Vintage train rolls through Utah County to teach safety

2012-06-21T00:18:00Z 2013-01-24T06:44:12Z Vintage train rolls through Utah County to teach safetyJim Dalrymple - Daily Herald Daily Herald
June 21, 2012 12:18 am  • 

PROVO -- The yellow Union Pacific train shuddered to life just a few feet from where Jose Gamboa was crushed to death earlier this year.

Wednesday afternoon, the vintage, three-car train rolled slowly out of Provo's station during an event designed to prevent accidents like the one that killed Gamboa on April 13. According to police, Gamboa was struck by an Amtrak train as he crossed the tracks against a lowered rail crossing signal arm. He died at the scene of the accident.

Tragic as Gamboa's death was, Wednesday's event aimed to show that it was neither unique nor unavoidable. The event began at about 1 p.m. as 75 people filed onto the train. As the passengers boarded, they were greeted by Vern Keesler, the state coordinator for Operation Lifesaver. Keesler and his organization set up the train ride, and later as the cars rumbled passed verdant hillsides Keesler gave short presentations on railroad safety.

"Someone is hit about every three hours," Keesler said during one of the presentations.

Keesler later explained that he got involved in Operation Lifesaver in the 1990s, then became the state coordinator in 2004. Over the years, the number of train accidents has fallen, he said, but the problem remains.

"You wouldn't walk down the middle of I-15," he pointed out. "So would someone walk down the middle of a train track?"

But logical or not, people do put themselves in danger. Keesler said he was once on a train heading straight for an ATV that was stuck on the tracks. During his presentation, he also showed pictures of jobs and cyclists using tracks for recreation and exercise. Most dangerously, some drivers even attempt to drive around lowered crossing signals. The problem, Keesler added, is people sometimes only see the front of a train and misjudge how fast it is traveling.

"People always think they can beat the train because they don't think it's moving as fast as it is," he said.

As Keesler explained the dangers of train travel, the passengers gazed out the windows at mountains tangled with streams and beaver dams. The train traveled to Soldier Summit, thousands of feet above Spanish Fork Canyon, then reversed course and returned. The entire trip lasted roughly three hours and was narrated by historian and former Amtrak employee Daniel Kuhn.

Kuhn said Wednesday's event was taking place aboard a 1955 Union Pacific Astra-Dome rail car, as well as a regular coach car. The Astra-Dome car was part of the rail company's Domeliner trains and offered an upper seating area with panoramic windows.

As it wound down the canyon Wednesday, the passengers could see passing intersections in Springville and Provo. At each intersection, the train blared its horn as a warning to nearby drivers and pedestrians.

According to Keesler, the point of the entire event was education. He said he hoped it provided the opportunity to spread the word about safety, as well as the potential dangers that lie on train tracks.

During other events, Operation Lifesaver also focuses on engineering better intersections and enforcing safety-oriented laws. Those efforts can been seen in Provo, where the intersection nearest the train station has a concrete center median -- called "channeling" -- that prevents drivers from circumventing crossing signals. Operation Lifesaver also coordinates regular traffic enforcement exercises with area law enforcement.

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