My 9-year-old son may have said it best last night. “I wish we could take out his brain and see what he was thinking.”
He was referring to the 17-year-old young man who stepped in front of a speeding TRAX train just moments before the train I was in approached from the other direction. We were stopped long enough to witness a distraught driver agonize over what had happened, then quickly whisked backward to another station. There, I huddled with about 30 fellow passengers in the chilly air, waiting for a special bus that took about 45 minutes to arrive and take us beyond the accident.
A “bridge” they call the bus. Everyone came home about an hour late. That’s life on mass transit, as many city dwellers can attest. Tragedy turns to inconvenience, and everyone involved feels a mixture of sadness and irritation.
I don’t want to dwell on Monday night’s incident. It may well have been a suicide, as official have said. We won’t ever know, without, as my son said, getting inside the victim’s head.
But this hasn’t been a pleasant few months for UTA, or for its regular commuters, who find themselves too often waiting for “bridges” to get them home.
I spoke with Gerry Carpenter, UTA’s spokesman, about what seems to be a growing safety problem. He agreed with the assessment, noting it seems as if every other week since July has brought some sort of “incident.”
Then he added this: “If we quantified the number of near misses our drivers have to deal with every day, it would be staggering.”
So what’s going on? It’s mid-February, but TRAX already has had five incidents this year, including two collisions with cars that ran red lights, one of which derailed a train and caused several hours of delays.
Every single incident last year was avoidable, Carpenter said. People just need to look up.
The irony is that UTA launched a safety campaign last fall to try to make things better. Trains have colorful banners and signs, some stations have new pedestrian gates and signs. The messages are all the same — pay attention.
But we live in a world where attention is an ever-shrinking commodity. We want to pay it about as much as we want to pay taxes, and it seems about as useful as an eight-track tape player.
And who wants one of those when you can plug in an iPod?
No safety campaign ever could stop a determined and distraught person from deliberately jumping in front of a train. For the rest of us, however, being plugged in could equate to being plugged by any fast-moving object.
Carpenter said it all comes down to personal responsibility. If UTA can find a campaign that fixes that, it could solve a whole host of society’s ills.