Tuesday, December 29, 2009

'09 Review of Honolulu’s Rail Project as We Saw It

We’ll confine this review to highlights starting in August, since that’s when we picked up the blog after a few months of inactivity. But there was plenty to keep busy with in the year’s last five months!

August 12
Above-Grade Choice Gets Stronger with Time
The City Council selected grade-separated transit nearly three years ago, and nothing that’s emerged in commentaries, letters to the editor and paid advertising has challenged the soundness of that decision.

August 27
Revenues Panel Sees 5 Years of Tax Growth
After a couple years of dismal forecasts for Hawaii’s economy, the state Council of Revenues has issued a five-year tax forecast that anticipates positive long-term growth.

August 30
Bids for Rail’s First Segment Under Budget
Bids for the first construction phase of the transit project between Kapolei and Waipahu are coming in 10-25 percent under expectations in February, when the request for proposals went out.

September 13
What Every Consumer Asks When Making a Purchase: ‘Will It Do What I Need It To Do?’
That’s what also must be asked of the allegedly “cheaper rail plan” for an at-grade system that some in the community are promoting. (Answer hint: At-grade wouldn’t be a fast, frequent and reliable alternative to sitting in traffic congestion.)

September 24
Among At-Grade’s Negatives, Part 2: Accidents
It’s not exactly Demolition Derby, but the number of train-vehicle accidents since the Phoenix, AZ at-grade system opened nine months ago is pretty astonishing.

September 29
City Report Says Rail’s Tax Revenue Sufficient; Collections for FY ’09 $12 Million Above Forecast
As the City correctly noted in August, when headlines trumpeted the alleged shortfall, the May report on which those headlines and finger wagging were based was outdated. Now comes the August financial plan, with updated information the City stands behind.

October 6
When Safety Is Crucial, Think Elevated Rail
Phoenix’s METRO light rail has been operating since December and is averaging five collisions a month, which has prompted the operators to launch a Light Rail Safety campaign called Stay Aware, Stay Safe.

October 12
Feds OK Honolulu Rail for Preliminary Engineering
The Federal Transit Administration has given Honolulu a green light to begin Preliminary Engineering for the local rail transit system.

October 26
Star-Bulletin: ‘Foolish’ Not To Build Rail Now
The Honolulu Star-Bulletin today continues the daily newspapers’ editorial support for Honolulu’s rail project. Disagreeing with rail critics who urge a go-slow approach, the paper says “…prompt action is warranted to help Hawaii’s economy and keep costs down.”

October 30
Beware Monsters of Misinformation at Halloween
It’s wise to watch your step at the end of October. Ghosts and goblins are everywhere, eager to startle and shock you into giving up something of value – usually candy. But watch out for at-grade rail proponents who want you to give up your common sense.

November 3
Behind Rail Opinion Poll Numbers – Solid Support
A public opinion survey has revealed strong support among Oahu residents for the Honolulu rail project – support that appears to have increased since 53 percent voted in favor of rail in last November’s election.

November 16
Searching for ‘News’ in the Rail Tax Stories
Until the economy turns around (which it will; it always has), can’t we safely predict that rail tax revenues any given month will be below those of a year earlier? Tax revenues are lower in a recession, and when the recession is behind us, they'll be higher.

November 17
Mayor Says Transit Tax Can’t be Raided by State
With Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s announcement today that a Project Labor Agreement with the trade unions has been sealed, the anti-rail crowd must sense that their opposition is being overtaken by events.

November 25
Governor’s Stated Insistence on Preserving Road Lanes Seemingly Eliminates At-Grade Alternative
The inevitable results of building at-grade transit – either property condemnation to widen the roadway or a loss of traffic lanes – has been thoroughly evaluated and found unacceptable compared to the Locally Preferred Alternative of an elevated fixed guideway.

December 2
Train Meets Van in Another At-Grade Rail Collision
The relatively small but vocal group of at-grade transit advocates here continues to make a noisy case for Honolulu’s trains to run at ground level. As they do so, we’ll continue our focus on the safety issue.

