Phoenix Light Rail
Boarding 2nd and Washington in Phoenix, photo by simax105

As you may have heard, a Link train in testing collided with a car today or yesterday (the car was making an illegal turn, of course). The media might treat this as a huge deal – I won’t know, I’m still in Japan – but new light rail lines having accidents with cars isn’t just common, it’s absolutely universal: every single rail system with grade crossings has had an accident with a car at least once. In this, the third post in my series about Phoenix’s Light Rail opening (you can read the first here, and the second here), I discuss the things that went wrong with their opening (like collisions with cars) and how Phoenix has dealt with them. From this we should be able to guess what we can expect to go wrong with Link, and how Sound Transit and Seattle can deal with those.  I’m going to divide the problems into three groups: trouble with cars, trouble with people and trouble with the system.

Collisions with Cars

Every rail system with grade crossings runs into some car trouble from time to time. At first drivers are very unused to rail vehicles: trains don’t stop quickly and cannot swerve out of the way of cars, and trains with dedicated rights-of-way tend to run in places drivers aren’t familiar with traffic coming from, like a boulevard in the center of a street. These drivers who don’t know what to do around trains often cause accidents by turning without looking, trying to squeeze through a red light expecting oncoming vehicles to slow down, and seeing trains but not knowing that they are moving objects.  Occasionally new systems also have early glitches in their operation that haven’t discovered even with long and careful testing, of course these can be the cause of accidents as well.

The first accident after testing for the Phoenix system happened just four days after the line opened. In that case the driver fled the scene after the accident, so light rail got some sympathy in the public’s eye. About a week later the second accident (see video), was partly caused by the driver going through an intersection with the railroad arm down, and partly also caused by the railroad arm malfunctioning. The driver failed to yield when the arms were down, but we don’t even have crossing arms at most Link intersections, so that’s not a safety device or liability we need to worry about. Another accident was caused by a woman eating a sandwich and not paying attention as she turned.

Like Phoenix, Link has already been in one accident before opening, and will get into an accident eventually after opening, no matter how many precautions are taken. Sound Transit does need to make sure the accidents are few and far between in order to avoid becoming a national laughing stock with a rude sobriquet like Houston’s “Wham Bam Tram”. Houston’s system at one point had been in 75 accidents within a year of opening, an average of more than six a month on a 7.5 mile line. With that many accidents, it didn’t matter that all but one were the car driver’s fault. It’s also important for public perception that the drivers who caused the accident get ticketed, and quickly, so that news about the accidents also contains the drivers’ specific citations. Link’s grade crossings are fewer and less busy than Houston’s or Phoenix’s, so it’s possible that there will be fewer accidents. But if the South Lake Union Streetcar’s opening taught us anything, it’s that public awareness of train safety can be taught on the road with the train’s equipment clearly indicating both visually and aurally that a train is coming or it can be taught the hard way through media reports on accidents. The former is obviously better.

Cars on the Tracks

Phoenix has seen the other common light rail-meets car trouble: stupid drivers winding up on the tracks. This isn’t a problem just for new systems, last year a drunk driver went a couple of miles down Portland’s Max tracks before ending up in the 24-year-old Robertson Tunnel. It cost $20,000 to get the car out and it delayed service on the line for hours. Even San Francisco’s 91 year-old Twin Peaks Tunnel had a drunk driver make it two miles before getting stuck. Luckily that drunk got in there at 2 am and there was enough time to get him out before service started in the morning.

These stories are a little bit funny but service interruptions aren’t. I don’t imagine many drivers will be dumb enough to drive up the tracks into the Beacon Hill tunnel, and there’s already a good enough system to keep drivers out of the downtown tunnel, but eventually some drunk (or even someone sober) is going to end up on Link tracks one way or another. If it happens at 2am, great, the car will be long gone before service begins, but Sound Transit and the city of Seattle need to be quick about getting cars of the tracks during service hours. There’s little worse news for riders than service interruptions.

Pedestrian and Bicycle Collisions

Train tracks can be a problem for pedestrians and cyclists too, as you can see in the video. Eventually people get used to the trains and collisions become infrequent, like in Europe or San Francisco, but shortly after opening these accidents can be a serious problem. Link trains are surprisingly quiet, and if it weren’t for the bell sound the trains make, a train could sneak up one you pretty easily. Seattle is sort of famous for not jaywalking, or at least was once, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a pedestrian or a cyclist is hit by a Link train at some point in the future: in Phoenix a cyclist was hit by a train about two months after opening. I don’t know cycling patterns in the Rainier Valley that well, but it’s not hard to imagine someone on a bike getting involved in a collision with a Link car with potentially disastrous results.

