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Investigation offers insight into UTA train crash

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Posted at 10:13 PM, Mar 27, 2014
and last updated 2014-03-28 00:13:11-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- As often as the trains run through Salt Lake City, on the night of November 5, 2013, the staff at Utah Transit Authority ran into a new problem.

“This is a very, very unusual occurrence,” said Dave Goeres, chief safety officer for UTA.

It was a crash between two cars that no one could explain.

“We do not expect this situation to ever happen again,” Goeres said. “It was very rare.”

It started at about 8:30 that night, when a train heading into the rail yard for the night became uncoupled, or detached, from its last car. The operator didn’t notice and kept going. Minutes later, though, another train came through and slammed into it.

To this day, UTA isn't sure how the cars came apart.

“The train, as five cars, traveled 5 miles without incident. So, why it uncoupled at that time? Don't know,” Goeres said.

But they do know what happened next.

“There were some procedures in place that were not followed to the extent that they should have been,” Goeres said.

According to him, their investigation found the operators driving both trains didn`t exactly follow protocol that night. When the first train lost its car, for example, the entire train shutdown, signaling to the operator that there was clearly a problem.

“There are several reasons why a vehicle will make an emergency stop,” Goeres said.

But the operator didn’t notice or check for all possible reasons, in part because such an incident had never occurred before.

“This was a once in 15 years worth of operations to have a vehicle actually become uncoupled,” Goeres said.

Once back at the rail yard, the operator realized a car was missing and phoned it in, just moments after the second operator had already crashed, something investigators also believe could have been avoided, possibly by slowing down.

“He has to be able to stop before he comes in contact with any other vehicle, or any other situation that might be in that segment of the track,” Goeres said.

Since that night, all operators have been retrained and UTA policies, revisited, a move Goeres believes has put them back on track.

“We believe that we have a good system, a very good system in place now,” Goeres said. “And this specific type of occurrence will not happen again.”

The Federal Railroad Administration will review the UTA’s investigation report and determine whether or not they feel it was sufficiently conducted.