From the Flickr Pool
From the Flickr Pool

UPDATE: John Niles, in a later comment days later, points out that he never uses the word “liable,” and is instead using “chargeable” as a way of saying Sound Transit could have prevented it.  There’s a strong tone implying negligence in the piece, however, so readers can be the judge.

John Niles and the Coalition for Effective Transportation Alternatives think Sound Transit should be liable for all car vs. train collisions, regardless of whether the driver is at fault, because they didn’t grade separate the entire line.  I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to apply that sort of standard to any other transportation project of any kind, anywhere, and see where it gets you.

I get that Niles and CETA don’t think that light rail is worth the investment; that’s a value judgment that I don’t agree with, but whatever.  But this kind of spiteful maneuver — arguing that the buildout wasn’t expensive enough, and trying to make it even more expensive by adding liability — is utterly contrary to their entire history of complaints about the project, and makes a mockery of any claim that they’re just trying to make transit work as effectively as possible.

I look forward to Niles and CETA pushing for various local tax initiatives to make sure that all other lines in the region are grade separated, and vigorously fighting NIMBYs opposed to elevated segments in neighborhood meetings.

134 Replies to “CETA Jumps the Shark”

  1. The chart on the CETA page titled “U.S. Fatality Rates, Buses and Light Rail” covers the years 1992 to 2000. During that period, 8 new light rail systems opened in the United States plus a new line in LA, nearly every year. With so many drivers and peds unfamiliar with trains, is it a valid conclusion that light rail is unsafe?

    It would be more convincing if he compiled safety data in terms of years after beginning operation to gauge the effects of growing safety awareness around rail. I doubt that fatality rates would increase after the first few years of operation for a light rail line.

  2. The only valid conclusion would be if you can’t see a train coming, then you’re at fault…. It is unfortunate that games like this are played to fight transit. Sad really.

    1. There are risk costs associated with different engineering choices. There really ought to be somebody in the Country that is creating actuarial tables for those choices and setting out guidelines for their proper use.

      1. Why, there is! Niles pointed it out, too. Total accidents are decreased from the no-build scenario by building light rail. Gasp!

      2. Not by building light rail but by making street improvements. Things like signalized cross walks and left turn pockets could all have been done as part of street improvement projects independent of spending billions of dollars on a light rail system. However, a Bellevue bucks type street makeover by City of Seattle for one of it’s lower income neighborhoods wasn’t in the cards without dipping into ST’s pot of gold.

      3. Those improvements wouldn’t have the same effect, no. The light rail effect on lowering the number of accidents comes from a huge percentage of the corridor not driving.

      4. Great, I’ll be looking for that huge decrease in traffic. I thought the ridership was coming from pulling bus service. I noticed ST is assuming they can pull 1 in 5 SOV drivers out of their cars on I-90 to make the numbers work. This will be a good test.

  3. Two words: utter rubbish!

    Someone once linked to a YouTube video showing Houston Metro trains all being hit, where the train always having the right of way in the case of that video

  4. Imagine all the people who would love to use this rationale to sue the City for collisions at unmarked intersections.

  5. I don’t think it’s reasonable to make ST liable for accidents that are caused by the light rail being at grade, regardless of who’s at fault. It’s not a good idea to absolve drivers (of any vehicle type, counting bicycles and pedestrians) of the responsibility of paying attention while on public streets.

    I do think it would have been better to elevate the entire system, making it safer and faster. (I did support elevating it, despite higher upfront costs. My understanding is that the business community in the Rainier Valley at the time objected, because they thought the business would pass them by?)

    I do think it’s worth trying to push to grade-separate (by tunnel or elevation) as much of the rest of the system as possible. But not at the cost of failing to build.

    1. I don’t think it was the business community of the Rainier Valley, they correctly pointed out that the plans at the time for the Northern portion would be grade separated. And they wondered if they were being subjected to the usual sort of red lining that the city does to the poorer sections. I was at a number of meetings of ST that it was discussed by the public and ignored by the board.

      1. Elevation through a neighborhood is not really acceptable – it’s far worse for the community than at-grade. You’re just looking at another Viaduct in fifty years. We couldn’t afford to tunnel, and the business community fought the idea of cut and cover anyway, so… this is what we got.

      2. Uh, how on Earth would elevated light rail compare to the viaduct? The footprints are not really comparable, not to mention that elevated light rail only requires one support column that easily could have been accommodated in the center of MLK, as opposed to the viaduct which requires support on both sides and covers up the entire road in most places. As far as neighborhoods go, the viaduct really does more to restrict views than actually doing any real harm to the communities. Not to mention elevated is also the fastest of the three (at-grade/tunnel/elevated) as the trains could reach 55 mph meaning a fast and efficient system at getting residents where the need to be as quickly as possible. What I cannot understand is how ST is not considering elevated along Bellevue way and 112th as well as Bel-Red road. According to their estimates on their website, the B2A route is only 50 million cheaper than the B2E route is, which is more than they have already saved on the U-Link contracts, not to mention the additional 100 million or so saved on Central Link. I really cannot understand where a lot of this anti-elevated bias comes from. While elevated is not THE prettiest option, the elevated sections in Tukwila are a hell of a lot prettier than the viaduct is. So what if your view of the other side of the street is partially obstructed? In return, you get a reliable, fast, and convenient rail service.

      3. Jack elevated rail is just plain ugly, encourages tagging, and should be avoided anywhere possible. I think the elevated sections in Tukwila are terrible looking, but to each his own.

        To answer a few questions, it is not elevated on Bellevue way because there are no crossings on that section, and 112th has minimal crossings. Why waste money and have a big eyesore if there is no benefit? As far as Bel Red it will be at grade and they are looking for solutions to the major crossings to speed things up and avoid accidents.

      4. The crossing at 140th is at grade and that’s a pretty major intersection. I agree, the D3 elevated option is what should be built there.

      5. It’s ridiculous the way the route jumps up and down from elevated to at grade. 140th is supposed to be a bike corridor. Typical, Bellevue does nothing to support their own development plan unless it gets more cars to Bel Square. Now they want to move a major P&R lot in closer to the city core (130th) and wedge it between two residential neighborhoods to the North and South. There’s not already enough traffic snarl at the 405/520 interchange, cut through traffic, and backup at Marymoor already? NE16th is slated for construction in order to move more through traffic east/west (i.e. more cars to downtown). Right now it’s a decent low traffic escape from Bel-Red road; need to fix that.

