Stopped at Othello, by Steven De Vight
"Stopped at Othello", by Steven De Vight

Shortly after 5pm today, a car traveling on Martin Luther King Jr. Way South made an illegal turn against a red light and was hit by a passing Link Light Rail train. The driver of the car sustained non-life-threatening injuries and was transported to the hospital. We’re awaiting word about the train’s condition, but hopefully any damage was minor and it’ll be out looking beautiful on July 18th in just 18 days.

The best photos are available at the Rainier Valley Post.

This incident comes one day after we reported about John Niles’ suggestion that Sound Transit be liable for all car vs. train incidents, even in cases like this when the driver made an illegal turn.

[UPDATE: John Niles, in the thread below, 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. –Editor]

Despite who’s at fault, the city is looking for ways to make the area safer. Earlier today before this accident, KIRO posted a story about merchants who are opposed to the installation new barriers designed to prevent car/train collisions, claiming they would hurt business. According to the story, a few business owners are threatening to block the track on opening day in protest. Seattle Transit Blog would like to remind our readers that standing on any railway, regardless of political motivation, is a very bad idea, and that your chances of successfully stopping a 2-car train are very low.

Also tonight in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, home to many STBers, a family crossing the street was hit by a car. There aren’t a lot of details about this incident yet, but Capitol Hill Seattle reports that at least three people (two of them young children) were transported to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, and Seattle Police arrested the driver at the scene. Hopefully everyone injured will recover quickly. To John: should these children be responsible for the driver’s legal fees? Or maybe the city for not grade separating all the crosswalks?

Sound Transit has lots of information about staying safe around Link on their website, including a guide for drivers.

53 Replies to “Car Turns in Front of Link Train”

  1. The answer is obviously no. Whatever your believes, they should never result in using something as important as peoples lives as bartering chip.

  2. Hope the guy who got hit by the train got at least a moving violation for the illegal turn on red. Even better if they got a ticket for impeding the flow of mass transit. (Well, it’d have to a warning since there’s no mass on the transit yet.)

    1. The train totaled his/her PT Cruiser. That driver should be thankful for never again having to be seen in one, if they so choose.

  3. I was one of the crew who laid out the location of the curbs this morning. When we arrived, the senior engineers (and probably a PR guy) were already there talking to the business owners.

    The business owner who made the threat to protest owns a gas station; also other businesses at that location: drive-through Starbucks, drive through McDonalds. Go figure.

    The gas station driveway on Graham is going to be blocked but there’s another driveway to the parking of the Viet-Wah/strip mall just 50 feet up the street which can be used to access the station.

    1. “too bad” is my attitude. Those curbs that prevent accidents were installed in Bellevue and it does take a bit of adjustment to remember where you can access the services you want, but once you are used to it, no issues.

      That Gas station owner will just have to lower his price by a couple of pennies and he’ll still generate all the traffic he can handle. People will flock for a price break.

    2. I checked: the other driveway will be blocked, too. If people driving down EB Graham want to access the station or the strip mall they have to make a left on to NB MLK instead of a left on Graham right after the intersection. That reduces the chance of accidents and of cars backing up on to the tracks.

    3. Maybe if they don’t want the c-curbs, those business owners want to pay for the damages when someone gets into an accident? :)

    4. It’s also no surprise Chris Van Dyk signed up to ‘represent’ these auto-oriented businesses. Not only is that guy an avowed rail opponent & Kemperite, but he also likes to brag about his gas-guzzling muscle car on occassion.

  4. “and that your chances of successfully stopping a 2-car train are very low.”

    Just wait for the 4-car trains; I gather the odds are even lower?

    Attention Sound Transit! We look forward to the release of the on-board “dash-cam” footage!

  5. Not far away in the gutter lay a toppled stroller.

    Yikes. As someone who’s crossed that intersection pushing a stroller, reading that sentence is terrifying. Hope they’re OK.

  6. Let me see, light rail warning light, red turn light, and a fast train that weighs more than a vehicle. As I like to say, the train will always win, so if it is coming, just save yourself the expenses of insurance, hospital bills, and wait for the train to pass.

