Light rail – The safest public transit mode!

The following item is from Phoenix’s METRO Rail and addresses the safety issue of light rail. Much is said about the safety of on-street light rail or streetcars safety, especially at intersections, yet statistical analysis shows that a light rail/tram automobile intersection is much safer than an automobile automobile intersection. Accidents will happen and in the vast majority of cases of a tram/auto collision, it is the motorist who is at fault. Of course, those who decry at-grade/on-street ‘rail’ operation never mention that SkyTrain annual death rate is two to three times higher than Calgary’s C-Train death rate.

The recent non-fatal accident on Seattle’s new hybrid LRT system, caused by a car driver deliberately disobeying a traffic signal and driving in front of a moving tram, was given prominent display by major media, including national media over several days.

1 Seattle tram accident

Yet this fatal accident, with a school bus is given just a footnote in the local media, as it was too common place!.

1 bus and car crash

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1 Phoenix LRT

Statistics indicate that light rail is by far a safer mode of transportation than other forms of motorized travel.

During the twelve-year period from 1994 through 2005, the National Center for Statistics and Analysis reports a fatality rate for all street and highway accidents of approximately 42,887 every year. According to the United States Bureau of Transportation Statistics, public transportation represents only about 0.004 percent of that national average and light rail only about 0.0003 percent.

The following statistics, available from the United States Bureau of Transportation Statistics, are taken from 1990 through 2002. They indicate that light rail is one of the safest forms of public transportation.

Transit Safety Data by Mode for All Reported Accidents (1990-2002)

Average Annual Overall Public Transporation Fatalities 178
Motor Bus 84
Heavy Rail 30
Commuter Rail 48
Light Rail 11

[Source: United States Bureau of Transportation Statistics]

With over 42,000 street and highway deaths recorded every year in the U.S., light rail is statistically one of the safest modes of motorized travel. Of the light rail accidents that do occur, 47 percent in 1998 involved cars making left turns in front of light rail vehicles. 51% of all the accidents on the Long Beach LRT line since July 1990 were the result of vehicles making improper left turns. [Source: Light Rail Now]

This improper left hand turn phenomena is not specific to light rail. It’s not uncommon for motor vehicle drivers to make improper left hand turns that cause accidents. Once in a while they also make these wrong turns in front of light rail vehicles.

In a 2002 statement before the Subcommittee On Highways And Transit Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure in the U.S. House Of Representatives, Mary E. Peters, Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration said “Transit has an enviable safety record. Across all modes of public transportation, accidents per million passenger miles decreased by nearly 28 percent between 1993 and 1999; transit passenger injuries per million passenger miles declined nearly 24 percent; and fatalities rates remained stable at .008 deaths per million passenger miles. Largely as a result of technological advances, both light rail and heavy rail showed very significant declines in accidents and injury rates.”
[Source: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration]

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