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A Streetcar Named Disaster
The Houston Review ^ | March 7, 2004 | Phil Magness

Posted on 03/07/2004 5:02:00 PM PST by PeaceBeWithYou

After witnessing a weekend of self-congratulatory festivities marking the January 1st debut of Houston’s MetroRail transit system, the hometown newspaper’s editorial board could hardly contain its exuberance. “Viewed from any angle,” opined the Houston Chronicle, the kickoff celebrations were a sure “sign of good things to come.” To the board, itself a merciless campaigner for rail, the roughly 15,000 people in attendance suggested that a “large helping of crow” was in order for transit critics. Reports from Houston spread quickly causing the Arizona Republic’s editorial page to gloat “critics rail at light rail to no avail.” After all, what worked for Houston would surely also work for Phoenix. An Austin-based advocacy group went even further, hailing their favored transit mode’s “enthusiastic acceptance by the public” though also neglecting the role free tickets played in attracting inaugural weekend riders.

Declarations of this sort typified proponent reactions to the controversial “light rail” commuter train – a system that recently consumed $340 million of Houston’s congestion relief funds. Despite the laudatory responses, an ever-growing volume of evidence plays testament to a certainty for Houston: MetroRail may quickly become an anchor around the neck of the city’s transportation system rather than the traffic relief measure of its original intent.

The problems to date are widespread and growing. Before it even opened MetroRail already boasted the dubious record of five automobile-train collisions in barely a month of test runs, thus relegating transit police to blocking duty along the tracks for opening weekend lest another accident replace rail itself as the top evening news story. Constant technical glitches and another ten automobile-train collisions since service began have placed MetroRail on target for becoming the most accident-prone transit system in the nation.

Far from attaining public acceptance, the flow of passengers at the rail stations came to a crashing halt on Monday morning after the festivities. The first paying train departed with only a crew of reporters, did not gain any passengers until the third station, and remained sparsely ridden for the entire day. Aside from a brief Super-Bowl induced rider surge in early February, not much has changed since day one of paid services. Transit officials recently reported that the main parking lot serving their system has averaged only one-fifth capacity on workdays – a figure that is similarly reflected in dismal ridership totals for its first month of operation.

According to official reports from MetroRail, a total of 558,257 passengers road on the train during the month of January. Though rail proponents claimed the figures were proof of “success,” a closer examination reveals that those claims are premature. The figures for January include over 15,000 boardings during the inaugural weekend when free tickets provided an incentive for curious passengers. They also include inflated numbers from pre-Super Bowl festivities on January 29th through 31st when light rail carried about 120,000 passengers for game related events. Accounting for those two extraneous events that induced non-routine ridership surges and the actual monthly boarding figure would be something closer to 425,000 total or about 14,000 round trips (and thus only 7,000 passengers) a day. Either way, MetroRail’s current ridership figures, if sustained, put it on pace to carry somewhere between 5.1 and 6.7 million passengers for 2004 – only half of the 10 to 13 million originally estimated by some rail proponents. Even worse, MetroRail’s $23.5 million annual operating costs indicate that even with the overly optimistic 13 million passenger figure the system will still be $10 million in the hole at the current $1 fare. Barring a quick turnaround from the current pace, that figure may to fall over $18 million short from simply recovering its annual operating costs at the fare box, all to be taken from public monies.

As if its financial boondoggle status were not bad enough, light rail’s disastrous safety record has become something of a legend in Houston. Affectionately dubbed the “Wham-Bam-Tram” by local conservative activists, light rail has lived up to its nickname. A summary of the collisions and glitches to date reveals the extent of this growing problem:

CRASH 1: November 19, 2003 – Light rail is involved in its first accident, hitting the fender of an SUV as it turned across the tracks.

CRASH 2: December 16, 2003 – Train hits the bumper of a car as it pulls out of a driveway on Fannin at Southmore.

CRASH 3: December 19, 2003 – MetroRail collides with a pickup truck turning left from Main at Alabama. A light rail crash safety drill was occurring a few blocks away at the time of the accident.

CRASH 4: December 20, 2003 – Light rail crashes into a Ford Explorer making a left turn from Fannin at John Freeman in the Medical Center.

CRASH 5: December 30, 2003 – MetroRail collides with a passenger car exiting a private driveway along the tracks on Fannin.

CRASH 6: January 9, 2004 – Light rail collides with a passenger car turning left at Fannin and Binz. The driver was apparently confused over the difficult to read lighted no-turn signs along the route.

CRASH 7: January 19, 2004 – A light rail train collides with a suburban attempting to make a left turn off of Fannin at Dryden. The intersection contains notoriously confusing turning lane signs switch to no-turn signs when a train is present.

CRASH 8: January 23, 2004 – A light rail train obliterates a Union Pacific maintenance truck and severely injures its driver on a test track that runs parallel to the UP track. The train involved in the collision was also traveling at approximately 60 mph on a “test” run – a speed not even remotely approached during the stop-and-go operations of street use that average just over 12 mph.

CRASH 9: January 26, 2004 – MetroRail collides with a passenger car attempting to make a left turn off of Fannin at Southmore in the Museum District

CRASH 10: January 27, 2004 – Light rail hits a Toyota minivan attempting to turn left on McGowen from Main.

CRASH 11: February 5, 2004 – A train collides with an automobile turning left off of Fannin at Dryden in the Medical Center. This intersection is the sight of an earlier accident where confusing lighted no-turn signs may have contributed to the crash.

CRASH 12: February 15, 2004 – MetroRail hits a flatbed truck alleged to have run a light while crossing Pierce near downtown.

