The Utah Transit Authority is removing sections of sound walls at key intersections along its new Mid-Jordan TRAX line that obstruct pedestrians' view of oncoming trains -- hoping to avoid future accidents like the one that killed a 15-year-old in West Jordan last week.
"We want to improve visibility, and this seemed like an obvious thing to do immediately," said UTA spokesman Gerry Carpenter. He said additional safety measures are also being considered -- such as pedestrian gates -- but no decisions have been made on them. "Our safety review is ongoing."
He said UTA will remove portions of walls that obstruct views along the new line at 3200 West, 2700 West, 2200 West and Redwood Road as soon as it receives proper permits from West Jordan. The work on 2200 West was expected to begin on Wednesday.
Carpenter said UTA will wait for such work to be completed before it resumes test runs on that new line between Murray and South Jordan, which is scheduled to open to the public on Aug. 7.
Last week, Shariah Casper, 15, was killed at a crossing on 3200 West about 8400 South. She and a cousin had waited for an eastbound train to pass. She then walked out in front of a westbound train -- which she did not see because of a 12-foot-high sound wall -- and was struck and killed.
Flashing lights were operating and a gate was lowered to stop traffic on the opposite side of 3200 West from Casper, but no gate was in front of her.
Shariah's father, Ken Casper, said Tuesday that removing the walls is a needed first step, but says much more should be done -- and is upset that it took the death of his daughter and complaints by his family and friends to bring such improvements.
"My biggest anger is that it took the death of my child for them to take a look at this. The engineers should have known this was an issue from day one," he said.
"The intersection where my daughter was killed is a major intersection for schools. There is an elementary school right there. There is a junior high right there," he said. "There's not enough being done. They need gates. They need lights at the pedestrian level."
Casper said UTA should be looking at such improvements not just along the new Mid-Jordan line, "but also across the valley where they are running high-speed trains through neighborhoods."
Casper said officials should also reconsider the "quiet zone" designation -- made just a few days before the accident -- of the TRAX line and the freight rails that parallel it. In such zones, trains no longer need to sound their horns as they approach intersections. Creation of that zone was allowed because flashing lights and crossbars were installed at all intersections.
"It's the most absurd thing I've ever heard in my life," Casper said, noting that he has lived near railroads in other locations "where they sound their horns at all hours, and you just got used to it" -- and said it improved safety.
West Jordan Mayor Melissa Johnson also called removing the view-obstructing walls "a great first step for UTA, but I'm not prepared to say that I'm happy with its response. UTA is not done yet, and is still looking at other things. Ask me in a month if their response has been adequate."
She said that even before the accident, the City Council was scheduled to talk about where the city may place extra crossing guards for children because of school district budget cuts -- including possibly at the TRAX crossing where the accident occurred. "Because it's a path used by school children, there's a higher standard for safety there," she said.
Johnson said West Jordan has asked all its departments to weigh in on what may be needed to make TRAX crossings safer, as well as other intersections used by children. "At the end of the day, it's UTA's decision about what will be done at its crossing. But we are looking to see if we can say, 'Here's a good idea.'"