Tuesday, February 16, 2010

California Family Narrowly Avoids Train Crash; Rail Safety Must Be Priority 1 for Honolulu Project

One can be easily be distracted by politics and other issues involved in the Honolulu rail project and its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) that is nearing completion. Aesthetics and the project’s integration in the urban environment are legitimate areas of discussion, and they have been discussed.

But we’re determined here to keep the focus on one particular issue – safety. If we’re going to spend billions on a new way to move people through the city, building it with the least possible potential to injure residents ought to have a pretty high priority, wouldn’t you say?

Residents of Phoenix, AZ are increasingly concerned about safety now that their year-old at-grade rail system has recorded 52 accidents in its first year of service. Honolulu’s system has the best possible safety factor already in its design; it will be elevated and completely separated from cars, trucks, bicycles and pedestrians.

Honolulu’s crowded urban environment would be an accident waiting to happen if commuter trains were running on tracks that travel along streets, through intersections and over pedestrian crosswalks. There’s no reason to believe Oahu residents somehow would be immune to the accident-prone experience of mainland drivers.

Which brings us to yet another car-train crash – this one in Folsom, CA. A local woman fell asleep yesterday while driving near light-rail train tracks. The car ended up stuck on the tracks, and bystanders pulled her and her two draughts, 10 and 7, from the car minutes before a train smashed into the car. No one was injured, including five people aboard the train, which was slightly damaged but continued in service after the accident.

So that’s the reality of at-grade rail. Human error can’t be erased from the human experience, and accidents like this one, the one-a-week crashes in Phoenix and last week’s bus-train crash in Houston, TX would be the inevitable result of building Honolulu’s system at ground level.

Not to mention that at-grade rail would be slower, less frequent and unreliable compared to an elevated system. But rest assured, we do mention that, too.

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