        Who cars if the route is elevated next to SR-520? That’s the place to be saving money, and travel time. The eastside is not Seattle and never will be. Most trips on link in Seattle are to get from one place in the city to another. Most trips on East Link are to get through Bellevue or to Bellevue from somewhere else. The planned station density is nuts. In fill stations could be added later but the greater need is to extend east and north as soon as possible to intercept cars before they reach the 405 and 520 corridors; not build more P&R lots inside the Bellevue City Limits. Indeed, Link won’t reduce congestion. As it’s proposed it will increase congestion by adding more traffic and more impediments to traffic.

      6. The route doesn’t jump up and down, Bernie. The land does. The route is relatively flat.

        Nothing reduces congestion.

      7. Bel-Red road is a consistent grade. Likewise NE20th is flat. The route crossing 140th at grade then switching to elevated then back to grade then back to elevated is silly. You have to climb a significant grade to get from 140th up to 148th so the route should just either stay through all of Bel-Red or follow the existing grade up Bel-Red road. None of those “creeks” on the ST map exist today. They have all been covered and a culvert isn’t elevated rail. The idea that the elevated and at grade sections follow the land may have been true fifty years ago but not today. The BNSF had spurs extending most of the Bel-Red corridor and it was all at grade. It’s just dumb routing that was motivated by large developer interests in what really should be “fly over” country.

      8. Bernie, you’re describing a landscape I’m unfamiliar with in Bellevue. Bel-Red Road is not a consistent grade, nor is 20th.

        Bel-Red climbs from it’s crossing of 405 up to the intersection where the Safeway complex was located, then drops considerably downward as it heads east before rising again up to Overlake.

        As for spurs extending most of the Bel-Red corridor…really? When, not for the last 50 years – the only spurs off their north/south line were to serve the Safeway complex, located adjacent to the line.

      9. The other issue with “at grade” is that we are now and forever doomed to use a driver for this system. With a totally grade separated system you can get rid of the driver which is one of the major expenses of running a system like this.

      10. I’ve never seen operations cost comparisons, actually. Have you found one? SkyTrain’s been around for a while, what’s their operations cost like compared to, say, a Toronto subway?

      11. Are you really doomed to use a driver forever because of at-grade crossings?

        It’s a bicycle facility, not a road, but the Interurban Trail has at-grade crossings with automated switching locomotives, without any crossing signals or arms, and I’ve never heard of an accident at those crossings. When people see the sign saying there are remote-control trains with nobody in the cab, they pay attention to the crossings.

        Surely some level of intersection control would allow at-grade street crossings for automated trains?

      12. Those remote control switchers still have an operator in the area, they are by no means fully automated, they also are restricted to fairly low speeds. An automated rapid transit train flying through a grade crossing at 40 mph is a very different thing than an automated switcher.

        Besides many of the automated rail systems still have a conductor on-board to open and close the doors.

      13. U-Link and North Link are grade separated due to terrain and the need to cross the ship canal. Also U-Link and North Link are passing through two of the densest neighborhoods in the region outside of the CBD/Belltown: Capitol Hill and the U-District. North of Northgate Link is grade separated because it is at grade (more or less) in the I-5 ROW and only has to go over or under on and off ramps and streets that cross the freeway.

        I suppose North link could have followed the old streetcar alignments up Pike/Pine, down Broadway and 10th, across the University Bridge, down Campus Parkway, up University Way to 15th then found some at grade route to Northgate from 65th. But then Link would have been slow as snot and hardly worth the expense of building.

        Sodo and MLK were some of the few places Link could be at-grade without having a huge travel time impact or causing massive traffic congestion in the area it was traveling through (imagine 4 car link trains on Broadway!). If an alignment along 99/Tukwilla International Boulevard had been chosen instead of I-5/SR-512 it would have been mostly at-grade as well.

        If I recall correctly many in Rainier Valley didn’t want an elevated alignment and many in the business community wanted at-grade as they felt it was more likely to bring in new customers and draw TOD than elevated. (a tunnel alignment was never really on the table, the money wasn’t in the budget for it)

      14. Ron Sims and Norm Rice demanded light rail be built through the Rainier Valley. The ST board was leaning towards bypassing MLK in favor of an express line up 509. Now THAT would have been moral & political redlining.

        As for the comment about grade separation, and “getting trains out of our cars’ way” – you got it backwards. Cars should be separated from pedestrians and trains. I know that’s hard to understand in car-addicted Seattle….

      15. Building up 509 would have been redlining? You can’t use Title VI to claim that, no. It’s just a different purpose.

      16. Gary, your monorail is long gone. Stop trying to turn a much higher capacity light rail system into another elevated/automated debacle.

        In fact, it was the effortless disinformation and false promises about privatized, automated monorails which helped doom the project. It’s a myth automation and private operation always cuts costs. Just ask the people who tried to turn Gary’s rhetoric into a real world project. Las Vegas’ monorail is also instructive in this regard.

        Gary and John Niles had a nice run – and they were quite adept at getting the public to focus on light rail’s shortcomings. But, when it came time to propose alternatives (monorail, BRT) their efforts amounted to one big belly-flop.

      17. I know the Green line Monorail is long gone, however the corridor (West Seattle/Ballard) still needs service. Sound Transit doesn’t have even an EIS for the project so it’s decades off.

        However other cities Monorail projects have a lot to teach our projects.

        1) Funding is key, Sound Transit had nearly the same problem and fortunately for them their project law let them cut back from the full route to one they could actually build.

        2) Elevated systems allow automation. We missed this with LINK. Sky Train learned it though.

        3) Dedicated Right-of-way’s make for Rapid as well as Mass transit. It’s a distinction many people seem to miss. Travel time is critical to having a successful project.

        4) Building the stations into the infrastructure of the city makes it work better. LINK is trying, the station at the airport is part of the parking garage network and as much as people complain about having to walk. It won’t be noticed once it gets up and running.

        5) Cost to add new track means that if you can keep it reasonable you can have a much bigger system. The Green line did try, and the initial estimates were lower than for elevated Light Rail but who knows what the end result would have been. However LINK did use precast concrete track which in smaller shorter but equally heavy sections made on site assembly reasonably quick.

      18. It’s not necessarily decades off. We could pressure the city council to fund the alignment study next year, especially if we get Mike O’Brien.

      19. Mayor Nickels (assuming he is re-elected) will likely support it.

        PS I’m really liking Mike O’Brien of the canidates for that seat. It doesn’t hurt that he’s been very active in my neighborhood (Maple Leaf).

        I am slightly concerned that he seems to be for protecting the sacred cow of the single-family Seattle neighborhood. Though I don’t get the impression his opponents are much better or that they’ve put as much thought into the matter as he has.

