Monday, February 6, 2012

Phoenix Light-Rail System Had Terrible Weekend: At-Grade Train Slams Car 1 Day after Teen Is Hit

Driver escapes injury after driving into at-grade train's path.
This past weekend wasn’t a good one for Valley Metro in Phoenix, AZ. The system’s light-rail trains were involved in two incidents whose outcomes could have been much worse than they were.

A teenager was seriously injured Saturday evening when he was run over by a train, and a car was destroyed yesterday afternoon after turning into a train’s path.

Unlike what happens Las Vegas, when Phoenix’s light-rail system experiences something unsavory, it makes news here in Honolulu, where opponents of the city's’s future rail system say it should be built at ground level – like in Phoenix.
That city began its light-rail train service in December 2008, and in the first year of operation, Valley Metro had 52 vehicle crashes along the 20-mile line. As the weekend made all too clear, people and property are still being damaged in rail-related accidents precisely because the trains and vehicles operate within feet of one another, as the adjacent photo illustrates.

Aesthetics First?
Here in Honolulu, some rail opponents continue attacking the project primarily because its elevated guideway will be about 30 feet above the ground and therefore more obvious than an at-grade system.

Putting such a high premium on aesthetics in the planning stage would have degraded the Honolulu system’s safety, however. It will be impossible for street-level vehicles and Honolulu’s elevated trains to collide along the 20-mile line. Pedestrians also will be grade-separated from the tracks, so they won’t be making news like the 17-year-old boy unfortunately did on Saturday night in Phoenix.

Focusing so much on view planes betrays a tunnel-vision appreciation of the Honolulu project. Not only would an at-grade system be extraordinarily hazardous compared to being elevated, ground-level transit can’t possibly be as fast, frequent and reliable as elevated rail.

Those are the attributes required by any transit future system to address Oahu’s growing traffic congestion crisis. Only grade-separated transit can deliver them. As Yes2Rail suggested yesterday, citizens have a right to demand answers from those who would kill the only system capable of bypassing congestion altogether.

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