Jay Evensen: The story behind THE VOICE on FrontRunner trains

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

FILE— Electronic signs indicated the schedules for upcoming FrontRunner train departures at the Utah Transit Authority’s Salt Lake Central Station on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016.

SATL LAKE CITY —

If you have been a passenger on any FrontRunner train in recent weeks, you have heard THE VOICE.

Deep, resonant, not unpleasant, and with a distinct accent — a recording of THE VOICE comes on between stops and carefully tells you where exits are located and what to do in the unlikely event of an emergency.

We have become so accustomed to monotone Midwestern English, devoid of any distinguishing, potentially offensive or exclusionary dialect, telling us how to buckle seat belts, which numbers to press for customer service and how many minutes we may expect to stay on hold, that we don’t really listen anymore.

“Please pay attention, as our options have changed,” they tell us, but we haven’t the slightest idea what those options were in the first place, no matter how often we may have heard them before.

It’s as if Siri and her sisters were all around us, pretending to know us by name but filled with as much warmth as a stainless steel pillow.

But THE VOICE is something different. It commands attention. It makes you listen. It makes you wonder who the heck is running this train, anyway, Boris and Natasha?

I will admit to worries that Vladimir Putin’s reach may have extended farther than just a few electronic voting machines in Illinois.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The voice belongs to Ananda Alles, a native of Sri Lanka, a 66-year-old who retired from a long career in the security and safety industry in England and the Middle East and who, while he always loved and romanticized about trains, never in his life expected to be driving one in Salt Lake City, of all places, let alone narrating safety instructions to Wasatch Front commuters, whatever those are.

“Life is strange,” he told me by phone on Tuesday. Yes, indeed.

It all started when Alles and his wife (they now have been married 46 years) had four boys. The oldest two, as luck would have it, ended up with scholarships…

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