  6. if you are stupid enough to drive into a 120’+ LRV … then you shouldn’t be allowed to drive in the first place.

    All of the LINK intersections in the Rainier Valley have Turn Arrows … so it’s not like they are unmarked. Regardless, Sound Transit has done a good job acclimating the locals to the LRVs by testing them all day for the past couple of months

  7. CETA’s opinion on this matter of responsibility for building a new passenger railroad down the median of a Seattle urban boulevard is old news — we raised the issue earlier in the decade when there still was a chance of stopping this Central Link monstrosity.

    But we appreciate Seattle Transit Blog calling attention to our work on the issue! Thank you very much.

    At this point of course it is the responsibility of drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians to stay out of the way of trains. I’ve emphasized this in recent comment postings which you can find on the web. However, the reality of what citizens need to do now doesn’t change my opinion that the unsafe passenger railroad design that has been built by Sound Transit is likely to kill some people at some point in the future. At the same time, ST is working very, very hard to educate folks to exercise caution around the tracks and trains.

    I quite agree with Oran that it’s time to update the collision/fatality statistics, and if enough interest is generated I may do that. Or perhaps somebody who thinks the new stats will tell a different story would like to do that, in which case I’ll publish the results at

    Last time I checked, the fatality rate per vehicle mile AND EVEN per passenger mile for light rail is HIGHER than for urban driving and for buses. The only reason people don’t notice is that there isn’t very much light rail operating in America, so the absolute numbers are small.

    Finally, let me make a safety point about 100,000 people crowding onto the Link station platforms next to moving trains on the opening day weekend … I’m staying far, far away, but I sincerely hope that everybody who does go for a free ride is very, very careful. You may (not) want to recall what happened in 1968 when some folks crowded too close to Bobby Kennedy’s funeral train …

    1. 100,000 people crowding a Link station might be dangerous?

      Uh, come ride with me. I’m getting a Hotel right by Westlake Station so I can be there in time for opening

      Oh, and as any regular on this blog would know: I’m in a manual wheelchair

    2. There have been around 20 fatalities related to Portland MAX light rail which opened in 1986 and runs at grade in downtown. That’s around 20 more than I would like, but I find it very hard to believe that’s the same rate as urban drivers. There have been a couple cyclists killed by cars just in the last year, for example.

    3. Let’s also compare the accident rate on that 4.3-mile segment of MLK where Link light rail runs at grade, compare the old street before Sound Transit came along to the new street with trains operating. Are the number and severity of accidents higher or lower in the current configuration?

      John’s reaching (again…sigh…) when he suggests that accommodating 100,000 riders will be a problem on opening day. Sound Transit has hired crowd control specialists to manage the waiting lines at each station. So no teeming hoards on the platforms’ edges, or whatever scary scenario John wants us to imagine.

    4. John, to have any credibility on this issue, you need a measure to make sure that buses are also liable for all accidents, regardless of who was really at fault. Otherwise, it is just petty anti-rail blather.

    5. I love fear mongers. I’m sure hoards of people will be slaughtered on opening day as they fall off of the open platforms just as a train is arriving. Because, you know, the general public is just too stupid to watch out for themselves.

    6. Your logic is flawed to the core.

      “Don’t build it if there is a risk of fatalities”? Oh, please do shut up. By your logic, no road, no skyscraper, no bridge, no tunnel, no toy, no furniture, no single tangible good could possibly be built.

      Moreover, your math is elementary at best. Try harder next time. Of course, if you did that, you’d likely come out on our side. :)

      1. I never said “don’t build it if there is a risk of fatalities.” I said “don’t build it.” Period.

        The inherent risk of unnecessary fatalities and injuries from running hundreds of daily regional passenger trains longer than a football field down the unfenced median of an urban boulevard WAS by my way of thinking an additional reason in 2002 not to build Central Link. There is a military specification about an acceptable expected number of fatalities per hours of operation that the operation of Link exceeds, based on past experience with light rail in America.

        BUT, once Link is in revenue operation, I will encourage people to ride it, and I will encourage drivers and pedestrians to be very careful when near it. I’m going to ride Link every time I need to go where it goes. I don’t usually move around by car in Seattle. I’ll ride Link when I’m going to the airport since my usual ride, the 194 express bus is planned for cancellation.

        Stimulated by Mike Lindblom’s article in the Seattle Times this morning, I may ride Link after it opens on a recreational visit to Columbia City, which after 25 years in Seattle I have to confess I can’t remember ever visiting.

        Do these probable one-time future rides on Link by me mean that I think it was a good idea to spend 2.5 billion dollars on a train to the Airport that the computer models show will carry under 50,000 per day in 2020?


      2. Some days John Niles refers to Link as a gargantuan speeding death train.

        Other days John Niles refers to Link as a slow, low capacity toy street trolley.

        Which is exactly why Goldy @ HA refers to this game as “disingenuous.”

      3. What’s amazing is that you’ll quote a document showing that total accidents will decrease dramatically with Link, and then go on to claim that Link is dangerous!

        Your military specification must not apply to highways!

        Hey, by the way? The computer models show more like 90,000 people per day in 2020. But you don’t want to believe University Link is happening.

        Are you retiring yet?

    7. ‘Monstrosity’ from John Niles’ right wing think tank perspective.

      Community amenity in everybody else’s mind…

  8. So are all car companies liable for all car crashes because their cars don’t fly?
    That’s not to say, though, that I don’t think all Link should be traffic-separated. I hope that in the future no extensions except in very special circumstances are located on streets. And maybe way in the future we can even elevate or bury the Rainier Valley segment. Even without Sound Transit being liable for accidents, accidents are still more likely with it being at-grade and they are a major headache in that they turn public opinion against Link and disrupt service.

    1. I absolutely agree. I hope that Bellevue and ST find the money to put Link in a tunnel through downtown Bellevue. The at-grade alignment sounds insane to me.

      1. As a Bellevue resident:

        I would be willing to chip in to help pay for the Tunnel option.

        The first time I took my brother to the Bellevue Transit Center a few weeks ago, he told me, “It looks like there should be an elevator to a subway station here.”

      2. What is equally bad is that they wanted to use the savings by going at grade on Bell-Red Road alignment to pay for the tunnel. When that segment should be elevated.

      3. the Bel Red planning committee has worked under the assumption for the last few years that it would be at grade. A huge ugly structure through the new development is not what anyone wants there…

      4. Have you ever been to this area? It’s a light industrial shopping center area! A couple of elevated columns blocks no one’s view, as there isn’t a view to be blocked, other than that of a strip mall on the opposite side of the street. Better to put in an elevated line now and let the development work with it. Bellevue to Redmond has the possibility of carrying more people than the Airport to Downtown section.