December 11
Story Criticizes Opinion Poil w/out Giving Results
Today’s Honolulu Advertiser takes a swipe at the opinion poll conducted in September on Oahu residents’ views about the rail project. The story implies impropriety that wasn’t there; amazingly, the poll’s results continue to not be reported in the newspaper.

December 18
Entire Rail Survey Is Available for Downloading
The public accessibility of the QMark opinion poll on Honolulu’s rail project should effectively counter the din from critics who allege the poll was rigged, the questions were slanted, the results are worthless, etc.

December 23
Poll Results Among Non-Reported Stories of 2009
Although both Honolulu newspapers have known about the poll for several weeks and maybe as long as two months, they have steadfastly refused to print its results. Far as we know, the broadcast outlets have followed suit.

December 24
A Dickensonian Christmas Tale with a Difference
It was the night before Christmas in Kapolei, and all three of the family’s generations were in a happy mood after watching “A Christmas Carol” on TV. Mean old Scrooge turned out to be a great guy after all, and Tiny Tim was just fine. Everybody was happy but dad, that is. “I’ve been stalled on H-1 for the last hour,” dad growled, “and I know something a lot scarier than anything Charles Dickens dreamed up – the Ghost of Traffic Present!”

It’s been quite a year, and 2010 will be even more eventful. Check back with us early and often as we write about the major developments within Honolulu’s rail project, and don’t forget to have a…


Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Dickensonian Christmas Tale with a Difference: Three Ghosts of Traffic Past, Present and Future

It was the night before Christmas in Kapolei, and all three of the family’s generations were in a happy mood after watching “A Christmas Carol” on TV. Mean old Scrooge turned out to be a great guy after all, and Tiny Tim was just fine.

Everybody was happy but dad, that is. He stormed in as the show’s credits rolled up the screen from another of his last-minute Christmas shopping sprees, and his mood was as grumpy as Scrooge’s had been two hours earlier.

“Merry Christmas!” the kids shouted. “Mom was just telling us how scary the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future were when she was little.”

“I’ve been stalled on H-1 for the last hour,” dad growled, “and I know something a lot scarier than anything Charles Dickens dreamed up – the Ghost of Traffic Present!

“Tell us more! Tell us more!” cried the kids as they egged him on. Rush-hour traffic always made dad’s face red and eyes bulge. It’s a pretty good show, and the kids are always up for it.

“Come to think of it,” dad obliged with a twinkle in his eye, “I have a story with three ghosts -- the ghosts of Traffic Past, Traffic Present and Traffic Future.”

And so began another of dad’s “good old days” tales about driving to town in half the time it takes today. Just like Dickens’ ghost of Christmas Past, dad’s ghost of Traffic Past has fond memories – of free-and-easy driving, open highways, low-cost gasoline and reasonable parking fees.

But then the story takes a turn. Traffic congestion grew along with the population, and the city tried to build an elevated transit system so commuters could ride a train and avoid traffic altogether – just like they do in cities around the world.

“We…came…THIS…close!” the kids sang along with dad. They’d heard it before, so all three held their fingers barely apart as dad recalled the City Council vote that killed those plans in 1992. “It would have been running for six years now,” dad sighed.

“But that’s the ghost of Traffic Past,” he grimaced as he warmed to the juiciest part of his tale. “Here’s where my three-ghost story departs from Dickens. His scariest vision was the Ghost of Christmas Future. Mine is the Ghost of Traffic Present!

And off dad went on his rant – about getting up way too early to beat H-1 congestion, about arriving late for work nearly every time there’s an accident, and on and on.

“The Ghost of Traffic Present toys with us,” he said as the kids giggled in anticipation. “This ghost sometimes gives you a wide-open road when you first hit the freeway, lets you think today will be different, that maybe you’ll breeze through the merge. But nine times out of ten, it’s all wishful thinking and you crawl the rest of the way to town. When there’s a major accident, forget about it! And when you finally get off the freeway, you’re caught in street traffic.”

Mom had escaped to the kitchen by now, and the kids sat crowded around dad’s feet, because their favorite part was coming. The Ghost of Traffic Future would be the one they’ll live with for the rest of their lives.

