scariest (incident) in my life" occurred last week.

The Farmington resident was driving her car westbound through Kaysville on Nov. 8 when a train prompted the crossing gates to lower and halt traffic as it passed at 600 Old Mill Lane.

After the train traveled ahead, the gates raised allowing traffic to proceed across the tracks. As Welch drove ahead, she said the gates began to lower again as another train approached from what Welch described as a few yards away to her left.

She said seeing the train "so close" sent her into a panic.

"Being panicked, I thought the arm was going to come down over both lanes of traffic," she explained Tuesday. "So I immediately thought I had to back up."

She said in her anxious state, she shifted into neutral instead of reverse — only to realize the train was getting closer as she revved the engine trying to move out of the away of the oncoming train.

"I was just a mess at that point — screaming (in my car)," Welch said. "I (finally) got into reverse and gunned it back as the arm was coming down right on the top of my car."

Fortunately for Welch, her car suffered relatively minor damage and she was uninjured — though she was still quite shaken by the rather harrowing experience.

While she admits the incident was primarily due to her own anxiety, she contends that the "crossing arms should never have gone up" while another train was so close to the crossing.

After hearing about a crash Monday involving a FrontRunner commuter train that left a mother hospitalized and her children injured, she felt compelled to speak out about the potential danger drivers face at rail crossings.

Monday's incident is currently under investigation, but Welch said her experience highlights the need for increased safety measures.

She said prior to last week's incident, she used to travel in the area two or three times a week, "but I'm not coming this way anymore."

The Utah Transit Authority said the crossing and equipment are jointly maintained by Union Pacific Railroad and UTA. Testing following Monday's incident showed the equipment functioning properly, according to UTA spokesman Gerry Carpenter.

He said the crossing arms and alarms are operated by a computer program that calculates proximity and speed of both commuter and freight trains.

"A higher speed (commuter) train will activate the gate sooner than a very slow speed (freight) train," he said. "The intent is to protect the crossing for about 25 to 40 seconds prior to the train entering the intersection."

Carpenter said preliminary analysis of Monday's incident indicated that the crossing arms were in proper working order — activated 37 seconds prior to impact.

"The gates were functioning exactly as designed," he noted.

He said the exact circumstances of both incidents have yet to be determined, but they should serve as cautionary tales for all motorists at railroad crossings.

"(Motorists and pedestrians) should make sure that all activity has stopped on the crossing before proceeding," Carpenter said. "Even if you can't see the train, even if you can't hear the train … if the gates are down, (please wait)."

E-mail: jlee@desnews.com