  7. Can I ask – why has Sound Transit not invested in 4 quarter barriers on their at grade lines? It seems to me that transit agencies that have implemented them (LA for instance) have seen a measurable uptick in safety.

      1. at vehicle crossings…

        2 quarter barriers:

        —–___| —–
        =================
        =================
        —– |___—–

        4 quarter barriers:

        —–___|___—–
        =================
        =================
        —–___|___—–

    1. Because the valley community didn’t want all that loud noise that goes with them. It’s just like MAX, this won’t happen for very long.

  8. ugh – that didn’t work. stupid input formatter.

    in any case – 2 quarter barrier at-grade-crossings have a gate only on the right hand side of the road.

    4 quarter barriers have a gate on both the right and the left side, to prevent vehicles from circumventing the gate.

      1. Though I see what you mean about no barriers on MLK way…

        Calgary’s C’train has similar center median alignment, but has barriers to prevent both orthogonal and left turn traffic incursions.

      2. Right, rainier valley residents didn’t want those. In LA, things are very different – they have an endemic problem with running red lights (directly through, high speed) that we don’t have here. We just have some idiots turning, and they’ll learn.

      3. I don’t care what Rainier Valley residents “want”. What they got was a great system I’d die for. I live in Ballard, which is not sharing in the ST pie. What I want is no collisions, and if barriers would prevent collisions, then they have to be put in, whatever residents “want”.

      4. A lot of things would prevent collisions, but make the area unlivable. You can’t just force things on people that don’t want them – those residents have a right to say how their community should look. And barriers aren’t going to stop plenty of these drivers.

        Building light rail prevents collisions. Yes, read it again. The accidents light rail has will be *far lower* than the no-build scenario.

        You’ll get a good system too, help us push for one!

      5. Nice! A bus driver, a professional driver still made the crossing in front of an at grade light rail train mistake…

        You know if one person walks into a room and hits a chair, he’s a klutz, if two people do it, they’re probably related and also klutz, after the third time, it’s time to move the chair.

        That’s what CETA and John and I are complaining about. These accidents could be prevented, and by law should have been with gated crossings.

      6. Hey MarkS,
        What comment about Monorail is in this thread?

        I’m not a member of CETA.

        Ben, I’m not trolling this blog, I’d appreciate it if you’d remove the troll comments from MarkS. If he has a reasonable complaint about something I’ve posted fine, but this is just nonsense. (and remove this complaint as well.) Thanks,

      7. The problem is people still run gates. I’ve seen this where there is a four segment gate guarding a RR crossing and some idiot will still try to drive around. Thankfully I’ve never seen anyone hit by a train but anyone trying that stunt is in the running for a Darwin award.

        On another note for anyone who thinks conflicts between transit ROW and and regular traffic are unique to rail take a look at the Orange line BRT in LA. There are frequent collisions between buses and drivers who ignore the signals. Note this line should have been built as rail, the ridership is so high buses really can’t handle it, even with 80 double articulated coaches the transit agency is trying to get a waiver from Caltrans for. Unfortunately they will need to find funding to build it and change a stupid state law pushed through by a NIMBY legislator.

      8. Are you going to complain until we don’t have cars? Because if we turn that street into a pedestrian thoroughfare, we can eliminate most of these accidents…

      9. More on the LA Blue line here:
        http://fixexpo.blogspot.com/2009/01/meshkatis-op-ed-expo-line-approval.html

        looks like 821 accidents in 18 years is approx 45 accidents/year over 22 miles of track, is 2year/mile. If we translate that to the LINK…that’s 5 miles of ungated track on MLK, or 11 or so a year. (slightly less than 1 a month) Which is lower than the 1999 EIS forecast by more than 60%. We should be so lucky! And it’s looking like we are on par for it. (1 a month..)

        “This is the third incident involving a test train in Rainier Valley, where tracks run in a median at street level. Two were crashes with cars, and in one case, a person walked into the side of a train, according to Sound Transit.

        “We’ve been running 20 hours a day for over a month here.”