It seems awareness is the best defense against both of these types of collisions. Something Phoenix has done to discourage people from illegally crossing over the tracks is to increase the jaywalking fine on train tracks and publicize the higher fine. Ostensibly jaywalking fines are there to discourage people from dangerous crossings, and Seattle may want to create a similar large fine for cyclists or pedestrians illegally crossing train tracks. Pedestrian and cyclist awareness will come one way or another, let’s just shoot for making it a safe one.

Crime

Crime is a major problem that riders can cause for new light rail systems, and it’s something that discourages potential patrons. Graffiti was common from the get-go in Phoenix, and Link cars and stations have already been vandalized before the system has opened. The first assault on a Phoenix light rail car or platform happened about three weeks after opening. Within two months, thefts and vandalism became a problem in Phoenix’s park-and-rides as well.

There’s only one park-and-ride on Link, so I don’t know how big a problem car vandalism is going to be, but the other crimes have the potential to ruin a good thing for everyone. Graffiti might seem harmless but it creates a sense of chaos and malice, especially among elderly riders. Obvious crime like drug or gang activity and violent crime like assaults can be enough to make people permanent non-riders and scare away potential new riders with word-of-mouth warnings: a train that’s not safe is a train that won’t be ridden. Southeast Seattle is a relatively high-crime area as far as Seattle goes, and an obvious security or police presence is really all that’s needed to deter crime on platforms and in the trains.

At some point crime is going to happen on Link trains, there’s really no way around it. Even the safest communities have some crime on trains: I witnessed an assault on a train in suburban Tokyo last week (I have no idea what they were fighting about). Sound Transit will contract with King County Sheriffs for transit police services, and  ST and the city of Seattle need to take security on the trains and in the platforms seriously.

Problems with the System

Once the line opens, arguments over the perfect routing (“It should have gone to Southcenter!”) don’t end, but they die down a bit. Filling the vacuum with nearly as much force and vigor can be arguments about what is wrong with the system that did get built. In Phoenix’s case, there was a fairly sizable commotion over the lack of rest rooms in stations. First, riders complained about the lack of facilities at stations, then public officials joined in and eventually Mesa installed port-a-johns in some stations. Hilarious.

I like this letter the editor in the Arizona Republic on the Phoenix Metro’s toilet-gate:

Why should this be the responsibility of the transit system? If you travel around the city in your car, your truck or by bus, you must be resourceful enough to complete your journey without having a restroom provided.

Why is this any different?

Imagine the conversation here. Most of the area around Link stations is at least a little walkable and a restroom shouldn’t be that hard to find. In the five at-grade stations (Rainier Beach, Othello, Columbia City, Sodo and Stadium), toilets might be a bit trickier than the grade-separated stations, but I don’t imagine there’ll be a big firestorm around the lack of toilets.

This story does illustrate how something small can turn into a fairly large issue when a new system opens. If I had to guess what problem like this would arise around Link, I’d put my money on either the elevators at the Beacon Hill station being problematic during very busy times, or over-crowding and even crushing on the platform at Stadium station after a Seahawks game. I’m sure Sound Transit thought of both of these ahead of time, so maybe they’re taken care of already (the platforms at Stadium station are extra long, and I haven’t been into Beacon Hill station yet). But only time will tell, and even silly things you never could have anticipated could become a topic of conversation around the system’s opening.

In summary, shortly after opening I am certain a Link train will be involved in another collision with a car. I also expect some drunk will get their car stuck on the tracks some day, and that a train or station will get vandalized. I hope no pedestrians or cyclists are involved in collisions, though it’s at least a little likely, and I pray that no one gets assaulted or mugged on a train or near a station. I also expect that some minor feature of the system will become a talking point in the news, and I expect this blog’s response to be “you should have been paying attention years ago when this thing was designed”.

This is the last post focusing on Phoenix, though I’m sure not the last posting on a Link-car collision. From here, I’m going to continue to compare Link to other cities’ light rail systems, in particular the systems that opened in the last twenty years. Mostly, I’ll focus on how those cities incorporated the system into the urban fabric, which places were successful and which weren’t and why that’s the case.

66 Replies to “Working the Glitches Out”

  1. Here’s a video compilation of light rail-car crashes on Houston’s Metro: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CV2rdGX4JYc

    When I was down on MLK shooting photos of Link testing I saw idiots walking on the track, jaywalking, and running red lights. A car was almost hit by a train after making running a red. It was bound to happen sooner or later and I hope people would learn and be more aware when being near tracks.