      5. Gary, the zoning is for neighborhood commercial with dense residential. I said “fifty years” for a reason.

        You also may have missed my entire post discussing SoDo – rainier valley will never have trains run more than every five minutes or so. Eventually, we’ll have trains running often enough that perhaps we’ll build that bypass.

      6. Gary, only the City of Bellevue asked to do that. Sound Transit made it clear that’s not happening.

  9. If ST was held liable for every collision, we’d see ST district taxes go skyrocketing before our eyes. Just because they made the decision to build at grade does not mean the laws should be given up. What if a driver just sat in the middle of a light rail trains path just to get excessive damages? I dismiss CETA’s opinion on this matter as ridiculous and anyone crossing light rail tracks should know to look both ways and pay attention to signs and signals before crossing. All it takes is a little bit of common sense, TRAINS ALWAYS WIN!

    1. What happens vis a vis ST’s liability with future collisions is going to be up to the parties directly involved. The only leverage point I was working on before construction was authorized was to stop construction. That did not happen. Some small changes were made in the design, I understand, as a result of comments by me and others, but the at-grade light rail design on Martin Luther King, Jr Way prevailed. Hamid Qaasim, Sound Transit safety boss, has the details. He has worked very hard to make Link Light Rail safe.

      Now that Link is built and in operation, the only leverage point I can work on is the same as the one all of you reading this would advocate: BE VERY CAREFUL, TRAINS ALWAYS WIN. And yes, the same is true of buses in collisions with cars, bikes, and pedestrians. I’ve seen a lot of close calls while riding buses.

      It of course would not be smart public policy to make new laws now assigning more responsibility for light rail collisions to government agencies — that would just invite more “accidents.” We can only now wait and see what happens with our new passenger train.

      I’m reasonably sure that ST’s train has been so far built and operated to the state of the art in safety, GIVEN the design error — that error being at-grade operations of a regional passenger train with (eventually) four car trains over four miles in an urban environment. GIVEN that the fundamentally unsafe design choice was made years ago, Sound Transit and Metro are now going to do everything they can think of to prevent collisions.

      For those who want to dive as deep as I have, FTA’s newsletters on light rail safety are posted at . The Winter 2009 issue announced that there is going to be a routine audit of Washington State’s Rail Safety Oversight Office soon, July 13-15, coincidentally, or not, just before Central Link Initial Segment is scheduled to open for revenue service.

      This office is located in the Washington State Dept. of Transportation, 401 2nd Ave South, under the direction of Michael Flood, Rail Transit Safety and Security Officer, He was very responsive to a recent observation of testing by me, and I’m sure he would appreciate comments and suggestions from readers of Seattle Transit Blog if you see critical incidents around train operations.

      This office is explicitly exempted from having to deal with system design issues like the one that was my concern in 2002-2004. I checked.

      1. John, until you start claiming that car accidents on the new 405 lanes are WSDOT’s liability because they built the structure, you’re basically losing any credibility you had (which wasn’t much) with every new person you talk to.

        I, for one, think John should keep up this newfound idea, because it makes him appear so laughably insane that no one will want to touch him.

      2. Ben, you are totally missing my point about additional risk from a marginal addition to transportation capacity, just like you miss my point about marginal addition to greenhouse gas from the North Link subway.

        Roads and the cars, trucks, and buses that run on them are the core embedded urban point-to-point transportation system around greater Seattle. The most bang for the buck comes from making the core system work better, including more safely. Light rail and commuter rail are feel-good fluff around the edges.

        Rail systems are limited access, horizontal elevators that are not cost-effective in a city largely created since the invention of the auto. Making buses work better would have a higher payoff; the environmental record behind our new train to the airport is clear on that. Doubling the tunnel bus fleet for deployment in corridors all over the region would clearly have provided more incremental mobility than adding 35 shuttling rail cars in one corridor. This is a point that CETA has documented.

        What’s interesting is that the level of daily ridership on the new Link train to the airport that WOULD make it a cost-effective investment would overwhelm the design capacity of that system as built. I believe that this point will be illustrated if 100,000 folks do show up for opening day.

      3. I’m not missing any points at all. I’m just not in the business of lying to people for profit. Have you ever considered that your obsession might not be very healthy? It seems like this is a high price to pay for your bus ride turning into a train ride with a transfer.

        When 25,000 people per day ride light rail later this year, they will cause fewer accidents than if the same trips are taken on the previous split of bus and car. Simple as that. You even gave us the document that shows this.

        As for opening day: We only have enough cars right now for 2-3 car trains on opening day (almost all 2 car). When ridership increases naturally, it’ll make sense to buy more cars and run 4 car trains. How is this different from the freeway being backed up at a game – except it’s a lot cheaper to buy more light rail vehicles than it is to expand the freeway?

      4. Ben,

        You are focusing on the number of accidents with light rail in operation, while I am focusing on the nature of the accidents and the result on human life. Trains hitting cars, cyclists, and pedestrians will likely result in worse outcomes than cars hitting cyclists, pedestrians, and other cars.

        It of course would have been possible to make MLK Jr Way a safer street than it was in the 1990s without laying a regional passenger railroad down the median.

        We will know over the next year whether this boulevard becomes safer.

      5. You’re focusing on whatever makes light rail look bad, and that’s why your opinion can’t be taken seriously.

      6. I’m a counterbalance to those who have nothing critical to say about Seattle’s light rail boondoggle. In that regard, I’m looking forward to our first Seattle light rail going into operation, since some areas of criticism can then be less speculative.

        As for the promises of the 1996 Sound Move election, that train has left the station. Some parts of the Sound Move “Regional Express” Plan are not yet under construction after 13 years of a 10 year plan.

        A friend tells me that Sound Transit’s financial director reported to the Citizen Oversight Panel this morning that “April, 2009 sales-tax receipts are down so far that the $2.2 billion shortfall acknowledged publicly to date by Sound Transit for ST2 could become $3 billion, although he is hoping for only $2.6 to $2.8 billion.”

      7. Please go and check the fatality rate of the last half mile of Westside MAX in Portland.

        Google “622 SE Washington St, Hillsboro, OR” — that’s a house facing at-grade light rail tracks that are placed right in the center of their residential street.

  10. Daniel, I think that is what Mr. Niles wants. He wants Light Rail to be so expensive, that it would be tougher to justify.
    I read the site, and I find Mr. Niles assertion laughable. Most accidents between trains, and cars are the result of drivers not obeying the rules, or just plain bad driving. The same drivers you encounter on the highways, who cut you off, tailgate, or skid through a red light. Yet Mr. Nile tries to convince readers of the site, that drivers are not at fault. Like really! I didn’t see the 90 foot train running on rail embedded in the ground, or the many signs warning of a train crossing!