Dad did a quick circle around the kids to stretch his legs, then settled in again to pick up the story. “The Ghost of Traffic Future is the best ghost of all, because the future is when your generation will triumph over traffic! You won’t even have to worry about it.”

The kids knew all about the plan to bypass traffic in the future. Dad read every newspaper story out loud to the family about the city’s elevated rail project. They all had tracked the project as it moved from the early planning days when the kids were in pre-school, through the City Council votes, into the environmental process. And on Christmas Eve 2009, the Final EIS was expected any day now.

“When the FEIS is accepted by the Governor, it’ll be clear sailing for the project’s groundbreaking! dad exclaimed as the kids clapped their hands in unison. “Your uncle and cousins will have years of construction work ahead of them.”

Again in unison and on cue, the kids put on worried faces and cried, “She will accept the FEIS, won’t she, dad…won’t she!? Dad waited until everyone had grabbed hands so they could shout it together: “She’d better!!” Even mom and the grandparents laughingly joined in – as always.

“You see, kids,” dad said in his serious voice, “this entire project would come to a halt if she doesn’t accept the FEIS, and that would be a bad thing – for you, for your cousins, for the entire community, and especially those who don’t want to sit in traffic.

“Actually, I think what she said in that story I read to you a few weeks ago about not rubber-stamping the rail project was just her way of saying she’s doing her job, being a prudent elected official.”

Granddad chimed in: “The Governor knows we need this train,” he said. “You kids will use it to get to jobs in town or to school in Manoa. Gas prices will be far higher in a few years, and so will parking costs. The train will be so convenient and cost-competitive, it would be terrible for anyone to block this project and toy with your future.” The kids nodded.

“Granddad’s right,” mom called from the hallway. “Once commuters see how easy it is to ride the train and connect with buses or walk from the stations, you kids might even have to fight for a seat!

And so this balmy Christmas Eve 2009 progressed in Kapolei as dad ended his tale of the three Ghosts of Traffic and the family’s three generations sat down around the Christmas tree to hear a much older story.

When the kids opened their presents on Christmas Day, the youngest said she dreamed all night about Santa arriving in Kapolei with a sleigh full of toys. Something was different this year, though.

Instead of eight tiny reindeer leading Santa’s sleigh, it was riding high up on an elevated guideway – pulled by a train.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Poll Results Among Non-Reported Stories of 2009

Is a little inquisitive reporting too much to ask for Christmas?

The changes happening in journalism here don’t surprise us much anymore, but the local media’s failure to report the results of a public opinion poll on the Honolulu rail project is an exception.

What the public thinks about the biggest construction project ever in Hawaii has to qualify as "news." A referendum on the project was conducted in the November 2008 election, so the project is a major public affairs story on several levels.

But although both Honolulu newspapers have known about the poll for several weeks and maybe as long as two months, they have steadfastly refused to print its results. Far as we know, the broadcast outlets have followed suit.

It makes you wonder. And if you wonder what those pro-rail results were, they’re available at the City’s transit website. Click on Library and then the General Information tab to download a PDF on the QMark survey.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Transit Tax Revenues Rise to Anticipated Level; Counting the Days of Tiser’s Non-Report on Poll

To the consternation of the diminishing anti-rail faction on Oahu, transit tax revenues increased in November and were just south of the monthly level the City has fit into its projections for the 16-year tax.

While still down slightly from one year earlier, the fact that revenues increased is an encouraging sign for the rail project, and the revenue rise doesn’t stand alone as good news for rail.

The unemployment rate dipped last month, the economy is forecast to improve in 2010 and construction bids for the project have come in below expectations.

39+ Days and Counting

Our incredulity grows by the day over the Honolulu Advertiser’s refusal to report the results of a public opinion poll that show strong community support for rail.

In a story hinting at (non-existent) impropriety over the City’s contract with Honolulu polling firm QMark, reporter Sean Hao wrote that the City responded to a Freedom of Information Act request about the poll’s contract in a letter dated November 18. Let’s say the City took a week to respond to the request; we don’t know, but let’s pick 7 days.