    I believe Sound Transit has a policy dealing with graffiti as soon as possible including at construction sites like Capitol Hill.

    1. Glad to see that Phoenix and Seattle had the sense to put up a large concrete curb as opposed to those oversized turtles. Looking at some of those lane configurations make it look like a free-for-all on those streets!

  2. First off with the restroom issue. We had a discussion about this in class at ASU and I won. Most of the people that needed to use the restroom are the elderly folks from the RV parks in Mesa that get together in big groups and just ride the train from end to end for the thrill of it. SImilarly, people that used the system for the first time (and for that matter, public transportation at all) were startled to find no restrooms – they expected it to be either Disneyland or a forreal train station! Either way, the restroom thing has fallen of the radar here in PHX (thank God). I did use the argument of “do you need a restroom in your car while you wait for the meter to let you on the freeway?”

    I do want to bring up one thing about operations though. When the operators of the trains here in Phoenix change out, they used to do it at the 44th/Washington station, and naturally it causes a small delay (if the new driver arriving via van is not stuck in traffic). But recently (it’s happened to me three times in five days, including today) they have been doing operator changes at 51st and Washington (not a station, just a place where they stop to change operators). I will note that this stop to change operators is right in front of the Le Girls adult entertainment establishment, and everybody on the train today was talking about their specials! Although this might be slightly more convenient for the operators (being a whole seven blocks closer to the O&M facility than the 44th Street station), and is providing free marketing for the fine folks at Le Girls, it is an inconvenience for the passengers, especially when the train is going to stop right down the street in one minute anyway. This would be equivalent to Link stopping the train on the elevated section connecting the west portal of the BH tunnel to the busway to change operators when the change could be performed at SODO station.

    On that note, why doesn’t Valley Metro change operators at the end of the line? And where will ST change Link operators? Does anyone else feel like the Phoenix operator change situation is time consuming and unclassy? I think that ST will have the sense to make end-of-line operator changes….

    1. I have wondered the same thing about the operator changes, although mine have never been in front of Le Girls. Mine have been at the Washington and Priest and 44th and Washington – both places have large parking lots. Hmm. I have a meeting with our METRO people this morning and will ask about the change.
      Meanwhile, back to toilet talk, I was thinking about the ‘lack of toilets’ the other day and realized something. THERE ARE PLENTY OF TOILETS ALONG THE LIGHT RAIL!! There are three coffee houses, a major hotel, and two drug stores just on my work commute. I never really understood all that debate.
      One last thing, my light rail stop is near a major high school here in Phoenix. I’ve noticed lately more high school personnel out on the platform when school gets out, and also more signs posted in places that didn’t have signs before. Apparently, it looks as if the kids were crossing the tracks and then lanes of traffic to get to school as opposed to exiting the proper way (toward the crosswalk) – I haven’t heard/read of any accidents – however I have been on the train and platform when the kids get out of school and it is a tad crazy.
      Having said all this, the light rail has been amazing for Phoenix. The city is more vibrant and there’s evidence more businesses are setting up shop along the way,

    2. We have a little drivers’ shack, heated too, on the elevated track at the Y at the north end of the O&M facility. Drivers climb the stairs to and from the shack, where changes will occur. No van shuttles needed.

      1. Nice. I think I went up those stairs when they did the “golden spike” event. It was really amazing, the view is terrific. I wouldn’t mind waiting there for my shift to start.

  3. It should have gone to Southcenter! The monorail would have been better because then people won’t be killed!!

    Couldn’t resist imitating those beating a moot drum.
    :-)

    1. Personally, I would love a train to Southcenter, no question. However, if I lived in South King county and would have to pay for a train from Southcenter to Seattle, I would question that use of my money very seriously.

      1. I’d be curious what the cost/travel time/ridership numbers would have been for either a southcenter alignment or a 99 alignment. I have no doubt that once you look at all of the factors the alignment built actually makes the most sense.

    2. I’m sure the complaints about not going to Southcenter will become even more deafening after Link opens. It’s not like it’s hard to get to. There will be a shuttle at the Tukwila station, and there is an express bus from downtown. But the train doesn’t go everywhere we might want it to, so therefore the train is bad and we shouldn’t have it.

      If/when a line to Renton is constructed, I’m sure Southcenter will have a stop. I think Tukwila, currently sprawling retail, would be really ripe for some transit-oriented re-development.