    I live in Toronto, and we have around 200 LRV sharing the road with cars with little issue.

    Using Passenger per miles, and vehicle per miles is another favorite tactic of rail opponents. It’s a nice sound bite, like the “you can buy everyone a lexus for the price of rail” sound bite.
    Using Passenger per mile distorts the truth, because passenger per mile for autos is far, far higher than rail.
    I checked some stats, and in 2003, 31,094 occupants died in auto/Suv/truck accidents. 13 people died in accidents involving Light Rail. By looking at those simple stats, it clear that LRT is far safer than Autos. Rail opponent like to divide passenger per mile by the number of fatalities to make Auto look safer than rail.

    1. Most of the injuries and fatalities in light rail accidents probably weren’t people on the train, but rather those who got in the way while the train was moving. While auto accidents do kill pedestrians, bicyclists etc. people in the cars get killed too.

  11. No CETA’s point is that we could have built a system that wouldn’t kill anyone! But for a few million we built one that is guaranteed to have to have a driver which ups the labor costs of running it. Blocks cross traffic, thus making overall traffic worse and limits our ability to run it fast, as we have to stop and clean up the mess when a train hits a car, whoever was right. And from ST’s own study, this will happen once every other week.

    You guys need to get a grip here. Just because someone points out that something could have been built better does not make them the enemy.

    1. Claiming that it’s the agency’s liability for accidents makes him the enemy.

      Actually, having that entire website makes him the enemy.

      Now, I haven’t seen anything in an ST study saying there’d be an accident rate like that. There certainly hasn’t been an accident rate like that so far, and we’re running regular trains already. Please back that statement up.

      1. I see, but you failed to mention the much larger decrease in motor vehicle accidents in the same time period.

        Looks like they were too worried about it! I’m not seeing accidents every other week.

      2. They didn’t spell it out, but it’s easy to calculate:

        52 weeks / (21 auto + 3 ped + 3 bicycle) = .5 or once every other week.

        And I am totally glad that we are not seeing this projected injury rate during the testing phase but once the system gets up and people are a little more used to it, they may not be watching out as closely. Who knows. People get whacked out at Golden Gardens and there are signs, and big honking trains, whistles… big tracks and newspaper articles and yet….

        The decrease in auto accidents is good, but with an auto accident it’s easy to push everything to the side of the road and let everybody by. Light rail not so easy. Of course being in it’s own right-of-way we would avoid all of this.

      3. It seems like it was pretty easy to push everything to the side of the road yesterday – in fact, they had cleared the intersection by the time you made that comment.

    2. Gary

      I sincerely hope that there will not be an accident rate like that! For my two cents, I well recall the early fights over Link in the Rainier Valley and logistics and finance prevented a tunnel through the area. Unlike Beacon Hill and the U-Link sector of the line, topography in the Rainier Valley is sufficiently flat as to be not favorable to a tunneling option and the expense to have done so would have ruined the whole thing and set completion back for years. I also agree with writers who have suggested that an elevated structure would have looked ugly in that area, and an invitation to tagging and other vandalism. It looks exciting and appropriate because of the topography as it approaches Tukwila as it creates the impression of soaring into the air like a plane, but elsewhere, I don’t think it would work as well.

      I am sure that there will be accidents just as there are with all other modes of transportation – cars hit one another, buses hit pedestrians and trains plough into cars – but to make Sound Transit the sole agency, entity or person responsible for any future collisions involving Link and cars or pedestrians is disingenuous to say the least and smacks of just offering yet another flawed argument to damage the image and prospects of Light Rail in the region.

      Obviously, we will all be monitoring the situation in the Valley carefully and hoping for the best outcome, but at the moment, I don’t see any legitimate purpose behind suggesting that ST should be made liable for all and every collision in the area and is a tactic merely out there to throw spanners into the spokes of the wheels.


      1. I’ll hate to see the pillars on this system tagged, and my limited visits to 5th Ave I haven’t seen it on the Monorail pillars but maybe the demographics isn’t right to do it. Or maybe the city is fast at removing it.

        But there are options to letting the taggers have at the pillars. Better to let the community kids have them first. Or doing like the Kuala Lumpur monorail,

        and put advertising & art on the pillars.

        And even if we didn’t elevate the MLK section we still have elevated areas and plenty of pillars to tag.

  12. No, I don’t think ST should be held liable for people’s stupidity…

    That said, Ben, should Ford have been held liable for the Pinto? Which they knew would explode in rear-end collisions in a significantly small number of incidents?

    The simple FACT is that ST chose to build at-grade through the Rainier Valley, knowing that it would injure and even KILL a number of people each year.

    That doesn’t include all the reasons folks — like Gary above — pointed out that restrict the system’s capabilities by going at-grade there.

    Everyone should know that I have little love for CETA and their anti-rail views, but don’t respond with crazy pro-rail cheerleading here in response.

    1. Mickymse,

      Should WSDOT be liable for setting freeway speed limits above 15 mph? After all, that “kills” a number of people each year.

      Should the City of Seattle be liable for all bicycle deaths because bikes aren’t restricted to special paths separate from cars? After all, more investment means that people wouldn’t die!

      We trade off safety for cost all the time; as in the speed limit example, we trade off safety for convenience all the time, too. So let’s not get on our high horse because ST made the same kind of decision, given limited resources, that our government makes, justifiably, all the time.

      1. Martin:

        Your comment, “We trade off safety for cost all the time; as in the speed limit example, we trade off safety for convenience all the time, too” is exactly right.

        Where we disagree is whether City of Seattle made the right trade off decision in issuing permits for Sound Transit to build a regional railroad with 18 grade crossings along the boulevard in question.

        At this point, we have to wait and see what happens over the next few years.


  13. You should be careful with this phrase:

    “The simple FACT is that ST chose to build at-grade through the Rainier Valley, knowing that it would injure and even KILL a number of people each year”

    Not only does that sound too preposterous to accept or believe but it is also potentially libellous in my view and you should perhaps keep an eye on your mailbox. I do not believe that any public agency held to as much scrutiny as Sound Transit has been down the years would chose an ‘at-grade’ line for the reasons you suggest above. ST did what they could with the money they had and which kept everything broadly in line with people’s hopes and expectations as to overall costs and a reasonable timeframe. A tunnel through the Valley would have added years and millions to the construction timeframe and no one can fault the agency for its efforts to educate people in the area.

