Skip to comments.METRORail and Me ~ A Frustrating Experience with Houston's Light Rail
Posted on 01/27/2004 5:11:21 AM PST by Flyer
METRORail and Me
I gave our new METRORail a chance at showing me it had practical applications. Most of us probably agree that this first 7.5 mile stretch of light rail does nothing to reduce traffic congestion and is not a commuting solution. It does, however, offer some practical niche uses such as easier access to the Medical Center for staff and visitors.
My Dad is recovering from surgery at Park Plaza Hospital on Herman Drive, just one block from the rail's Museum District northbound station. I drove there several times, sometimes parking in a garage and sometimes at metered parking on nearby streets. The drive time ran about 15 - 20 minutes and the most I paid for parking was $6.
The usual route I drove took me past the Fannin Park and Ride lot just south of 610. On Monday morning, January 26, I pulled into that lot and paid my $2 to park and bought a rail day pass for $2. (Maximum monetary savings: $2) The Museum District station is the 7th northbound stop, about halfway of the total route. The total travel time, from home to the hospital door, was about 15 minutes longer than driving. (Maximum time savings: minus 15 minutes)
I left the hospital at about 1:30 and walked the 2 blocks to the southbound Museum District station. A young couple already waiting told me it was going to be a while, the train had another accident. I looked up Fannin and 2 blocks away sat the train, an ambulance, many police cars and a bus. The bus soon went past, full of passengers, but with the route sign showing "Not in Service". I assumed there would be more buses to follow to fill in for the disabled train. In the mean time I walked the 2 blocks and got some pictures (below).
I returned to the Museum District station to wait for a bus. I rarely ride the regular bus routes, but I do know that the #8 route would get me home. But I needed to get to my car at the Fannin Park and Ride and I had no idea how or if I could get there on other routes. So I was stuck.
Eventually the damaged train came southbound. It stopped at our station and a Metro employee on board told us the southbound line was closed and we could catch a train going south on the northbound tracks. Several other people and I headed around the corner and a train was stopped at the northbound station. As I was about 100 feet from it, it pulled out southbound.
I wait for the next train, but the next one is northbound. I figure they are alternating, sending one north and then one south. The next train is northbound, too. As it is stopped someone gets the operators attention and asks where our southbound train is. He tells us the southbound line is reopened. I return to the southbound station and get on the next train. The total travel time, from hospital door to home, was about and hour and 40 minutes. (Maximum time savings: minus 1 hour, 20 minutes)
I saved two bucks on parking, but lost a a total of an hour and 45 minutes of time. Some recommendations for METRORail:
Get some modified buses with doors on both sides (most of the train stations board on the left)
Have these buses on standby to fill in when the train is disabled.
Utilize the signs, speakers or METRO employees to alert people waiting that there is a delay.
Don't charge for parking at the Park and Ride lot.
Think long and hard before you spend billions more building additional rail lines that share the streets with the regular traffic.
As always, a FReep mail will get you on or off this Houston topics ping list.
All hail Leepy Brown! ;-)
The latest light rail crash brought the number to ten. It's still not known if the automated warning system was working Monday afternoon at the sight of the accident near the Texas Medical Center. But it was working Monday night.
The surprising thing about that particular warning sign at Fannin at Southmore is that it only lights up when a train is approaching, otherwise it's dark, with no indication for drivers that it's a Metro train warning sign.
Once the sign was activated it was just over ten seconds before the train passed, meaning a driver in that lane would only have seconds to get out of the way.
So, even if it was on, and the woman behind the wheel saw it, perhaps she wouldn't have had enough time to react to keep from turning. Going left at the intersection is legal. Passengers said the rail operator did all he could to stop, and they were scared.
The woman that was in the car is in serious condition.
But what have drivers been doing downtown?
Despite all the safety push, many people still just don't seem to get it. At one point Monday afternoon a truck turned left in front of a train and was missed by just inches.
"It's very unsafe and clearly not something that we want to have happen," said Metro Police Chief Tom Lambert
Early Monday morning, just before 1:30 a.m. a crowd was gathering on Main, cars and limos were lined up around the block. A truck's driver thought he found a short cut, but ended up stopped on the platform and both tracks for several minutes until the train came and the truck backed off.