      1. I was at the meeting when this was discussed. The CITY of TUKWILLA requested that the line go to Southcenter because that was in their growth plan. They planned to have the business/retail core in Southcenter. They opposed the current alignment because at the first take it was not in their growth zone. Once it was elevated and a vague promise of “later Southcenter” they gave in.

        The last post in this forum was all about growth management and here we had a chance to do it right and we didn’t. It came down to cost for the track and the extra minute.

      2. The City of Tukwilla has about a few thousand actual residents. The entire place is industrial sprawl with a giant mall in the middle. An expansion to Renton should include a Southcenter stop, sure, but no serious regional interest would have been had by going there today.

        There wouldn’t have been transit-oriented development around a Southcenter stop, just as there isn’t around the current station.

      3. Sound Transit’s preferred plan was to follow Hwy 99 after crossing I-5 at the Boeing Access Road. There were to be 2 Tukwila stations.

        Tukwila wanted the Southcenter alignment.

        The Southcenter alignment was 4 times the cost of the Hwy 99 alignment, but with only about twice the ridership.

        Tukwila dug in its heels, and the current compromise is what they got, 1 station that doesn’t really lend itself to nearly the TOD growth that would have happened with the preferred alignment.

        Tukwila shot themselves in the foot. Heck they might have fared better with ST2 if they hadn’t blown their political capitol in that fight.

        Jim (who was at most all the scoping and other meetings in that area)

      4. Ditto Jims memory on the issue. I atended most of those meetings, and while Tukwila prefered a station at the mall, the best they could get was a ‘maybe’ in future phases.
        Now, I don’t see any stub sections in the elevated near I-5, so a spur is going to be really tough in the future.
        But, that’s all history now. It is what it is!

      5. Thanks Jim and Mike, I had only a vague recollection of the Tukwila alignment debates. I knew Southcenter was killed due to travel time and cost. I wasn’t really sure what killed the highway 99 alignment. I didn’t realize it was Tukwila trying to force Link to serve Southcenter.

        At least on paper highway 99 from Boeing Access Road to South 154th looks like it would have been a better choice, especially with a second station in there somewhere. Oh well, too late now.

      6. The other reason I heard for rejecting the rt99 alignment was that the high school was on one side of the street and a major grocery store on the other. The city was worried that the high school kids would get whacked crossing over at lunch time.

        On the other side of the coin, if there was a stop near the high school it could have been used by the students riding to the high school.

        And yes Tukwilla is a huge sprawl. The city council is trying to change that and they did it by designating the Southcenter area as open for office/retail/appartment development. If you were around here 30 years ago, you can see what happened in Bellevue once they had a development plan. It takes time to do this sort of shift.

      7. You’re right that Tukwila requested the line not go along International Blvd, but you’re absolutely wrong about the motivation. They were extremely concerned about imagined interactions between the line and police/fire response times and never mentioned growth management. Plain and simple, the City wanted the line out of its “hair” and it got what it wanted, way back during the NEPA process.

        David

    3. Monorails aside… We need to have a conversation in this city about whether transit should be grade-separated or not. If Link was running underground through the RV, like it is proposed for most of the Northern alignment, we wouldn’t have to worry as much about educating drivers and pedestrians, or system delays due to accidents and deaths.

      1. Yeah… Maybe putting Link underground in the RV and using the tracks for a streetcar (adding a few more little stations) can happen in ST4 or 5

  4. On the crime paragraph:

    — Graffiti hasn’t been a widespread problem. There have been a few scattered incidents, but nothing to write home about. The New Times blogger linked to in the post is actually an advocate of graffiti vandalism, so he’d have an incentive to overstate any incidents.
    — The assault reported at 44th St./Washington remains a mystery. The media never picked up any more detail, so I’ve always wondered if it was truly some sort of mugging, or maybe just a fight among passengers.
    — Theft and vandalism in park-and-rides has occurred, but not at any greater rate than in shopping centers or other parking facilities.

    On safety in general, we’ve definitely had our share of accidents, all of them thankfully minor — no serious injuries or long-lasting service disruptions. A few naysayers are saying that Phoenix’s system has more accidents than Houston’s. That’s true only if measured in terms of accidents per month. When measured more meaningfully in terms of accidents per mile per month, Phoenix has come in lower than Houston since accidents in Phoenix are spread over 20 miles of track as opposed to 7.5 miles of track in Houston.

    Thanks for three good posts on Phoenix. I look forward to reading more about rail in Seattle as the start date for service approaches.

    1. The Phoenix Metro only opened four months ago. Only time will tell, but I bet there won’t continue to be this many collisions.

    1. ST has always said that some collisions will occur — it’s impossible to design out all collisions. This is no surprise, but it’s not the end of the world either.

