Why Light Rail is a Bad Idea

On Monday the Associated Press ran a story about the Blue Line and its dubious history of of accidents with pedestrians and vehicles. The story is a shining example of why trains, cars and people should not share the road, and why light rail is a bad idea.

Now in its 20th year of operation, Blue Line trains have had 875 collisions with pedestrians or vehicles. There have been 101 deaths, 23 of which were ruled suicides. Accidents ranged from blind and deaf people wandering onto the tracks, to unimpaired people running onto the tracks trying to beat the train, to drivers running red lights with the same idea.

The MTA is working on the problems, installing video cameras, gates and whatever it can think of to keep people off of the tracks when trains are approaching. The problem is not limited to Los Angeles — light rail systems all over the country are battling the same dilemma.

The only solution is not to build trains at grade. There is nothing that can be done with the Blue Line and its 103 crossings. But future lines should not be built this way. The Expo Line extension to Santa Monica, for example, is being largely built on an already existing right-of-way. But there will be parts of it that will be on the road with cars and people. They should figure out a way to build bridges in these areas so the trains can travel safely.

I have previously championed the idea of a monorail system for Los Angeles, much to the chagrin of some of my readers. If you don’t like the idea of monorails, fine. But you’re got to at least admit that there must be a way to figure out a way to keep trains separate from traffic and pedestrians.

Of course a subway would achieve that goal, but I think the expense and the decades-long disruptions to the city while building it are not worth it. Besides, if it will take 25 years to build a single subway tunnel up Wilshire from downtown to the VA Hospital, how long would it take to build a comprehensive, city-wide system? 200 years? We can’t wait that long. We need relief now.

4 comments for “Why Light Rail is a Bad Idea

  1. Richard H
    December 28, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    A couple of miles to the east of the Blue Line, the Alameda Corridor was dug to grade separate freight trains running from L.A./Long Beach Harbor to Downtown L.A. from the cross traffic. The rationale was not public safety but to cut the travel time of the freight trains through Los Angeles. A similar trench was dug through Alhambra years earlier. Time is money and moving the freight trains through Los Angeles is worth the expense of grade separation. A side benefit is that it also helps ease traffic congestion by getting the freight trains off of the streets.

    The Blue Line is grade separated at a few crossings. It was a disappointment that it couldn’t be grade separated at more intersections. I’m sure if it was freight being moved, instead of poor people, the grade separation would have been like the Alameda Corridor.

    The Houston Metrorail is now the most dangerous light rail line in the country, if I am correct. More dangerous than the LACMTA Blue Line.

    A few Youtube videos of Houston Metrorail train/car collisions:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwcYcedLxZc

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CV2rdGX4JYc

  2. midnight fapper
    February 3, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    so once you remove the suicides from the list, less than four people a year die from light rail accidents. i’m willing to be the overwhelming majority weren’t “deaf and blind people who wandered onto the tracks”, rather unsafe drivers who challenged a train.

    i’m certain these unsafe drivers obey all traffic rules and are extremely cautious 99.999% of the time. when they see that big bad metro blue line (at grade! gasp!) all hell breaks loose and they lose all sanity. dr. jekyll and mr. hyde style. therefore, we should ban the dangerous trains.

    if you don’t enjoy wasting your life in traffic, circling the block forever to find parking, and paying $4/gallon for this “pleasure” just get a motorcycle. it’s that simple.

  3. ScoJo
    February 9, 2011 at 11:59 am

    How is 78 deaths in 20 years a problem? Especially when you say they come from people trying to beat the train or running a red light. I’ll bet more than 3.9 people per year get hit by cars on a comparable stretch of road. Maybe people shouldn’t be allowed to be pedestrians either.

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