And let’s assume that the Advertiser didn’t know about the poll until around the date it made the request; using our scenario, that would make November 10 the date it first knew of the poll. The paper undoubtedly knew about the September survey much earlier than that, but we’re being charitable.

So assuming a “first awareness date” of November 10, the Honolulu Advertiser has allowed 39 calendar days to pass without reporting on the poll’s pro-rail results in its news columns. The only results the paper has published were condensed in a December 17 letter to the editor by Managing Director Kirk Caldwell.

What is going on?

Has the paper lost all objectivity in its news hole about this project? Does it doubt the integrity of polling company QMark? How could it not report the results of a scientific opinion survey it has known about since at least November 10 – and probably for much longer?

We don’t know what’s going on, but we’re counting the days until the Honolulu Advertiser succumbs to widely accepted standards of objective journalism and prints the survey's results.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Entire Rail Survey Is Available for Downloading

The public accessibility of the QMark opinion poll on Honolulu’s rail project should effectively counter the din from critics who allege the poll was rigged, the questions were slanted, the results are worthless, etc.

Among their criticisms are assertions that a pro-rail result was pre-determined because of how the questions were worded. It’s a ridiculous assertion because it would mean QMark would have committed corporate suicide by undermining the integrity of its polling process.

The poll was conducted using scientific surveying principles accepted throughout the industry. It's available at the transit project’s website under the General Information tab. Click on the link for the QMark survey to download a PDF.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Letter Asks Tiser: Where Are Rail Poll's Results?

Kirk Caldwell, managing director of the City and County of Honolulu, has a letter to the editor in today’s Honolulu Advertiser that makes the point we made here a few days ago. Caldwell begins his letter:

“We find it interesting that The Advertiser’s story about a scientific poll on rail authorized by the city (“Poll, TV deals avoid scrutiny,” Dec. 11) neglected to include the most obvious thing: the poll results.”

In an almost unbelievable journalistic lapse, the paper carried a story about the poll (but not the results) that appeared to find fault with project consultant Parsons Brinkerhoff for not including polling firm QMark in a list of subcontractors.

That’s unremarkable, because QMark is not a PB subcontractor – and neither are the parent companies of three local television stations that the reporter noted also were not listed as subcontractors.

The Advertiser’s rail coverage is beyond strange. What kind of journalism is it when the only way to get results of a City-sponsored scientific public opinion poll into the newspaper is to include them in a letter to the editor?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sierra Club Endorses Rail–in Florida; Congress Ups Dollars for Honolulu; Another At-Grade Train Crash

Today’s post is a mélange of news that may be geographically distant but nevertheless relevant to Honolulu’s future rail system.

Sierra Club for Rail!

That’s the news from the Sunshine State. Hawaii has nothing to fear from Florida’s nickname, but we do admit to being a bit jealous that the Sierra Club has embraced rail there enthusiastically while the Hawaii chapter is much less vocal in expressing its support for Honolulu’s project.

The Florida group is touting the national club’s Green Transportation Campaign; check out the Campaign’s website and the prominent photo of an elevated transit line, similar to what Honolulu will build.

One of the campaigns goals is “reducing vehicle miles traveled per person by increasing public transit use, fostering compact communities with transportation choices (rail, bus, walking, biking), and by cutting the number of car trips taken.”

That’s pretty much what rail will achieve in Honolulu – so if you know any Sierra Club members, you might ask them to compare the national club’s goals with what Honolulu rail will accomplish!

Federal Funds Secured

Hawaii’s congressional delegation has come through with $30 million for Honolulu’s rail transit project. The award is part of an omnibus spending package that will total $387 million for a wide variety of projects and programs in the state.

Commenting in Washington while on a visit, Mayor Mufi Hannemann said, “Senator Inouye’s outstanding leadership has been instrumental in moving forward this rail transit project that is vital to our island’s economy and its future.”

Another At-Grade Crash

We’ve been calling attention to collisions between at-grade trains and vehicles as they occur simply to point out the obvious – that at-grade transit has a safety issue that advocates continue to ignore.