      Per Southcenter — fund a phase III and maybe it will be served. We need to wait and see on that, but not going everywhere nor serving everyone in phase I is not really an issue — future phases will serve more destinations…

    2. The implication you made was that there would be complicity on Sound Transit’s part and people repeatedly said “oh, well, if people are making illegal turns, their fault”.

      The train did not suddenly activate “trouble tracks” and race out and smack a car on purpose.

      In other words, you are still wrong.

    3. Sam’s comment was deleted for trolling, but from the responses, it appears he just said something negative about light rail. While I don’t agree with what it sounds like the comment was about, I still don’t think that’s grounds for deletion.

  5. This blog was very forthright in their assertion that collisions are imminent with LINK. Any time there is an at-grade train running, there is bound to be potential for collision. Seems like common sense and I know that sentiment has been backed up by the writers on this blog in the past.

  6. Well…it’s true that, monorail or not, had the system been off-grade in the Rainier Valley, whether monorail or light rail, the car/train and pedestrian/train collision, with their consequent delays and need for slower speeds, would be a non-issue. We’ve made a collective decision that the trade-off wasn’t worth it. I’d have made a different choice, but I’m glad at least we’re getting the light rail, even with these limitations.

    1. I vaguely remember that it woudl have cost at least $500 mn more to separate it(the whole line cost $2.4 bn) and would have only saved 3 or 4 minutes, so they decided it wasn’t worth it.

  7. It should be noted that Houston residents are still supportive of their system and a multi-line expansion is on its way.

    1. More than just that, when Houston first starting having trouble with accidents and their system there were renewed calls to build monorail or BRT. Those plans now have been largely abandoned and the plan currently is to expand the LR system.

      Also, while everyone seems to be getting pretty excited about this “accident”, it should be noted that the car that was struck was driven away after the accident – yes, it was still drivable, and the driver was taken to the hospital only as a precaution.

      1. The only things I see about grade separation suggest elevating the line. Has anyone suggested burying it?

  8. I do expect collisions, but hopefully drivers here will get used to Link just like they seem to have gotten used to Tacoma Link and SLUT. Also hopefully the local media won’t choose to sensationalize what collisions do occur.

    I suspect pedestrians on the tracks and cars on the tracks will continue to be a problem. It is going to be just too tempting for some people to run across the tracks rather than crossing at a crosswalk. Given the propensity of some drivers around here to “block the box” when there is traffic congestion I think there are going to be some idiots sitting on the tracks waiting for traffic to clear. I’ve seen this along the BNSF tracks in SODO and I’m amazed I haven’t seen a car destroyed by a train yet.

    We’ve had plenty of P&R lots in the region for years and there have been problems with car prowls and theft in those lots so hopefully the expectations the lots serving Link won’t be wildly different.

    I don’t foresee crime or vandalism being any more of a problem than it currently is with metro. Hopefully it will be even less of a problem.

    With the recent Seattle public toilet fiasco I don’t think there will be a big deal made over the lack of restrooms.

    One potential glitch unique to Seattle is the possibility of problems with joint bus and train operation in the DSTT. The big one will likely be delays caused by a bus or train breaking down in the tunnel.

  9. Drivers not paying attention are also a major problem for pedestrians. I was very nearly hit on Monday crossing Harrison on Westlake–the car was going about 40 down Westlake and decided to turn left across the crosswalk.

  10. Sounds like Link is encountering the same incompetence/lawlessness that we bicyclists encounter daily, every mile, with the automobile drivers. This does not suprise me in the least! Of course autos run lights like they were green. Of course they turn illegally on a red, or roll through a stop without looking. This is not rocket science.

    As for singling out bicyclists, sure, some bicyclists do tend to run stop signs and red lights. They shouldn’t. But I very rarely see them run those stop signs and lights that control intersections in which a bicyclist could lose their life. We get hit by a car/train/bus we die/get maimed. I think that you’ll see more respect for train crossings by bicyclists than autos or peds.

    1. Hey, “peds” are just as likely to die, so don’t pick on us. There is a problem with handheld digital device and mp3 player fascination, though.

    2. Singling out bike riders seems like a great idea to me! Soudns like al is encountering some of the same incompetence/lawlessness that we automobile drives encounter every day, every mile with the bike riders. This does not surprise me in the least! Of course bikes run lights like they were green. Of course they illegally turn on red or roll through a stop without looking. This is not rocket science.

