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Houston appears on track for 40 crashes in first year
Houston Chronicle ^ | January 28, 2004 | LUCAS WALL

Posted on 01/28/2004 5:44:33 AM PST by Dog Gone

Rail collisions worrisome

The crash rate between MetroRail trains and vehicles has far exceeded that of other cities with new rail lines, prompting Metro officials Tuesday to consider more safety modifications.

Since Friday, there have been three crashes involving Metropolitan Transit Authority light rail trains, including incidents Monday and Tuesday where drivers made illegal left turns.

A collision Tuesday marked the 10th wreck since testing began in the fall. Five occurred during the testing phase and five more have taken place since passenger service commenced Jan. 1.

Those numbers are much higher than recent experiences in Salt Lake City and Los Angeles, the two cities before Houston to open light rail segments.

In Los Angeles, there have been two crashes since the Gold Line between downtown and Pasadena opened in June, said Ed Scannell, a spokesman for that county's Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

In Salt Lake City, there was one crash involving a TRAX train and a vehicle during the testing phase of the Medical Center extension and zero incidents since passenger service began in September, said Marti Money, a Utah Transit Authority spokeswoman.

It is difficult to compare light rail systems among cities because they have different lengths, number of intersections crossed and traffic conditions. But it does appear Houston is on its way to eclipsing other cities when it comes to the number of cars hitting trains.

At this pace, the Bayou City is on track for 40 light rail collisions in the first year of the 7 1/2-mile Main Street line. That would match the total of the Blue Line that connects Los Angeles and Long Beach, which has averaged 42 collisions between trains and vehicles during 13 years of operation. The Blue Line, however, is three times as long as the Main Street line here.

In Dallas, the only other Texas city with a light rail transit system, there were 19 crashes involving trains for the first year and a half after Dallas Area Rapid Transit opened its first line in June 1996. Morgan Lyons, Dallas Area Rapid Transit spokesman, said his system experienced 17 collisions between trains and vehicles last year.

Denver averages about 20 vehicles hitting light rail trains per year, according to statistics provided by the Regional Transportation District.

Some Houston drivers are concerned about the escalating numbers here.

"I am terrified of the thing," said Philip Brown. "It's dangerous. I am extra careful driving around this."

Brown, who used the drive-through Tuesday afternoon at Whitney bank near Fannin and Southmore, said he's worked in the area for more than 20 years and isn't used to trains coming down the street. He was surprised there's no standard railroad-crossing gate at the bank's driveway onto Fannin, only a sign that lights up when a train approaches and two yellow lights that blink.

Monday's collision occurred at Fannin and Southmore, which is in the Museum District. A video aboard the Metro train shows Traci Champine turning left from the center lane of Fannin onto Southmore, smacking into the train. A sign at that intersection lights up indicating no left turns are permitted when trains are approaching.

Transit officials say nothing could have prevented Tuesday's crash. Not only did Quyen Lu ignore two "no left turn" signs, said Metro Police Chief Tom Lambert, he failed to yield while making the turn and drove straight into the train's path.

Lambert and other transit authority executives said, however, they have asked their engineers to examine signals in the Museum District, where turns are generally permitted except when signs illuminate. Several drivers complained Tuesday that the illuminated signs can be hard to see, especially when the sun is shining bright. Also, the signs are positioned over the center lane, not the left lane where motorists are supposed to turn from.

John Sedlak, Metro's vice president in charge of engineering, said his staff will consider modifying the signal system to turn traffic signals red in every direction when a train approaches. Engineers did not set the system that way because they wanted to keep traffic moving, he said. But, Sedlak added, a change might be necessary to alleviate some of the safety concerns.

Drivers might respond better to a red light than an illuminated "no left turn" sign, he said. A decision on any signal changes is expected within a week.

"We were looking to make sure we were balancing traffic movements with transit movements," he said. "It may be that we need to give transit an additional priority because of these illegal movements that continue to occur."

With some 100,000 Super Bowl visitors descending on the city this week, some Houstonians are concerned about the impact train crashes will have on the city's image. Metro is installing a pedestrian barricade to safeguard Super Bowl partiers from the trains in the Main Event zone downtown this weekend and there is a plan to turn trains back if crowds compromise the ability to safely operate.

Since the first train-car crash Nov. 19, the transit authority has added additional signs along the rail line, put yellow reflectors next to the train tracks, and run TV commercials promoting safety, among other measures.

