Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Human Factor Causes another At-Grade Crash; Bus Runs Light, Smashes into Houston Train; 12 Sent to Hospitals, Rail Service Halted for Hours

If you’re building a multi-billion dollar transit project, do you make sure safety is priority #1, or do you build it “on the cheap” on the advice of a small group of architects and virtually guarantee people riding the train and others will be injured?

That’s a key issue Governor Linda Lingle faces right now as she mulls over the merits of Honolulu’s proposed elevated rail system. The Governor would do well to take a few moments to check in with the Houston, TX news media about yesterday’s bus-train crash.

At least two Houston television stations (KHOU and KTRK) have video on their websites showing the aftermath of a mid-afternoon crash when a city bus ran a red light and knocked an at-grade train completely off the tracks.
According to news reports, 12 people were taken to area hospitals. Houston METRO implemented a “bus bridge” to shuttle rail passengers around the crash site. Service was disrupted for hours while METRO cleared the track.

This kind of accident happens everywhere rail transit systems are built at-grade. The Phoenix, AZ system recorded 52 accidents in its first year of service that ended in December – one a week.

Once the Final Environmental Impact Statement is delivered to Governor Lingle, it will be her legal obligation to ensure that the FEIS adequately covers environmental and historic preservation issues. What she is not tasked to do is determine whether an at-grade system would be more aesthetically pleasing, which from her public statements seems to be on her mind.

But if she does stray from her legal mandate, then she surely must also take safety into consideration, and there is absolutely no question that an elevated system will be safer than a partially at-grade system some local architects are pushing.

Elevated rail will be faster than at-grade rail, more frequent because automated trains can be spaced closer together than at-grade trains with human drivers, more reliable compared to accident-prone at-grade transit and safer for all concerned, including pedestrians.

The Governor must not forget this, and we citizens have an obligation to be sure she doesn’t.

No comments: