Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Houston Truck-Train Wreck Prompts Question #2: ‘Governor, Why Do You Favor Crash-Prone Rail?’

MetroRail passengers were thrown around the car during yesterday's crash.
This is Day 2 in our countdown to the October 13th “INSIGHTS on Hawaii PBS” public TV show, with guests Cliff Slater and Ben Cayetano, two prominent opponents of Honolulu rail. As with yesterday's post, today’s is written primarily for the benefit of only two people – the host and the producer of the TV show – but we hope you'll read through it, too.

We’re posting a new question each day that might reasonably be asked of the two guests, since what they’re attempting to do with their federal lawsuit is kill rail, the biggest project ever undertaken in Hawaii. Yesterday’s question was intended for Mr. Slater, and we’re turning today to former Governor Cayetano, a proponent of at-grade transit. He made that clear during his speech in late June to a Honolulu venture capitalist group.

Since safety is a top-most consideration in planning any transit system, we’re going to address safety in our question for Mr. Cayetano, a topic that’s most timely indeed.

The Set-Up
Female Passenger: “Everybody started screaming and people just flew everywhere.”
Male Passenger: “I ended up about 10, 15 feet from where I was. There was no warning at all….One thing, I was doing this. The next thing, I was on the ground."
A Houston TV station broadcast those interviews yesterday after one of the city’s at-grade MetroRail trains broadsided a dump truck in a busy downtown Houston intersection. Video footage shot from on-board cameras inside and outside the train captured the moment of impact. The exterior cameras showed a dump truck approaching from the left and, according to authorities, running a red light directly into the path of the onrushing transit train.
The collision sent the truck plowing into the side of a nearby restaurant, narrowly missing a pedestrian. The train’s lead car was knocked off its tracks. Passengers were slammed against railings and seats inside the cars (as the image at the top of today’s post shows). According to media reports, 15 passengers were hospitalized following the accident, including the passenger shown being treated here.

Houston’s trains have had too many of these collisions, and so have other cities with at-grade rail systems. Phoenix, AZ recorded 52 accidents in the system’s first year of operations. In February 2010, a Houston city bus ran a red light and plowed into a MetroRail train that had the right-of-way. The collision injured a dozen passengers and, like yesterday’s truck-train crash, disrupted public transit and vehicle traffic alike.

Question #2
“Governor Cayetano, Honolulu’s elevated rail system will be completely separated from cross streets and all surface traffic – including cars, trucks and motorcycles that routinely run red lights on Oahu. We both know it’s true. And even when they’re not running red lights, vehicles that demand their share of green lights would require at-grade trains to slow and stop at intersections. Elevated rail will be a fast, frequent, reliable and safe mode of transportation through Honolulu’s urban core. In light of the dismal safety record at-grade rail transit is racking up around the country combined with Honolulu’s dense neighborhoods and a population much older than most cities, building at-grade in Honolulu would be a disaster, so why are you so insistent Honolulu needs trains at ground level?”
INSIGHT’s host should be prepared for Mr. Cayetano to mention his concern for preserving Honolulu’s “view planes,” and should he do so, the host’s follow-up question could be something like this:

“Seriously, Governor – do you really believe an elevated rail guideway 30 feet above the street with stations that might add another 30 feet to the structure’s height are more disruptive to view planes than 300-foot-tall high-rise buildings? You’re probably aware that another dozen or more high-rises are planned for Kakaako right now. They’ll dwarf the rail system’s guideway, so I ask again, is there perhaps another reason for you to oppose fast, frequent, reliable and most particularly safe elevated rail transit in Honolulu?”
Direct and probing questions are required for this particular INSIGHTS program, since the lawsuit’s plaintiffs are attempting to thwart a project that will deliver desperately needed construction jobs in the short term and generations-long safe and reliable travel for all ages of Honolulu citizens for all of the 21st century.

Yes2Rail readers are invited to leave your own questions for the show’s guests in the Comments section by clicking the link below. Tomorrow’s post will feature Question #3.
Car and transit travel both are disrupted in accidents like this.
This post has been added to our "aggregation site" under the headings Elevated vs At-Grade and Mr. Cliff Slater (and Friends).

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