Matt Noll of Clear Lake, buying flowers with his fiancee, Donna Bright, Tuesday in the Museum District, said relatives in Pennsylvania have mentioned hearing about the light rail troubles in Super Bowl news reports.

Noll said Metro should install a guardrail between the train tracks and traffic lanes. Only small white humps mark the barrier now.

Bright said simply assuming all drivers will pay proper attention to the new transit mode is presumptuous. She acknowledged just having inadvertently made an illegal left turn herself while trying to find the Flower Garden.

"I mean, gosh, I turned right in here and I wasn't supposed to," she said. "If you live right here, then sure you could pay more attention, but if you don't, then you don't know any better."


TOPICS: News/Current Events; US: Texas
KEYWORDS: accidents; boondoggle; collisions; deathtrain; houston; houstondeathtrain; houstonrail; lightrail; metro; metrofailrail; metrorail; quagmire; rail; record; recordsetting; taxdollarsatwork; texas; transportation; whambamthankyoutram; worldrecord
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1 posted on 01/28/2004 5:44:34 AM PST by Dog Gone
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To: Dog Gone
Here's an idea: STOP SUBSIDIZING LIGHT RAIL WITH MY TAX MONEY!

They have been trying to push light rail service east of Nashville for about 10 years despite the fact that ALL surveys show that it will NEVER even come close to paying for itself.
2 posted on 01/28/2004 5:55:34 AM PST by Blood of Tyrants (Even if the government took all your earnings, you wouldn’t be, in its eyes, a slave.)
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To: Blood of Tyrants
The people who control Houston plan a 70 mile extension of this light rail line in the coming years. So we should expect about 400 cars a year to get demolished by the Death Trains.

And it will do nothing to alleviate the real traffic problem, which is suburban residents commuting to work. This megabillion fiasco will serve only the core of the city.

3 posted on 01/28/2004 6:01:07 AM PST by Dog Gone
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To: Dog Gone
Don't disagree with you about the economics of light rail systems, but....

A little Darwinian culling of the pool of drivers might not be such a bad thing.
4 posted on 01/28/2004 6:07:23 AM PST by Lonely NY Conservative
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To: Lonely NY Conservative
The first wreck involved a newsbabe for the local NBC television station. I got a kick out of that.
5 posted on 01/28/2004 6:11:57 AM PST by Dog Gone
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To: Dog Gone
I spent the last 4 months working in Houston and witessed the start-up of this debacle. It amazes me that any civil engineer would consider running a train through the middle of a large town, what with stop lights, crossing traffic etc.

If the politicians had made this train an elevated rail like that in parts of the NYC boroughs and Chicago, where the train runs over the street, all these traffic accidents might have been prevented.

6 posted on 01/28/2004 6:12:36 AM PST by par4
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To: Dog Gone
Is it just me or is there a common theme to the accidents?
7 posted on 01/28/2004 6:13:23 AM PST by Bikers4Bush (Constitution party here I come. Write in Tancredo in 04'!)
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To: par4
My guess is that the elevated option was far too expensive.
8 posted on 01/28/2004 6:14:25 AM PST by Bikers4Bush (Constitution party here I come. Write in Tancredo in 04'!)
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To: Dog Gone
Yesterday the total went up to 11. I have a solution for them. Get rid of the @%*$! train. It was bad enough trying to figure out where you can turn downtown and they've just made it worse. Glad I live and work in the burbs.
9 posted on 01/28/2004 6:14:30 AM PST by girlscout
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People who are always railing against the light rail have limited vision.

The city of Houston desperately needs new traffic planning, which metro is trying to do. Their long term plan will improve the traffic in this city, but the short term will provide numerous headaches and constant bickering. A lot of this planning involves "social engineering" - basically, trying to infuse the inner loop with mid-to-hi-rise living, providing a more dense metroplex that can be services by short bus routes and rail. Houston is way to spread out. Anyone who lives here can attest to a typical day in traffic - it is absolutely horrendous.

I've lived here for 26 years. The new downtown renovation and street projects are great. I work downtown and adjust to the headaches because I know that streets can't be put in overnight. Everyone in this town just bitches, like a bunch of fricking sissies. Get over it. The streets are being completely ripped out, and not just paved over. This hasn't happened since the early 1900's. They are finding old railroad relics buried in the soil. The new streets are very nice, solid concrete, and will last 20+ years.