    As I said earlier, I am sure we will all be keeping an eye on what happens in the Rainier Valley – the trade-offs in transit-oriented development and other improvements and the potential for accidents fatal or otherwise. If the latter reaches an unacceptable point, then of course ST will have to review grade separating the line and preventing crossing points, but for the moment, lets just accept the reality of the line there and see what happens. I don’t want this to sound as if I am making the Valley a petri-dish for exploring the ramifications of at-grade rail, but given all the constraints of time and money, I don’t believe ST had any other reasonable alternatives to how they have built the line in the area.

  14. I assume there won’t be crossing gates along MLK (like there are in SODO). Is that because there are too many cross streets? Or that they are mostly not heavily trafficked arterials? Seems that with gates spanning the entire street/track interface, any car foolish enough to try to “beat” the train would be deterred by a strong length of metal to crash through. Gates would have no effect on pedestrians, but might make for fewer vehicular-train events.

    1. There *aren’t* crossing gates along MLK because the trains run down the center of the street, not along side the street as in SODO. Has nothing to do with volume of cross traffic on approaching streets.

      BTW the crossing gates are a visual and symbolic barrier, not a physical one. They are just not strong enough to impede the way of a violating vehicle.

      I know it’s been mentioned before, but ST learned from the experiences of Houston and other cities with center-running light rail lines, some of which had lots of crashes at their start. We designed ours to be safer, and so far, incidents have been very few — like 2 — even though we are operating on a schedule that closely mimics regular weekday operations.

      1. I think when it’s open, people won’t find it nearly as unexpected, either.

  15. You have to admire the bold whacky craziness of John Niles- tell a big enough lie and you shift the whole ‘frame’ of the debate.

    And this is a big one, because he wants to make us think that adding a train will make it more dangerous to walk down the center of the street. Why, those trains will travel at speeds up to 35 miles per hour!

    Well, call me crazy, but I think that between the new development and the need for car drivers to pay attention, that street is going to be safer than it was ten years ago.

    Poor old John is facing his worst nightmare- the train is going to start running and it will work just fine. People will like it and ridership will exceed projections. Hundreds of people will live close to the train and never even own a car at all. The horror, the horror.

      1. The point is it could have been by 100%… but for a few million. And we could have automated the cars like Sky train but now never.

      2. No, Gary, Ben was saying that the street will have one-third fewer accidents than it would have had in its previous configuration before rail.

        Surely you are not asserting that an elevated line could, miraculously, prevent *all* vehicle and pedestrian accidents (vehicle/vehicle accidents, vehicle/ped accidents)…or I don’t know, maybe you ARE making such an assertion…

      3. Elevated solutions can contribute to accidents by creating blocked sight-lines and high contrast between areas in bright sunlight and those in deep shade. It is far from clear that an elevated solution would have fewer total accidents then the at-grade approach that ST has built.

        However, there are those that will only consider those accidents directly involving the LRV’s – as if car-car and car-pedestrian accidents somehow magically don’t count as “real” accidents.

      4. That’s an interesting point, about elevated lines. I wonder if it’s been studied anywhere?

      5. I do like your point there. I have driven around downtown Chicago numerous times, and it can be tough navigating streets that are covered by the El tracks. It is often quite dim below them and you have to be very careful about the location of pillars.

      6. No, it couldn’t have been by 100%, because we’re not eliminating cars on the road. I’m talking about reducing total accidents in the corridor.

        And it was at-grade or no construction at all, so no, we couldn’t.

  16. Gosh — I had no idea Eisenhower was such a terrible mass-murderer. The interstate highway system he was responsible for has killed hundreds of thousands! It continues to do so well into the 21st century.

    1. And Eisenhower wanted the interstate highway system to bypass cities but the cities wanted a piece of the pie to create “urban renewal” but ended up with urban blight.

    2. Actually, the limited access Interstate Highways have reduced automobile fatalities per vehicle mile and per passenger mile compared to the experience on the former U.S. highways that were supplanted.

      1. You are so right! An irony of modern warfare but probably the culmination of centuries of planning

      2. Ah, so you’re implying that more lanes have the same effect as wider lanes and safer curves? That’s a simple fallacy – correlation does not imply causation! The former US highways could have been made safer without the construction of new corridors.

        What’s the fatality rate per passenger mile on light rail, do you suppose? Apples to apples, John! Don’t be caught lying with statistics!

      3. “The former US highways could have been made safer without the construction of new corridors.”

        I agree with this statement.

        Since you asked, I’ll do some research on fatality rates for light rail and urban driving in recent years. The light rail rate to be assessed fairly has to be looked at over a period of years … it jumps up and down from year to year since there is relatively little light rail in America compared to driving.

        Some older numbers are available in a TRB presentation paper at

      4. It doesn’t really jump up and down. It starts high for a region, and then drops. Find corridor studies about pre and post rail that compare to non-rail corridors, and you’ll be comparing apples to apples. You won’t like that, though, it shows that light rail reduces accidents!

  17. John Niles has no problem with the Interstate system, death by at-grade buses, trucks or cars. The CARnage left behind by auto-dependency is always quietly swept under the rug by road warriors and sprawl advocates.

    To the contrary, John Niles has dedicated his entire career to getting as many dangerous rubber tired vehicles on the road as possible

    1. MarkS, your rant and slur about me is unjustified. I think highway accidents are a terrible consequence of our transportation system. I even have personal experience … as a child in the 1950s I was run over by a car in a crosswalk while walking home from my second grade school, and almost died. This was in the presence of a crossing guard who was injured trying to gain the attention of the driver before his front left wheel ran over my torso. I recall it was a 1948 Plymouth. Two operations and months of recovery were needed to fix me back up.

      At the same time, I think there are remarkable benefits from the mobility provided by automobiles, trucks, and buses. There are significant efforts underway by many organizations and individuals across the country to make automobility safer.

      One characteristic of mixing a new passenger train on an existing street with cars, trucks, buses, bikes, and pedestrians is that new collisions are likely to occur between the trains and the other street users. Experience from around the country is clear on that, in addition to the documentation in the Environmental Impact Statement.

      That said, the new collision risk on MLK, Jr Way is really not a major reason for my opposition to light rail in Seattle. I’m only taking the time to write about it because of the opportunity provided by Martin’s headline at the top of this thread about CETA jumping the shark.

      Perhaps all this yammering back and forth will cause somebody to be a little more careful and prevent an avoidable accident along the Link line.

