“Houston, We Have a Light Rail Problem”

Houston MetroRailIn the 1960s Houston, like many U.S. cities, decided to abandon its streetcar network. Thirty years later it decided it wanted it back, in its modern form, light rail. On January 1, 2004, its new METRORail system began operation… And then everybody crashed into it.
Houston’s light rail crash rate was 25 times the national average during its first quarter of operations. And what makes this figure even more ridiculous is that the system is almost idiot-proof.
Anybody who has ever been to a European city with a tram network will most likely have experienced how cars often share roadway with rail vehicles and cross separated track like it’s no big deal. Every time I drive to work, for example, I have to turn and cross dedicated tram trackage onto a small side road, which has no traffic light or even a warning light to warn me of an incoming tram, many of which are the new ULF trams which apart from a quiet electric hum, make virtually no noise what so ever. It’s simply no big deal.
Here’s some of the safety features Houston’s METRORail has:

  • Apart from left turn lanes on a couple blocks on a medical campus, cars never share the road with the light rail system. On the medical campus there’s overhead signaling that bans cars from these lanes when a train is close.
  • Pedestrians are only allowed to cross the track at designated points, which, get this, force them to walk a zig-zag pattern, so that they are “forced” to look both ways.
  • Cars can only cross the track at full-blown intersections. Crossings like that part of my work commute don’t exist.

You can check out the ridiculous safety video below. It’d be virtually impossible to count the number of intersections that Vienna has that are identical to the one featured in this clip. Yet somehow, barely anyone ever manages to collide with a rail-bound vehicle. There’s also a historic Vienna tram safety video, which is also quite hilarious. Simply click on the screenshots to see the videos.

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