By CHRISTOPHER WALKER
Five train collisions have occurred in Utah since the first of the year, said Bret N. Barney, state coordinator of Operation Lifesaver.
Four of the collisions were between cars and trains and the other was a pedestrian and train collision.
Nationally, 485 people die each year in car-train collisions and an additional 470 die because of pedestrian-train collisions.
Barney said drivers are not educated when it comes to train safety.
“I think it’s a lack of education, not stupidity,” Barney said.
He said 31 is the average age of people who die in train collisions.
Paul Hawker, assistant state coordinator for Operation Lifesaver, said it is difficult to see trends in train collisions.
“It can happen to just about anyone,” he said.
According to a news release, nearly half of the accidents in the state were in Utah County. In 1997, there were 25 car-train collisions in Utah and five pedestrian-train collisions.
Barney said one reason there are so many in Utah County is the high number of train crossings. Five of the collisions were fatal and one ended in an amputation.
Hawker said Utah County plans to close nine of the 200 train crossings between Provo and Santaquin due to the dangers at these crossings. He said he hopes this will cut down on the number of accidents in Utah County.
Barney said most accidents are caused by people running though gates and lights because they are not used to trains being on the tracks.
Although the number of train collisions have been cut in half since 1981, the collisions have ended in nearly as many deaths.
“People jog, fish, walk and drive ATV’s on the tracks and just don’t think,” Barney said. “People don’t think. They are 40 percent more likely to die when hit by a train than by a car.”
Hawker said getting hit by a train would be about the same as a car running over a 12-ounce aluminum can.
“The pressure of the car on a can is about the same as the train on a car,” he said.
He said the planned light-rail trains in Utah are also a concern.
“It will have an impact. We want to educate those who will cross the track so they won’t be a statistic,” Barney said.
Utah State law requires every drivers’ education class to have at least an hour of train safety.
Barney said Operation Lifesaver is dedicated to educating the driving public about train safety.
In Idaho, Operation Lifesaver has resulted in 34 percent less fatalities each year, he said. Thirty-five to 45 trains can go through Utah County in a day, so people should be careful.