      1. John,

        Why do you consistently refuse to acknowledge that MLK is a safer street for all users in its new ST configuration then it was before? If you really care about all users, and about car-pedestrian accidents, then you would acknowledge this fact.

      2. Lazarus, I don’t acknowledge that MLK is a safer street for all users in its new ST configuration because the EIS Transportation Technical report from 1999 does not show that this is true. It MAY be shown as true after light rail is in full operation for a year or two, but there is no proof at the moment that this is true aside from the claims of light rail boosters.

        I cover all this on my web page recently discovered by the Blog, as follows:

        Joni Earl, Sound Transit Executive Director, sent an electronic mail message following the Board Meeting (in 2003) that summed up the light rail safety situation in Southeast Seattle, where light rail will run in an urban street median: She wrote, “In the Rainier Valley where light rail will run at grade, Sound Transit is increasing the signalized pedestrian-only crossings on Martin Luther King Jr. Way South from two to 10, increasing the signalized traffic and pedestrian intersections from 12 to 21, and providing 17 dedicated, signalized left-turn pockets. Warning bells, a safety zone, and protective railings will also be provided to increase safety at pedestrian crossings. The improvements for light rail will actually reduce the current number of accidents on Martin Luther King Jr. Way South and will make that corridor safer.”

        Director Earl’s prediction of safety has no support in the environmental record. Safety was last covered in the 1999 Final Environmental Impact Statement. That document states that the addition of new traffic signals and street geometry in association with the light rail trains will reduce the number of vehicle-to-vehicle collisions by 44 per year, and the number of collisions between motor vehicles and pedestrians or cyclists will be reduced by seven annually. The 44 fewer vehicle-to-vehicle collisions is claimed by Sound Transit to be more than ample compensation for the 29 new collisions between trains and motor vehicles. The seven fewer times when vehicles hit pedestrians or cyclists is said to justify the three new annual cases of trains hitting people or cyclists.

        However, there is a documented fatality rate for train collisions that exceeds the documented Rainier Valley fatality rate for collisions that only involve motor vehicles. CETA calculates that the historical experience of light rail trains and grade crossings at train speeds planned in the Rainier Valley indicates an expectation of eight fatalities per decade.

        This logic of substituting one kind of accident for another kind is a transit industry invention embraced by Sound Transit. The common-sense idea that getting hit by a train may be more serious than being hit by a car is not discussed. The fatality and serious injury rates from the various types of accidents traded-off are not discussed in the EIS.

        Furthermore, this kind of trade-off between accident types across modes is not covered in Federal Hazard Analysis Guidelines. There is no authority for adding new dangers to an urban street that are justified by reducing an existing form of danger.

      3. This logic of substituting one kind of accident for another kind is a transit industry invention embraced by Sound Transit.

        But John, you’re not taking into account responsibility or “the stupidity factor.” In the old configuration a pedestrian, cyclist or even automobile driver was at risk because of the stupid action of another driver. Those people getting hit and killed when crossing legally have been reduced by the mitigation measures put in place. The increased fatalities you’re talking about are primarily because of people being stupid. Unless there is a system failure the trains are going to be operating predictably, legally and with a high degree of visibility. The number of people being injured and kill in accidents in which they are not at fault is greatly reduced.

      4. Actually, I love that you comment here. The more your claims are vetted by intelligent people, the worse you sound, and the less seriously your opinions are taken by decisionmakers.

      5. Oh, dear! Ben, the little sideways snipe you make in this comment detracts from your argument. Could we please just take personalities out of it and focus on the arguments? I’m discouraged by the tone of these remarks. Many of them contain useful and interesting arguments–not always on just one side–but the sniping and name-calling drags the discussion down.

        Ben, generally I’m in agreement with the positions of this blog. I disagree with Mr. Niles’ suggestion that ST should be chargeable for accidents caused by cars colliding with trains even when the car driver is at fault. While Mr. Niles and I are in accord arguing for grade-separated transit for improved speed and safety, I suspect we are very much in disagreement on many other aspects. But if you line up all the rhetoric in this thread from Mr. Niles and all the rhetoric opposing him in this thread (not, I’ll point out, just opposing his position), his comments keep to the argument much more than his opponents’ do.

        I’m embarrassed to be on the side of people who call names and focus on personal attacks. Of course, you can always say that if I don’t like the tone of the comments I don’t have to read them–but wouldn’t we all get a better understanding from a reasoned discussion, avoiding personalities and focusing on issues, analysis, and facts?

      6. John has been, for years, using disingenuous arguments to attack rail. He isn’t a legitimate opponent, and I won’t treat him as such, because the way he engages supporters alters the frame of the debate to *exactly* where you are.

        Niles doesn’t have an argument. He comes up with a new issue every week and takes it well past rationality. I’m not sure if this is because of his experience in DC, or if it’s simply to justify the paycheck, but his actions are always to reframe any discussion as a failure of transit.

        If you want to comment constructively, please go ahead. But it looks like your only comment so far is to ‘add up the rhetoric’ between a paid transit opponent and people who have a lot of history of dealing with his nonsense. You can do better than that.

    1. “Witnesses said the car was heading toward the train when it made an illegal left turn right in front of it.”

      1. There is no doubt that most if not all train-car collisions involve illegal behavior on the part of the driver.

        Think about it — isn’t it ALWAYS illegal for a car to be on railroad tracks in such a way that it interferes with the movement of the train?

  18. Niles is just trying to generate some press to justify his salary. Kemper’s tightening the purse strings, and it’s tough for a hack to be out on the street these days. He might actually have to get a real job.

      1. “On the topic of light rail safety” is a pretty good way to bend over backwards!

        John, do we need to start linking to old email and comments here? Because you can look bad, fast.

    1. Justin, thanks for the pointer to the chart. Over the next few days I am going to look up the numbers and do another chart. For one thing, the light rail rate varies a lot from year to year since there is so little light rail in America, and even a single extra fatality makes a big difference in the rate.

    2. Justin, I’m not all the way through calculating the time series for fatalities on light rail and roads using U.S. Government statisitcs, but I have to tell you that the chart you point to in your comment is wrong for light rail … way, way off. I see that American Public Transportation Association (APTA) was used as source for light rail, not Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). I would also bet that the author misplaced his decimal point.

      For 2003, BTS reports 17 light rail fatalities at and 1,476 light rail million passenger miles at

      The 17 fatalities do NOT include suicides, according to a footnote.

      Dividing 1.476 BILLION (=1000 times a million) light rail passenger miles into 17 light rail fatalities yields 11.5 fatalities per billion passenger miles, a number which exceeds the fatality rate of approximately 8 shown for highway fatalities, which includes both urban and rural driving and pedestrians. The urban roads rate of fatalities for 2003 was 5.7, which means the light rail death causation rate was TWICE that of motor vehicles in 2003.