All this happened with an HPD officer just feet away.
"In every circumstance we have to learn from that experience for example," said Lambert. "We'll have some further conversations with HPD to see how we can further leverage our partnership."
The biggest concern is when light rail trains run through the Main Event with just some new barriers to keep partygoers away.
If Metro Police thinks that at any time conditions do become unsafe the train will stop running at the Downtown Transit Center at Main and St. Joseph Parkway. A two-car feeder train will run back and forth to the gates at Walker. People will also be able to use the Metro Buses circulating in the downtown core.
Another concern is pedicabs. They've been seen running all over the tracks, even Monday evening, despite what drivers like Maurice Williams have been instructed. Still he thinks they're doing a good job policing themselves. "As much as I can see I haven't had any accidents, you know," said Williams. "That's the only way I can rate my success is by the accident count and we haven't had any yet."
Williams said that the pedicabs that are on the tracks the most are from out of town. They are here just for Super Bowl week and that is part of the problem.
To help combat potential trouble Metro is adding a new shift in the downtown core just to look for potential trouble on the rails.
By my count, the actual Death Train carnage is also 9.
I don't think that MetroFail is going to want to broadcast news of their problems to the masses.
I predict that the rail may be shut down for "further study" after the All Star Game (the other big people mover event in Houston this year). Shutting it down before the ASG would be akin to admitting that it poses a safety threat making it unlikely to reopened in time for that game.
If the accident cycle continues, there may be no other choice but to shut it down before that game.
Any wagers on how many voters would have voted down MetroFail2 last year if they have seen the Wham Bam Thank You Tram in action?
It happened again -- another accident involving a METRO light rail train and a passenger vehicle. This time the accident occurred at the corner of Main and McGowen. The car was traveling north on Main, trying to make a left turn on McGowen and it got pinned up, apparently panicking the driver.
So far there have been 11 such accidents, and METRO rail has only been up and running for less than a month.
Driver Quien Lu was visibly shaken and confused after the accident. He said he saw the green light, but not the no turn signal. Lu was trying to make a left turn from north on Main to west on McGowen.
Eyewitness Velmarine Szabo asserted, "It was the (car's) driver that was at fault. The (train) slowed (the operator) blew (the whistle) he gave every warning that he could. He tried to visibly stop the train."
No one was hurt, but the passengers on board the train say it happened so quickly. Thorne Dobbins was sitting right behind the train engineer.
He said, "I heard him say, 'Oh no!' and hit the brakes. You could feel the braking, and then the collision."
This brings to 11 the number of accidents involving the METRO light rail. It is the second such accident in two days. Witnesses suggest the signage may be the problem.
"I don't know. It's not that well marked, I don't think, for people to see," said Dobbins. "You can't turn left here, turn left there It's all so changed up."
And Mayor Bill White seems to agree.
"I think we need to do a better job of communication and signage because we can't continue at this rate," he said.
There were no serious injuries in Tuesday afternoon's accident. But more and more we're hearing that inconsistency seems to be a problem for a lot of the people who are monitoring the situation. Sometimes you can drive on the tracks, sometimes you can't. Sometimes you can take a left turn over the tracks, sometimes you can't. Eyewitness News will continue to follow up with METRO on possible changes to the system.
(Copyright © 2004, KTRK-TV)
Steve Ueckert / ChroniclePhong Lu reacts to the train crash this afternoon at Main and McGowan.
A minivan crossing the Main Street MetroRail tracks this afternoon was hit by a train.
Quyen Lu was driving his sister, Phuong Lu, northbound on Main Street today about 2:35 p.m. when he turned left onto westbound McGowan.
The Toyota minivan they were in was struck broadside by a southbound MetroRail train.
Kristine Mguyen, riding the train for the first time, saw the collision. She stayed at the scene to translate English to Vietnamese for the Lus.
Phuong Lu was bruised and shaken but able to walk around. There were no serious injuries and rail service was only temporarily interrupted.
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