  9. While I appreciate the publicity and commentary, Seattle Transit Blog lead articles by Martin Duke and Eric Butler are misrepresenting CETA’s and my position on the accident risk introduced to Seattle by Sound Transit’s (and City of Seattle’s) light rail alignment on Martin Luther King, Jr. Way.

    The words “liable” and “liability” do not appear on the web page I wrote that explains the increased collision risk from Link’s design.

    We only mean this: Sound Transit’s at-grade design increases the probability of fatal collisions with trains, and the design should not have been built.

    The page to read if you want to know more about this issue is http://www.bettertransport.info/pitf/linksafetycertification.htm .

    My judgment that the at-grade design should not have been built relies upon the Federal Transit Administration document HAZARD ANALYSIS GUIDELINES FOR TRANSIT PROJECTS issued by the FTA in year 2000. There is a hot link to this document on my page, or go directly to
    http://transit-safety.volpe.dot.gov/publications/Safety/Hazard/HAGuidelines.pdf.

    It’s clear in that guideline that the light rail collision hazard described in the Central Link EIS that is engendered by its at-grade design is category Ic, meaning occasional (“likely to occur sometime in life of an item”) and catastrophic (can cause fatalities). This is a hazard category that is clearly termed “unacceptable” under the Guidelines cited. On page 10 of the Guidelines, the highest priority for corrective action for an unacceptable hazard is “design for minimum risk.” On page 12 is stated the safety principle, “Unacceptable hazards shall be eliminated by design.”

    As my own web page describes, the only way Sound Transit could get around this problem is to call collisions like the ones we are already seeing as “non-chargeable.” This is exactly what Sound Transit did.

    But there is nothing in the Hazard Guidelines about “non-chargeable” accidents.

    The Guidelines I cite are also available for easy online reading at http://books.google.com/books?id=4Gt3cEdGI2IC.

    1. Did you take a peek at that property I pointed out in Hillsboro, OR that faces a light rail line? And any of the two dozen or so homes that do so as well?

      You could also take a look at Banfield/Eastside MAX.

      1. I have digital photos of the MAX tracks running down a Hillsboro, Oregon street. With “street view” in Google Earth there are lots of opportunities for anybody to look at light rail tracks running in streets or street medians, for example, the new line in Phoenix.

        In Amsterdam, Holland I have observed electric streetcars quietly creeping up behind walkers on the track and ringing the bell to get them to move out of the way.

        Sound Transit’s configuration is NOT the least safe of urban passenger train tracks around the planet. Perhaps this makes some people feel good about Sound Transit’s design. Not me.

        By lowering the speed of the trains sufficiently, Sound Transit could make the tracks along MLK Jr. Way much safer. But that would make the train less useful as a transportation service.

      2. There is minimal signage, and MAX runs its normal in-street speed in that part of the alignment. I don’t think it’s speed, I simply think it’s making drivers aware of an onrushing train. With MAX running in front of homes where lots of kids live and play, you would think accidents in that particular section would be more common, but they’re not. That’s why I’m wondering if it’s culture or the color of thet rains.

        Personally as an aside, I think you could make lots of money if you designed a driver notification system with an inaudible alert. Colored lanes? In-street flashing lights? A big sign that says “Camera Running, you will be fined $X for intentionally crossing when signals are on”?

      3. Lower train speed below automobile speed? Come again?

        Let me guess: you don’t think buses should be speed limited on the freeway or on city streets.

      4. AJ: In the long run, all kinds of vehicles on urban streets — cars, trucks, buses, trains — will have better anti-collision technologies installed that reduce the risk of collisions. Some high-end automobiles already have radar-assisted cruise control and automatic braking. I suspect that over time — many years — the frequency of train-vehicle collisions on the MLK segment of Central Link will decrease. That hope is counterbalanced by whatever implications come out of the investigation of last week’s awful tragedy on the WMATA Metro Rail Red Line when the combination of an automated system and a train operator looking ahead failed to prevent a fatal collision.