I'm an optimist and see a better future for Houston. Until then, I'll put up with the headaches and the stupid drivers...
10 posted on 01/28/2004 6:15:24 AM PST by blabs
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To: Dog Gone
SEND IN THE SUV's

ATTACK...ATTACK
11 posted on 01/28/2004 6:15:29 AM PST by Dog Anchor
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To: Bikers4Bush
Left turn in front of oncoming.... except the cagers are on the backside of the physics curve in this instance. :)
12 posted on 01/28/2004 6:16:14 AM PST by Tijeras_Slim (Come see the violence inherent in the system!)
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To: girlscout
And why have you not joined any Houston Area Texans gatherings?
13 posted on 01/28/2004 6:16:20 AM PST by Xenalyte (I may not agree with your bumper sticker, but I'll defend to the death your right to stick it)
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To: blabs
Yes, utopians who love social engineering and who live in the innercity love the concept.

The rest of the people in the greater metropolitan area get to pay for it, but receive no benefit.

14 posted on 01/28/2004 6:32:06 AM PST by Dog Gone
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To: Dog Gone
Including the commuters who are being taxed without representation.
15 posted on 01/28/2004 6:34:42 AM PST by Bikers4Bush (Constitution party here I come. Write in Tancredo in 04'!)
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To: Tijeras_Slim
Lol!
16 posted on 01/28/2004 6:36:16 AM PST by Bikers4Bush (Constitution party here I come. Write in Tancredo in 04'!)
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To: Bikers4Bush
It is sorta sweet, ain't it?
17 posted on 01/28/2004 6:37:14 AM PST by Tijeras_Slim (Come see the violence inherent in the system!)
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To: Bikers4Bush
Illegal left hand turns...
18 posted on 01/28/2004 6:39:29 AM PST by mewzilla
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To: Tijeras_Slim
Cracks me up.
19 posted on 01/28/2004 6:44:35 AM PST by Bikers4Bush (Constitution party here I come. Write in Tancredo in 04'!)
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To: Blood of Tyrants
and it goes right past the airport, the one place where it might do some good, without stopping
20 posted on 01/28/2004 6:47:44 AM PST by babble-on
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To: Lonely NY Conservative
At least, folks might start to use their rear-view mirrors. This is a good thing.
21 posted on 01/28/2004 6:49:20 AM PST by 1rudeboy
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To: Dog Gone; blabs
Yes, utopians who love social engineering and who live in the innercity love the concept.

The rest of the people in the greater metropolitan area get to pay for it, but receive no benefit.

Dittos from one of the payers. Screw downtown. It's irrelevent to most of us.

22 posted on 01/28/2004 6:53:09 AM PST by jimt
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To: Dog Gone
Reminds me of an accident I witnessed in Toronto a few years back. I was a passenger on a streetcar when a spatially challenged motorist tried to cut in front of us and hit the side of the streetcar, she tried to blame the streetcar driver. She asked him why he didn't swerve out of the way.
23 posted on 01/28/2004 6:54:51 AM PST by Squawk 8888 (Earth first! We can mine the other planets later.)
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To: blabs
People who are always railing against the light rail have limited vision.

A $350 million rail line -- on the ground thru a major city -- that goes nowhere and that nobody rides. And you call that vision?

I've lived in Houston for a long time. I've seen some nutty things, but this toy train to nowhere is the nuttiest.

24 posted on 01/28/2004 7:10:56 AM PST by Al B.
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This has nothing to do with Utopia, and everything to do with relieving one of the most clogged traffic nightmares in America. I lived in the suburbs (Clear Lake, Friendswood, Pearland, CyFair, Westpark/Richmond, and other various places) and traffic sucks coming and going. An hour each way, without an accident. The freeways can't be widened much further. The only thing left to do is stack the freeways, or run commuter rail. How many more billions will we invest in concrete?

Rail is the only way to go (unless we get flying cars, God help us). The light rail will be the hub of downtown and the Med center, and all rail lines will meet there. The med center has traffic over 250,000 people per day. Thats $$ in the eyes of metro, and I can almost guarantee that the city will ensure that they get it.