      1. Yeah, I get it, whatever. It goes both ways. Facetiousness doesn’t translate here well does it? If you notice I DID acknowledge that some bicyclists do not follow the rules. Where’s the outrage against autos anyway? This is about ALL modes of PEOPLE that do stupid things. Not everyone does bad things – why do bicyclists incur all the wrath – not all of us are lawless renegades.

      2. Personally, I get angry at bike riders because when I’m driving my car I’m terrifed I’m going to kill one of them and it’s going to be thier fault and I’m going to feel like an asshole. When i’m in pedestrian mode, I get angry at bike riders because they seem to care less about foot traffic than do autos (turning right on reds is a particularly common offense).

        I thought hte switcheroo was funny, because any time you talk to bike/car/ped/train folks they all ahve the same litany of complaints as you, and it just switched over so nicely!

      3. I understand what you are saying. When a bicyclist does unpredictable moves, it’s scary. Jeez, I even don’t like it when a bicyclist does something like dart in front of me when I MYSELF am bicycling. Education for all is key. When you are driving your car and find an erratic bicyclist in front of you simply GIVE THEM ROOM and TAKE YOUR TIME passing them. You will still get where you are going. THEY have the right of way, not you. If they however dart in front of you or enter your line of travel and stop YOUR right of way (this doesn’t mean a bicyclist riding in the street who you come upon from behind) then THEY are in error. It’s not “going to be their fault” at all times. As a driver you have the preponderance of liability with the bigger vehicle and that’s built into the RCW’s, that we can ride “as is safe” and most of us do. It’s sad that there are cyclists out there that risk both their own safety and other’s safety for the sake of just being a jerk. I don’t see all auto drivers as jerks just because I have a few bad experiences per week with a driver “right hooking” me or cutting me off, or running a red light. In fact, the amount of vehicles that pass me just fine is astounding.

        You should ride a bike sometime to understand the complaints. It’s quite scary when you are staring at the side of a car who decided to run a red light to save 30 seconds. It’s really risking killing someone or causing major bodily injury. And yes, that goes for bicyclists too who ignore peds. Please don’t put us all in the same category – I was just making a point that it was interesting to hear that the trains were having some of the same problem with autos as bicyclists commonly do, and peds commonly do. I think the point is that everyone has issues, but the fact is that autos are so much more common on the streets and since they have the potential to cause so much damage people behind the wheel should really pay attention and be aware of their potential to cause harm.

        Good luck getting where you are going safely.

  11. On accidents, which is what this post started out as, the official ST document estimates 26 a year. I think that was before they decided to add gates along the busway in SODO. But still I haven’t seen them change that number.

    My uncle had a saying about these sort of things:

    “If some one walks into a room and trips on a chair they are a klutz.”
    “If second person walks into the same room and also trips, they are probably related and also a klutz”
    “After the third person trips on the same chair, it’s time to move the chair!”

    In other words, knowing the terrible accident rates in other cities we could have avoided all of this and elevated the tracks and gated all the crossings. But we didn’t, we did this on the cheap.

    After that 3.5 Million dollar lawsuit for the bicyclist against the county for missmarking the map a road that was not bicycle friendly. I would assume that after some LINK train kills or severely injures someone, that the lawyers dig up all the testimony that was given to the board that warned them of the problem and that they ignored. And a jury awards the suit. And then we think about elevating that section of track.

    1. I don’t know, drivers seem to deal with the SLUT and Tacoma Link just fine. Sure there are accidents but idiots run into transit buses every day too. I don’t think the fact some people pay no attention to their surroundings when driving is a good reason to demand full grade separation for any form of rail.

      Sure I am well aware poorly designed intersections or other road features can lead even attentive drivers to have accidents, however I don’t think the grade crossings with link are that sort of situation.

      I would have preferred Link be fully grade separated, not so much for safety, but for speed. However I’m not sure people in Rainier Valley would have been too happy with an elevated Link alignment. There is also the issue of additional cost.

      1. I’ll bet in a couple of decades when Link is more developed, they will put in a elevated route going south from SODO and hooking back up at Boeing Access Road. This would greatly increase the speed between Downtown Seattle and the Airport (and all locations south), while at the same time allowing for infill stations in the Rainier Valley if necessary. Plus, new stops in Georgetown and South Park could be added.

        But for the time being, at-grade through the Rainier Valley was the only way to go. As the biggest area for transit ridership, it had to be prioritized, and an elevated or retained route was simply not feasable.

