Driving a three-car TRAX train at speeds of up to 65 miles per hour isn’t easy. It requires complete focus, physical stamina and fast reflexes. TRAX operator Melanie Munk perfected these skills long ago, during her years as a West Point graduate, Army captain and mental health counselor.
Melanie entered West Point in 1994, where she was required to participate in daily physical training and military drills, study for up to four hours each night, go to bed at midnight and wake at 6 a.m. Her class was also required to memorize the front page and part of the sports section of the New York Times each morning, and were quizzed on the contents later in the day.
“It [teaches] you to assimilate information very quickly and react very quickly,” she said. “It’s a very good method of battlefield training.”
After making the dean’s list and graduating from West Point, Melanie entered the Army. She was stationed in Bosnia, where she served as a battalion maintenance officer and was tasked with transporting military equipment from Germany to Bosnia.
“My job was to make sure every vehicle and piece of equipment was operational,” she said. “I was responsible for making sure that several hundred million dollars’ worth of equipment arrived in one piece.”
She also served as a rear detachment commander, helping families with loved ones in the military, before she returned to the U.S., completed graduate school and became a mental health counselor. Melanie spent 11 years as a therapist and clinical director, working with family violence prevention services, emergency shelters and LGBTQ youth.
“I loved doing it,” she said. “I don’t like working at an office.”
By 2014, Melanie found herself in Utah. The emotional weight of mental health counseling had begun to take its toll, and she was working in retail when she saw an advertisement seeking UTA bus operators. After a year and a half, she transferred to TRAX – a move that, Melanie said, might be the last of her career.
“I love my coworkers and the comradery,” she said. “It reminds me of the military in that it requires discipline, communication, honesty and trust. Our lives depend on us working together.”
Melanie said her military training helps her maintain the focus needed to simultaneously operate a TRAX train, note anything unusual in or around the rail alignment, pay attention to rail signals and watch for pedestrians.
“Driving a train is very straightforward, but it requires focusing for an extending period of time,” she said. “You have the ability, if you train [your mind], to be aware and conscious of your actions and reactions and take control of that. Military training really teaches you to take charge of that yourself.”
Melanie has also had to call on her mental health training to diffuse difficult situations with riders, including a time when a bus passenger was yelling racial slurs into her phone and a TRAX rider who was hysterical because a train delay was making her late to work.
Although she’s been asked to apply for supervisor positions, Melanie said that she enjoys being behind the controls too much to quit.