  10. So this was an intersection that normally allows turns, it was just that the guy ran a red light? Sheesh.

    The earlier train/auto collision a month or two ago was further north at MLK and Dawson, a left turn at an intersection where they are not allowed, so it may have been a different situation. The thing I noticed about that one is that, unlike the intersections where turns are allowed, the intersection doesn’t have one of those big flashing “TRAIN IS COMING” lights. It could be a good thing to put those in at intersections like Dawson that do allow cross traffic but not left turns, because you know that is where people are going to be stupid and turn anyway. And the signs alert pedestrians too, which can’t hurt. How many cross streets are there that are like Dawson and do allow cross traffic but don’t have train warning signs for the MLK traffic?

  11. I think the small number of accidents (in comparison to Phoenix and Houston, of course) shows either a cultural difference or higher awareness in Seattle. Could it be the color of the trains? Transports en Commun Lyonnais picked white trams for visibility and safety from what I recall, and it’s worked. I would do the needful and go back and read through all those vision docs for the vehicle procurement, but that means translating and that leads to semantic bias.

    Our best-case example would be Westside MAX, where MAX rolls within 30 feet of front doors in Hillsboro, and yet, the few and rare accidents occur in wildly illegal ways, like people opening fences to sneak onto the alignment and getting whacked from behind by a MAX train, something that happened earlier this year. Or the dude who drove into the Robertson Tunnel. Banfield/Eastside MAX would lead to one particular argument that is ostensibly relevant to the Rainier Valley alignment, and I’m not going there.

  12. I did want to note that according to the Seattle Times article it took an hour an a half to clear this accident. (Accident at 5pm, cleared at 6:30pm train tests resumed)

    http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2009400030_traincrash30m.html

    That’s a lot of service interruption (I estimate 10 trains an hour each way, with six minute headways). Does anyone have a link to what the plan is to move the riders when this sort of thing happens again? A bus for the whole route? Run the trains to each side of the accident and trade passengers?

    1. From experiences in Portland, they will run shuttles for the duration from the stop closest to the accident both inbound and outbound. Of course, in 2 years, I only had this happen twice, and at peak hours… it was somewhat crowded, but Trimet ran the buses pretty quickly and close together so it wasn’t too bad, just bumpy and a lot slower. Had a co-worker call in to complain and Trimet sent them a bunch of tickets for their trouble, so it can’t be too bad for a bit of a hassle! ;)

      For the record, the issue is generally the scope in which the police are investigating, so it’s really not up to Sound Transit to have a policy beyond shuttling folks since cops have to document absolutely everything.

      1. A single stop bus shuttle seems like a reasonable solution to a problem we all hope happens infrequently. Thanks.

      2. Gosh, “we all hope”. Nice jab.

        Notice about how often it happens in Portland – where it’s far less separated than it is here?

  13. fine then heres a solution… close all the grade crossings along MLK and fence the RoW. afterall safety should come before conveinence.

    1. There are gates along the intersections in the SODO area.. They could have put them in place on MLK. If noise is the issue, stop the bell clanging after 9pm and just use flashing lights. Better to be hit by the bar than the train.

      1. I really don’t know how you can say that. While Rainier Valley has a higher proportion of African-Americans than the city as a whole, it also has a large number of Asians, Hispanics, and yes even whites.

  14. What we really have here is a “perfect storm” of driver ignorance. In the old days we had our share of bad drivers, but if you screwed up, you felt terrible- and I mean that literally. Even if you didn’t stab yourself with the steering wheel or dash your brains out on the dashboard, accidents were something to try to avoid.

    But today, cars are safe. Run them off the road, cross the centerline, whatever, the worst you’re likely to feel is a ringing in your ears from the airbags. It’s evolution going backwards.

    The one thing that might help would be to put a front on the streetcar of big rusty saw blades, axe blades, and oversized barbed wire. The same person who calmly contemplates complete disaster in his airbagged car will scream like a child at the thought of the paint getting scratched.

    A friend of mine replaced a front bumper with a rusty I-beam once, and he said it was just wonderful, how careful the other drivers were around him.

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