The news from Milpitas, CA over the weekend was about as bad as it gets. The driver of a vehicle that turned into the path of a light rail train was killed.

Honolulu’s project will be elevated above all street traffic and therefore will be inherently much safer than systems that share ground space with cross traffic and pedestrians.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Lower Cost, ‘Best Value’ Explain Kiewit Selection

Today’s Advertiser carries a story about why Kiewit Pacific was selected to build Phase One of the City’s rail project. The firm came out ahead both on price and for offering the “best value.”

According to the City, the latter includes rankings on management approach, personnel experience, technical solutions, schedule, price realism and project support.

Gambler's Delight?
For some light reading, click down to the comments section below the story. Rail’s opponents are showing desperation in their denunciations of the project; one suggests rail is all about providing transportation to visitors who will fly into Honolulu and then take the train to a west Oahu gambling mecca.

That gambling is illegal in Hawaii isn’t even the best argument to undermine this fanciful suggestion. The best argument is that high-rollers don’t travel in anything less than limousine luxury to throw away their money.

But read along anyway. As someone said in a response, arguments like this one make the job easier for rail supporters.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Story Criticizes Opinion Poll w/out Giving Results; Phoenix Readers Comment on At-Grade Accidents

Today’s Honolulu Advertiser takes a swipe at the opinion poll conducted in September on Oahu residents’ views about the rail project. You can read those strongly positive results in an earlier post here at Yes2Rail.

The story implies impropriety by the City or project contractor Parsons Brinkerhoff because polling company QMark isn’t listed as a subcontractor to PB. Incredibly, the story makes the same “charge” about the owners of the three local TV stations that carried the Mayor’s “State of Rail” address in late October.

It’s obvious that QMark, Raycom Media Inc. and MCG Capital Corp. are not PB subcontractors, yet the reporter goes out of his way to suggest something improper about their absence from PB’s subcontractor list. He then ends his story by quoting the City Council's loudest anti-rail member who naturally voices yet another complaint.

This is high school journalism at best – a classic “view with alarm” story about a wholly innocent situation yet is reported with a slant that implies impropriety.

The kicker? This reporter has never written a word about the opinion survey's results. He presumably has known about them for months yet has managed to keep its pro-rail results out of the Advertiser’s news columns.

Phoenix Sounds Off

The serious accident involving a Phoenix at-grade train and a van on December 2 has prompted a flurry of on-line comments in a Phoenix media website. The crash nearly cost the van driver’s life according to a firefighter at the scene.

Here are some representative comments about the dangers of driving near the city’s at-grade system:

Posted by Guisseppe: The whole thing is the stupidest ever. The thing only goes what, 25-35 miles per hour, and travels on the ground. This isn’t a light rail. Go to Japan to learn about light rails. What idiot decided to put it on the ground instead of elevated?

Posted by toycannon: From the appearance of this van after being pinned it is EXTREMELY lucky that this woman did not have any passengers on board. Can you imagine if this had been a van-load of children from a church function? Probably the van driver’s fault. In her defense however, the design of the track route is just asking for accidents in that area….

Posted by FustigatedOne: One accident a week for its first year. I told you pro-LR dolts that a metro chock full of tourists, seniors and illegals is a recipe for disaster. Not to mention all the booze, meth and cell phone addicts driving under some sort of impairment. This is a bad town for a surface based train system....

Posted by THEHOODLUM: This wouldn’t happen with heavy rail subway.

Nor will it happen with Honolulu’s elevated train.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Letter-Writer Says At-Grade Rail Here Would Fail

We like this letter in today’s Honolulu Star-Bulletin so much that we’re printing it here in its entirety:

Overhead rail
only way to go

Why are we still having this no-brainer argument about the rail system being at-grade or an overhead system? Why can't these people grasp these simple truths — that there is no room to accommodate both a rail system and a roadway? If you have an at-grade system every time the train comes to a crossing, all traffic will stop at the crossing and back up for miles.
The overhead system will eliminate any potential problems that are on the ground. How about accidents at the crossings? Why do people keep going back to square one concerning the debate about rail?
An overhead system was picked because there are no other alternatives.