      2. How come stations are so tightly packed from Mt Baker to the ID? I understand there’s people here and everyone wants the station to be an easy walk from their door but SODO??? Even Stadium Station. Should it have been called Safeco Station? Can’t people walk from Pioneer Square? It’s as close to Quest Field and for baseball, well it never rains in Seattle during baseball season ;-). Seriously, unless there’s an event at Safeco Field how much ridership is driven by this station.

        Mt Baker and Beacon Hill are both dense neighborhoods but the spacing relative to all the other stops on MLK is less than half. Plus this area will be getting another Link Station when East Link opens.

      3. Well, I think it is good to have frequent stops in the core, but the Stadium Station is a bit strange. Most people going to Qwest Field are going to use the ID Station, and it’s not really too much farther away if you are going to Safeco. But I guess the train has to slow down to cross Royal Brougham anyway, so why not put in a stop?

      4. I may be wrong, but I think the idea for the stadium station is that special trains can be run during game days that terminate at that station. There is a set of crossovers there that allow the trains to reverse. The only crossover in the tunnel is at Pine street. And maybe bus drivers will use it to get to work? ;-)

      5. Royal Brougham and busway is a surprisingly well used bus stop on all the routes that pass by there. I think most of the riders are transferring but it still adds up.

      6. Yeah my light rail fantasy map includes a route going south through SODO and Georgetown, then after meeting up at Boeing Access Rd, I have it cutting over and stopping in Skyway and a couple stations in Renton. And I don’t think Link through the RV should ever be elevated; if they’re going to grade-separate it, it should go in a tunnel.

  12. Does anyone know if most driver liability policies pay for damage caused to light rail trains by negligent drivers?

  13. While living in London for several months I developed a hatred for the words “rail replacement service”. Whenever a rail or tube line went down, London Transport would run buses in a convoy to “replace” rail service. (Side note: Anybody who thinks buses can be used in place of rail should experience rail “replacement?” service, but I digress…) I’ll give them points for trying, but frequently it was a complete disaster. People would scramble to nearby bus and tube lines or just give up and walk. Picture a 350 foot long train packed with people trying to fit onto 2 or 3 double decker buses and you’ll get the idea…

    Does ST have any sort of plan for this eventuality? Right now, Metro is running VERY low on buses during the rush hours so spare buses would probably not be available for RRS. It seems like they should be developing a Rail Replacement Service route and train drivers on it.

  14. As for crime, that’s a bit of a red herring:

    Sure, crime increases in station areas when a line opens up… but statistics would seem to support that it’s the number of crimes increasing, not the rate. If you double or triple the amount of people passing through an area, you should expect the number of crimes to double or triple as well.

    1. If you increase the number of people and muggings go from once a month to once a week that’s a 4X increase in the crime rate. What’s more important though is the pattern. If muggings were a late night occurrence people know that it’s not safe to be out alone at late at night. If they start happening once a week but it’s still late at night people don’t feel any additional threat because it wasn’t safe in the first place to be out alone late at night.

      But, if the crime rate only doubles but that extra mugging is now a random occurrence throughout the day then people start to feel threatened and that their neighborhood has been taken away.

      If headways are really every few minutes and there’s always activity around the station then things should stay safe. If the pattern is more frequent but isolated traffic then you’ve got a recipe for disaster (the target rich environment).

      1. I doubt crime will be too much of a problem. The stations are well lit and have lots of eyeballs on them. There may be some in the surrounding area after dark but even that is likely to be less due to the increased foot traffic.

  15. “Mt Baker and Beacon Hill are both dense neighborhoods but the spacing relative to all the other stops on MLK is less than half.”

    The steepness of the hill between those two stations makes the distance much less walkable than you would think just looking at how far it is. It’s not terribly far at all, but that is a very steep hill.

    It’s not far from the top of the Counterbalance to the base either, but if I were putting a streetcar back in there (oh, I wish) I’d put a stop at the top and bottom, too. The steepness makes it difficult for people, particularly older folks or the disabled.

    1. I get that they are both “deserving” of a station and of all the stations from Pioneer Square back to Mt Baker those probably have the most merit. But, the spacing of the other stations isn’t really walkable and people have to rely on feeder service to link. The Beacon Hill station seems to have been particularly problematic and I wonder how much more of the area would have ready access if the emphasis had been on local service. It’s a lot easier to provide good transit connections to not only the surrounding residential areas but connections from Link to say Pill Hill if concentrated on one station as a “Hub”.

      1. You forget the ID station which is probably more important to the entire system than Pioneer Square (indeed more important than any other in Central Link except Westlake).

        Given how difficult North Beacon Hill is to serve with transit due to limited and congested access it would have been silly to dig a tunnel under the hill and not put a station in. Dearborn turned out not to be a viable alignment which is why Link goes under Beacon Hill in the first place.