This city is very diverse, many people like the suburbs, many people like inner city. Both should be equally represented. Personally, I will not live in the suburbs again until they get commuter rail installed...two hours a day in traffic, 10 hours a week, 500+ hours a year....that's a lot of time I now enjoy with my family. My 10 minute commute is great, and my property value has increased 3 fold in 5 years. I'm not bitching...enjoying the ride, pitying the people who waste their life away sucking smog.
25 posted on 01/28/2004 7:31:28 AM PST by blabs
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To: Xenalyte
And why have you not joined any Houston Area Texans gatherings?

I live in the Clear Lake area and avoid Houston at all costs.

26 posted on 01/28/2004 7:31:30 AM PST by girlscout
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To: Bikers4Bush
Is it just me or is there a common theme to the accidents?

Couldn't be all those illegal left-hand turns those cage drivers are taking, could it?

27 posted on 01/28/2004 7:34:21 AM PST by Johnny_Cipher (Miserable failure = http://www.michaelmoore.com/ sounds good to me!)
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Comment #28 Removed by Moderator

To: jimt
If it's so irrelevant, why are so many people trying to get into it every day? Last time I checked, every freeway in the morning is stacked with people trying to come into town, and every evening it is stacked with people leaving it.

The suburbs are a result of Houston, and not vice versa.
29 posted on 01/28/2004 7:45:35 AM PST by blabs
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To: babble-on
If you call two miles away "right past".
30 posted on 01/28/2004 7:48:26 AM PST by Blood of Tyrants (Even if the government took all your earnings, you wouldn’t be, in its eyes, a slave.)
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To: Blood of Tyrants
you make a fine point there. still, seems like it would probably make the difference between having 5 riders a day and 500 riders a day (still a gigantic money sink either way, no doubt.)
31 posted on 01/28/2004 8:07:15 AM PST by babble-on
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To: blabs
People are "trying to get into it" because of tax subsidized development downtown.

And it's hard to get into because of the social engineering of our freeways.

The overwhelming majority of jobs in the Houston area are outside downtown.

BTW, it's "stacked" going OUTBOUND on I-10, at least the level of inbound, over the distance I drive daily.
32 posted on 01/28/2004 8:13:59 AM PST by jimt
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To: blabs
Why does it have to be rail? Why not just buy more busses and expand routes? Wouldn't that be cheaper and take cars off the streets?
33 posted on 01/28/2004 8:26:28 AM PST by Guvmint_Cheese
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To: Guvmint_Cheese
Yes it would, but that would not increase the value of the downtown and midtown assest of the people backing lightrail. This does nothing but waste money and enrich a few people.
34 posted on 01/28/2004 8:28:32 AM PST by RiflemanSharpe (An American for a more socially and fiscally conservation America!)
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To: Dog Gone
The new motto of Metro: "We will get those cars off the road, one at a time if that is what it takes."
35 posted on 01/28/2004 8:30:28 AM PST by RiflemanSharpe (An American for a more socially and fiscally conservation America!)
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To: Dog Gone
These accidents appear to be the vehicle operators fault not the train engineer. Notice how many times the word 'illegal' shows up. People backing out of a driveway in front of an oncoming train, hmm, illegal aliens or stupid Americans. Truck drives past crossing arm ? See above
36 posted on 01/28/2004 8:30:35 AM PST by B4Ranch ( Dear Mr. President, Sir, Are you listening to the voters?)
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To: Guvmint_Cheese
Busses are just another traffic hinderance. Their also noisy, spread diesel deposits which are proven to cause cancer, and have to constantly be maintained. IMO, we need to move towards a more resourceful and futuristic way to commute. Rail looks to be the best alternative.
37 posted on 01/28/2004 8:31:10 AM PST by blabs
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To: Squawk 8888
"She asked him why he didn't swerve out of the way."

Are you kidding?

38 posted on 01/28/2004 8:31:28 AM PST by B4Ranch ( Dear Mr. President, Sir, Are you listening to the voters?)
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To: RiflemanSharpe
DING DING DING! Exactly! There are only a few folks who will really benefit here, but there is no overal financial or transportation benefit to be found. If a bus was used instead along the light rail route, you could have used the existing road capacity. Putting light rail in actually took up part of the available road capacity, potentially making congestion worse.

I can't see the benefit of this line over running busses along the same route.
39 posted on 01/28/2004 8:35:04 AM PST by Guvmint_Cheese
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To: Bikers4Bush
Is it just me or is there a common theme to the accidents?

Well, let's see...

10 incidents.

7 hitting vehicles making illegal left turns
2 hitting cars coming out of driveways
1 hitting a truck bypassing a crossing arm

It would appear that illegal left turns are quite the norm in Houston.