Steve Curty

We would quibble only about his last sentence. There are other alternatives, and they all were rejected in favor of the Locally Preferred Alternative – elevated rail.

Editorial Catch-Up

And since we’re quoting from the newspapers, the Honolulu Advertiser’s editorial in last Sunday’s newspaper is worth recalling here. It urges Governor Linda Lingle to focus her review process of the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement on only those things called for by law.
Responding to the Governor’s stated concerns about the alternatives to the planned elevated route, the paper said:

“All of this was covered at the city's earlier planning stage and need not be revisited by the EIS. City planners say the FTA has indicated the alternatives covered, the no-build option and variations of the airport and Salt Lake alignments, are sufficient.”

The piece continued the Advertiser’s editorial support for the project.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Anti-Rail Crowd on Wrong Side of Energy Issue: Rail Transit Will Use Ever-Increasing Renewable Power

We’re writing without having seen media coverage of a Small Business Hawaii press conference that was held less than two hours ago. The coverage will come in due time. For now, we’re going off the press release distributed by the Small Business Hawaii Foundation on “Honolulu Rail Greenhouse Gas Emissions Analysis.”

SBH’s Foundation has imported someone from the Midwest to put a conservative (and undoubtedly critical) spin on Honolulu’s planned rail system. At least Wendell Cox is from Illinois, which is closer to Hawaii than New Jersey – home of Kamehameha School’s “transit expert” import.

Here’s what we see as the key paragraph from the Foundation’s press release:

“The Honolulu rail DEIS contains no estimate of the proposed rail line’s impact on greenhouse gas emissions. The SBH/Demographia (a Cox website) report corrects this oversight and analyzes the future production of electricity, best and worst case scenarios of gas emissions in Honolulu’s proposed rail, and costs per ton of any reduced greenhouse production.”

We have no comment about what is or isn’t in the DEIS; the City presumably will provide a response. What interests us, aside from the awkward construction of that paragraph, is the key phrase “best and worst case scenarios.” Cox undoubtedly will highlight a worst-case scenario, but what about the best?

Zero Emissions Is the Goal!

The best-case scenario for power plants that will generate electricity for Honolulu’s rail project is simply this: They will produce no greenhouse gas emissions! None! Nada!! Zip!!!

That is absolutely the best-case scenario as Hawaii transitions to a green energy industry, and if you don’t believe it, you can look it up on numerous State websites. Just Google “Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative.” Here’s a quote from the State’s HCEI site:

“The Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative aims to transform Hawaii into a world model for energy independence and sustainability. Our goal is to meet 70% of Hawaii's energy needs with clean energy by 2030.”

That 70% will be a combination of energy efficiency and renewable energy from both old technologies and new – including wind, solar, biomass, wave and ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC).

There are OTEC advocates right here in Hawaii whose vision of energy independence in Hawaii is a dozen or more 100-megawatt OTEC plants surrounding Oahu that completely eliminate the need to burn carbon fuels to meet the island’s electricity needs. Those needs will include electricity for Honolulu's train. From the Harvard Political Review:

"Were its vast potential harnessed, OTEC could change the face of energy consumption by causing a shift away from fossil fuels. Environmentally, such a transition would greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and decrease the rate of global warming.”

That’s just one of hundreds of web-based sources on OTEC, which is just one of the many clean energy technologies Hawaii is now or will be adopting. We’re on a relentless campaign in Hawaii to develop all such technologies, and the goal isn’t going to stop at 70%. The goal embraced by government and non-governmental agencies alike is no fossil fuel use in Hawaii!

It’s one big hairy audacious goal for the state – no doubt about it. Getting there will require finding an economic substitute for fuel that powers aircraft, ships and land vehicles. But that’s the goal, and the prospects for achieving it by mid-century are excellent.

THAT is the best-case scenario for rail transit greenhouse gas emissions: There will be NONE. Anything short of that espoused by Mr. Cox and Small Business Hawaii is unbelievable.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Accidents Pile Up, Phoenix Citizens Want to Know ‘What’s the Problem with All These Crashes?’