        Sodo station is within walking distance of SoDo center among other things. While there may not be much residential in the area there are a number of office and industrial jobs nearby.

        Rainier Station for East Link is roughly as far from Mt. Baker station as the Columbia City Station is.

  16. Reminder: The next multi-mode test (trains and busses in the tunnel together) will be this Saturday (4/18/09) morning.

    The first complete End to End test should be Tomorrow! (4/17/09 after the tunnel closes.) Permits permitting. :)

    On the accidents: A view from inside.
    They will happen, we will have a fatality, we will have something BIG.
    Our job is to make them as few and far between as possible. We are training the fire departments in big accident response (one exercise is scheduled for 4/17 in Tukwila).
    Last night we were out of service for about 40 minutes for the investigation but were able to continue service at that time for the remainder of our test time (until 9pm.) The operator is o.k. and the LRV is out of service only because we can run one less LRV for the test. It was cleared for service at the scene with minor damage. It appears that the driver of the car either did not “see” the LRV traveling in the same direction or they were trying to race it. either way it was a left turn in a location clearly marked “No Left Turn.” As Niven would say “Think of it as evolution in action.” One reason that we are running the trains in this corridor at service frequency levels is to acclimate drivers to the fact that “Der be trains on dem der rails!”
    It wouldn’t matter if we placed 8 foot tall fences with razor wire at the top, backed with iron rails. Somebody would manage to get into the right of way and hit a train. It’s a fact of rail. I have actually seen a case of suicide by Sounder. not a pretty sight.

    On Crime and Vandalism:
    I have been surprised that we have not had more vandalism on the LRVs. This last week we have been storing them at Rainier Beach siding and they have been safe. There are bullet holes in the office there, the police refuse to use it as an office. All of the stations will have active video monitoring and “Passenger Emergency Telephones” (PETs) and trained personnel that can find an event and transfer the video to police for evidence.

    CLLR stations:
    We needed at least one station in the busway corridor. I was rather surprized that they made two. Stadium station is required for when the DSTT is closed, trains can still operate the rest of the line and cross over at the Royal Brougham interlock maintaining service. It is nice that the bus drivers can get to work. I still do not understand the need for SODO, but I can accept that.

    Relief Points:
    There is a “relief shack” on the elevated portion over Forrest st. but the dynamics of an operator change may require something different in the future. One thing that may be happening in the schedule is to have a rolling relief, so that an operator will get more than a 8 minute break. This is what the “Pre-Revenue” period is for sorting out.

  17. Even the safest communities have some crime…

    Some communities are targeted for that very reason–everyone feels safe and they’ve let their guard down.

  18. Interesting how only incidents where the car is at fault is listed. I’m not surprised, this being a Rail enthusiast blog. So it’s up to me to mention the LA commuter rail crash that killed 25 people that is thought to be caused by the rail operator texting someone right before the crash.

    1. It’s hard to find instances where the train was at fault, trust me I looked. I wrote this post as a warning to Sound Transit.

      In Houston’s case, they had 75 accidents in a year, and 74 of them were the driver’s fault. But you wouldn’t say that all 75 were caused by the drivers, would you? That many accidents showed something was wrong with the train somehow, even if the law made the train in the right more than 98% of the time.

      1. There were more accidents on Houston’s Main Street before the light rail line was put in than after. Rail has actually made the street safer.

        The problem is that everyone accepts car-on-car wrecks as normal and acceptable but sees car-on-train wrecks as problems. (A non-injury car-on-car accident never makes the news.) The problem is not the trains — they’re predictable in both their speed and their path. The problem is cars.

        Incidentally, there have been hardly any train-pedestrian collisions in Houston, despite a lot of jaywalking around the tracks. People see the trains and judge their speeds very well. The systems that have a lot of pedestrian collisions tend to be those that run 65, not 35 — I assume it’s just much harder to judge how long a train will take to get to you at that speed.

      2. Double tracks present a pedestrian risk because people wait until one train passes and then dash across without seeing or hearing the train coming from the opposite direction. I know it sounds like it should be a candidate for the Darwin award but it happens.

  19. I went to Northeastern University in Boston, and the subway came out of the tunnel into an at-grade (but separated, at that point) track right in the middle of campus. Every year or two, some idiot student late to class would try to dart over the tracks in front of an oncoming train, and get smacked.

    The trains still roll. Why? Because for every dumbass that gets hit by them, a few hundred thousand non-dumbasses rely on them.

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