40 posted on 01/28/2004 8:35:11 AM PST by N. Theknow (Be a glowworm, a glowworm's never glum, cuz how can you be grumpy when the sun shines out your bum.)
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To: blabs
Trains that are in the road are more of a traffic hinderance than busses ever could be, as these accidents clearly demonstrates. The tracks are omni-present, in order to keep the tracks clear for the train they have to change traffic laws and basically leave that former lane completely useless to cars. Even when busses get a dedicated lane they can cohabitate with existing traffic and don't need to rewrite laws. Trains suck, that's all there is to it, they cost a lot, don't get the ridership necessary to make themselves a good investment, and they're ugly. Trains were replaced by cars, trying to make them the traffic solution of the future is going backwards.
41 posted on 01/28/2004 8:36:55 AM PST by discostu (are you in the pocket of the moment)
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To: Dog Gone
I've driven in Houston a lot (as much as I hate to) and this does not suprise me. Seen lots of illegal left turns. The difference is, other cars are more agile than a train. Anybody who manages to hit a train pulling an illegal left turn is an idiot. It's a train for God's sake, how hard is it to not hit one.
42 posted on 01/28/2004 8:37:00 AM PST by af_vet_rr
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To: N. Theknow
More than likely those left turns weren't illegal before the train.
43 posted on 01/28/2004 8:38:04 AM PST by discostu (are you in the pocket of the moment)
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To: N. Theknow
I believe these lefthand turns are illegal only when a train is coming. I have yet to visit Main Street and see the Death Train in operation.
44 posted on 01/28/2004 8:40:50 AM PST by Dog Gone
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To: blabs
If you want to address the environmental argument, either run them on natural gas or biodiesel. In terms of maintenance, trains might need maintenance less often, but does the maintenance savings offset the overall cost to the point of being less expensive than a bus?

As for being a traffic hinderance, if you put one bus out there that can seat 50 people, you've potentially removed 50 other traffic hinderances from the system.
45 posted on 01/28/2004 8:43:17 AM PST by Guvmint_Cheese
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To: Dog Gone
I believe these lefthand turns are illegal only when a train is coming. I have yet to visit Main Street and see the Death Train in operation.

Oh. The Darwin Award Finals for "Hey, I can make that crossing before the train gets there."

Granddaddy was an engineer for the old Atlantic Coast Line, used to call them coupler grease idiots.

46 posted on 01/28/2004 8:46:58 AM PST by N. Theknow (Be a glowworm, a glowworm's never glum, cuz how can you be grumpy when the sun shines out your bum.)
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To: RiflemanSharpe
Opportunity comes in many forms, you just have to know when to take advantage of it.

Many "family" neighborhoods have had their streets zoned to commercial because of the high amount of traffic. The people who were smart converted their properties to businesses, or sold for a higher cost. It's called higher and better use. It happens all over the country, including your neighborhood.

It doesn't necessarily enrich the few. It enriches the few who seize the opportunity.
47 posted on 01/28/2004 8:47:06 AM PST by blabs
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"Wham Bam, thank you Tram" bump
48 posted on 01/28/2004 8:48:09 AM PST by thackney (Life is Fragile, Handle with Prayer)
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To: blabs
The only thing left to do is stack the freeways, or run commuter rail. How many more billions will we invest in concrete?

Figure up how much we would need to spend on concrete to meet traffic needs, then figure up how much would need to be spent on light rail at $68,000/ft.

Light rail is a joke that is irrelevant to traffic. Anyone who has any concern for traffic will spend money someplace other than light rail.

49 posted on 01/28/2004 8:49:00 AM PST by hopespringseternal
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If commuter rail were first to be laid down in houston, the light rail would still be built. It only makes sense to connect the Med Center and Downtown. The Medical center has over 250,000 visitors per day. It is exploding with growth. A new Bio-Technology area is currently being developed, which will house 26 different bio-tech and pharmaceuticals, bringing more than 70,000 jobs to Houston in the next ten years.

Where do you go for culture in this city? Plays, Opera, Symphony, Concerts, Sporting Events, Museums, Conventions? All of it is in the downtown area. In fact, what else is there to do in the city besides eating?

Properly placed commuter rails will take advantage of what this rail line has to offer.
50 posted on 01/28/2004 9:02:18 AM PST by blabs
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