That’s what a Phoenix TV news anchor asked a field reporter last week after yet another crash involving an at-grade train and a vehicle that failed to heed a red light.

The reporter’s answer was that figuring out the problem is “not that simple.” The station’s airborne video then shows a one-way street with three lanes of traffic on one side of the train tracks and one lane on the other. Says a reporter:

“Throw in some extra lights, turn signals, some slip-ramp merge lanes and you can see why drivers get a little confused and occasionally cross the tracks with a train coming right at them."

The video from KPHO is worth viewing to get a sense of the confusion Phoenix residents are expressing about staying out of harm’s way and the at-grade trains.

When you view the video, take note at about 70 seconds into it how slowly an at-grade train makes a 90-degree turn from one street into another.

This is not rapid transit and certainly not the high-capacity and fast trains (speeds exceeding 55 mph) that Honolulu needs to meet the need of moving commuters between East Kapolei and Ala Moana Center and points in between.

Phoenix will keep asking “what’s the problem,” and we’ll keep asking when at-grade advocates will stop ignoring the crucial safety issue of transit in our city.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Phoenix At-Grade Rail Accidents Invite Scrutiny; Year-Old System’s Rate Is One Crash per Week

Phoenix light rail system officials, the media and the public all are wondering how to curb the incidence of weekly crashes involving trains and vehicles.
Van begins fateful turn across tracks.
An accident this week that wrapped a van around a utility pole and narrowly avoided a fatality was caused by the van making an illegal turn in front of a moving train. A firefighter said the driver was “a lucky lady to be alive.” On-board train video shows the moment of impact as the van turns into the train’s path.
Vehicle pulls into harm's way.
Wednesday’s smash-up was the 51st this year for the Phoenix system, according to local media, and questions are now being asked about why a modern at-grade rail system has been so accident-plagued in its first year of operation.

It’s Not Surprising

As we’ve said here repeatedly, whenever you put trucks, cars, buses and pedestrians on the same level as a train, you’re virtually guaranteed to have accidents. Advocates of at-grade rail in Honolulu persistently refuse to address this issue, while we elevated advocates won’t let it die.
The moment of impact.
Trains operating on Honolulu’s 20 miles of elevated track will encounter no trucks, cars, buses and pedestrians. Putting any of those miles at grade would inevitably produce accidents like Phoenix is experiencing, and because Honolulu is such a compact and condensed city, the incidence could be even greater.
The van already is being wrapped around the pole.
Honolulu and Phoenix don’t have much in common, and we’ll be better off when we keep it that way regarding our rail systems.
Driver is lucky to be alive, says a firefighter.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Train Meets Van in Another At-Grade Rail Collision

Tight squeeze in Phoenix after today's crash.
The relatively small but vocal group of at-grade transit advocates here continues to make a noisy case for Honolulu’s trains to run at ground level. As they do so, we’ll continue our focus on the safety issue. (We've done it before -- two posts below this one on November 27, on October 6 and September 24.)

At-grade trains are nowhere near as safe as elevated systems, and because they inevitably are involved in accidents, they're not as reliable either.

Just today in Phoenix, AZ, a “violent crash” sent at least one person to the hospital and delayed train service. According to the Valley METRO service, this was the 50th such accident involving the system’s trains since it opened for business a year ago. (Another report calls it a "wicked-looking wreck," and this one quotes a firefighter as saying the van's driver is a "lucky lady to be alive" and that delays were expected to last several hours.)

That record – which includes injuries, property damage and delayed service – is something Honolulu will avoid when its elevated project is completed in the next decade.

Safety is one of the major issues that distinguishes grade-separated transit systems from at-grade systems, but there are others, including carrying capacity, frequency of service, speed, and of course, reliability.

We may not be able to tune down the at-grade advocacy noise. What we can do is note that some of that noise is the crunch you hear when trains and vehicles crash together. That’s noise we definitely don’t need in Honolulu.
Another news report says 3 were sent to the hospital.