  19. Another issue with showing the ratio of light rail fatalities against passenger miles is that most of the people killed in light rail collisions are not passengers, but rather people who are hit by the train. It has always seemed more fair to ratio fatalities against vehicle miles, when comparing to the driving world, since the vehicle is the focus of the accident. However, I’ll do both.

  20. “If I recall correctly many in Rainier Valley didn’t want an elevated alignment and many in the business community wanted at-grade … a tunnel alignment was never really on the table, the money wasn’t in the budget for it”

    No. The Valleyites objected to being the only at-grade section except SODO. They wanted a tunnel or elevated like the rest of the system had. Roosevelt wanted a tunnel and got it. Rainier wanted a tunnel and were blown off.

    Then ST determined it couldn’t build the whole system at once, and chose to do the south half first. The Valleyites objected, “No, do the north half first. We’re happy to be the last to get light rail, when it can be done properly (=underground). See, we have plenty of buses here.” But they were ignored.

    The issue of a tunnel alignment not being in the budget is bogus. Sound Transit created the budget; it could have increased it for a tunnel. The best they can say is that MLK was capable of at-grade, unlike North Seattle. But “capable” doesn’t mean “should”.

    There was a greater preference for a tunnel over elevated, but I doubt the Valleyites would have objected to elevated if it had been offered them. Their main concerns were with at-grade: demonishing businesses, kids getting killed, slower trains, eliminating left turns, etc.

    The great irony is that now Bellevue is slated to get at-grade sections, so finally a rich community will get the same thing a poor community is getting.

    1. Actually I’m pretty sure at least a few people in Rainier Valley objected to both elevated and tunnel alignments. One concern was people wouldn’t see the businesses along the way as the train speeded along in a tunnel or along an elevated track. Another was the disruption cut and cover construction would cause.

      I also distinctly remember Sound Transit, Sound Transit board members, and the City repeatedly telling anyone who advocated for a tunnel that there just wasn’t the money in the budget for it.

      As for Roosevelt, Link was going to be in a Tunnel until at least Ravenna Boulevard anyway. With the elevated/at grade alignment the Roosevelt station would have been located quite far away from the core of the business district, also it would have required demolishing several blocks of homes. Then there was the big elevated station bridging Ravenna Blvd and 65th.

      In any case my understanding is Sound Transit looked at the ridership and cost of a tunnel alignment under 12th and decided it actually made more sense than an elevated alignment along 8th. The fact that both the City and WSDOT objected for their own reasons to the elevated alignments along 8th didn’t hurt.

      Finally let me point out that in most other places light rail has been done it is done almost entirely at grade and often in the street median. Seattle is a rarity as MLK and Sodo (and eventually parts of Bellevue/Redmond) are the only areas where link is at grade with potential auto/bike/pedestrian conflicts.

    2. Mike, you should go back to the Central Link DEIS and read the public comments. Everyone seems to be split between anti-this or anti-that, nobody offered any solutions.

      The choices became:

      -Build it at grade.
      -Don’t build it.

      I’m really, really tired of having this discussion. We’re going to build more rail, and more of it is going to be at grade.

      I find it hilarious that you’re attacking this section for being at-grade, but then attacking the system for being overbuilt at the same time!

      1. I attacked it for being overbuilt? If you mean the Rainier community objections, I’m just repeating what they said at the public meetings.

        I don’t think it’s overbuilt. Seattle’s rarity is what will make the system suck less than Portland/San Jose/Denver/Dallas/etc, and ultimately gain a greater percentage of riders.

      2. Oh, sorry about that. I thought that was your personal opinion! :(

  21. I lived in Rainier Beach at the time, and I’m pretty sure I remember the local business community kicking up a fuss over both elevated and tunnel options. The concern, as I remember it, was that riders and their business would pass the Rainier Valley by. I do believe the kicker was cost, though. Had a tunnel or elevated option been somehow cheaper, I daresay that’s what would have been built.

    I think it’s quite reasonable to express concerns that at-grade portions of the system slow it down and make it more dangerous than it would be if grade-separated, while still supporting getting it built at all. I don’t think criticism necessarily constitutes an “attack”. I’m very glad the light rail system is finally getting built, I wish it were being built faster and better, and I’d like to improve it at the earliest opportunity.

    I do think leaving personalities out of this, even in the case of a person who has a history of Protean arguments, and whose motivations are questionable, will lead to a more informative and useful debate. Ben, your exasperation with Mr. Niles is understandable, but you can accomplish more by sticking to critiques of his *arguments*–even if they are spurious. *Especially* when they are spurious.

  22. For those who propose that liability attach to the tram in a collision incident, I invite you to go visit Holland. There (as in most of Europe), if you crash with a street tram, you are at fault – even if you really did not make the error. The reasoning is fairly straightforward: the tram runs on fixed rails, and the auto/truck/bicycle/whatever has the discretion to be where it should or should not be. So if the tram trashes your auto, not only do you pay for your own repairs, your insurers get to pay for the tram too. Moral: stay off the tram tracks. To no surprise, with this legal penalty, those incidents are rather few. I have never seen an auto/tram collision in any city in Holland ever in my lifetime. It may happen, but not much. Food for thought.

  23. As a former railway worker, I can assure you that under federal railways regulations, all car/train collisions are legally the fault of the car driver. No matter what. Even if the train driver intentionally rams someone on the level crossing. Cities cannot overturn federal regulations when it comes to this sort of thing. Having spent my fair share of time in the cab of a freight engine, I have seen excessive stupidity undertaken by those in cars in level crossings too busy or too reckless to understand the gravity of 500+ tons of train bearing down on them.

    Furthermore, this whole section of the link looks and acts remarkably like the Yellow line of the Portland MAX. This line functions fast, reliably and in all of the years of me regularly riding it, I have yet to see or be in an LRV that experienced an accident between the LRV and cars. If it works down here, why doesn’t it work up there?

    1. describes a Portland Yellow Line collision on April 25, 2009. Fortunately, nobody was injured.

      And here’s some good news, worth of high praise for Sound Transit: The Kinkisharyo light rail cars used on Central Link apparently have a Hubner energy absorbing bumper installed on each end of them, which provides some crash protection for anything that happens to be struck by the train.

      You can read more about these bumpers by looking at files indexed by Google under [Kinkisharyo Hubner Seattle bumper] in particular, .

      This same company Hubner manufactures the accordian like structure that characterizes the middle of Metro’s articulated buses.

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