CRASH 13: February 19, 2004 – Light rail involved in an accident with an armored car pulling out of a bank parking lot near Fannin and Southmore

CRASH 14: February 21, 2004 – Train collides with a van turning left at Fannin and Montrose.

CRASH 15: February 24, 2004 – Train crashes into a car turning left at Fannin and Dryden – the third collision to date near this intersection.

Electricity Failure 1: January 4, 2004 – A power failure near Reliant Park shuts down the light rail system in its vicinity forcing riders to leave the stalled trains through emergency exits after 18 minutes without air conditioning. The power failure exposed another design flaw in the system by shutting down crossing gates along roadways for the duration of the outage. The result: when MetroRail ceases to move so does everyone else in a car nearby. A frustrated driver and a Metro bus reportedly broke through two of the gates during the outage.

Electricity Failure 2: January 17, 2004 – A small fire at a power station shuts down a lengthy segment of the light rail system for over an hour and a half. Stranded passengers had to be carried by bus to their destinations

Electricity Failure 3: February 6, 2004 – A delivery truck reportedly clipped one of the relatively low-hanging high voltage trolley cables between the Wheeler and Rice stations. Light rail obtains its power from a modern day version of a “troller” – a device invented in the 1880’s that makes electrical contact with open wires suspended overhead. The accident happened at about 9:30 AM and took until 1:30 PM to be repaired. Reports from the scene indicate that it may have taken up to half an hour for repair crews to respond to the downed wire.

Super Bowl Shutdown: January 29-February 1, 2004 – Light rail was originally sold to Houstonians under the claim that it would help carry passengers with ease at major sporting events such as the Super Bowl, yet during the event’s festivities many streets proved too crowded to safely operate the trains. As a result transit officials shut down large segments of the light rail line into downtown, leaving thousands without an easy access to transportation. Persons trying to enter and exit downtown had to wait up to two hours despite the trip’s length of only a few miles.

While transit backers dismiss light rail’s shortcomings as temporary adaptation problems for commuters, the issue is substantially more fundamental. MetroRail’s tribulations derive almost entirely from an inherent yet neglected system design flaw: the operation of trains in mixed traffic. Whereas popular transit systems such as the Washington D.C. METRO use grade-separated tracks that do not intersect vehicular lanes, MetroRail runs in the middle of a major thoroughfare along side and in between automobiles. This design is something akin to placing 21st century bullet trains on 19th century trolley tracks and attempting to operate them in a pattern that requires stopping every six blocks.

As with streetcars, MetroRail’s constant stopping prevents trains from completing a journey in a reasonably efficient time. The current 7.5 mile journey takes 35 minutes at an average of 12.8 mph, or roughly the top speed of a Segway Scooter. Three Chronicle reporters recently experienced this flaw the hard way by timing the train against busses and automobiles. MetroRail runs 50% slower than both alternatives and also costs more when parking and fares are considered – all facts that leave little room for wonder about the system’s dismal ridership.

The fifteen accidents to date stem in large part from automobile driver error yet one cannot help but question that their frequency, and thus some culpability, results from a common sense failure in rail design. This circumstance may be demonstrated through a simple comparison. Few will deny that a cliff-side highway with no guardrails poses a danger in its own right to drivers who steer off the road and into the ocean below. Though the error in steering is itself a fault of the driver, the absence of a cliff-side guardrail provides a substantial contributing factor to the accident. The proximate cause for each accident is a negligent design that makes that particular stretch of road accident-prone and an abnormally high frequency of accidents would provide more than ample testament to that design flaw.

Houston’s at-grade light rail exhibits its own abnormally high accident rate and that alone, even with driver error, is cause to seriously reexamine the system’s design. Though light rail supporters, such as the militant smart growthers at Austin’s “Light Rail Now!,” tend to dismiss their favored transit system’s inherent hazard to traffic as the product of Houston having the “nation’s worst drivers” (after all, no wrong could ever be committed by a transit system in their minds), the real issue at hand is once again the fundamentally bad idea behind light rail itself: at-grade mixed traffic operations. Putting a full sized passenger train in the middle of vehicular traffic makes about as much sense as installing a lane of vehicular traffic down the toy aisle at Wal-Mart. It has about as much logic to it as trying to land passenger jetliners on an interstate or conducting navy war exercises at a popular snorkeling spot. All of these situations create inherently dangerous conditions for users who are patently ill-suited for simultaneous interactions. Since the problem stems from design, simply writing tickets every time somebody gets hurt and simply sticking an oversized deer-whistle-for-humans on the front of a train will never lessen accident frequency.

Similar problems will continue to impede the success of MetroRail so long as transit advocates refuse to reevaluate their system’s design. At the unfortunate insistence of these same persons and their corporate cronies who profit from transit construction contracts, Houston voters narrowly approved a substantial light rail expansion before having an opportunity to see phase one in action. An opportunity, though small, presently exists to achieve this end: separate the grade for any and all expansions of MetroRail and take passenger trains off the streets. Instead of bestowing unearned and premature declarations of success on the new system, officials must come to grip with the fact that fundamental flaws exist and correct for them before a 7.5 mile boondoggle in downtown becomes a 60 mile folly for the entire Houston region.



TOPICS: Business/Economy; Constitution/Conservatism; Crime/Corruption; Culture/Society; Editorial; Extended News; Government; News/Current Events; US: Texas
KEYWORDS: accidentprone; arizona; austin; baddesign; boondoggle; corporatecronies; delay; fleecingthepublic; houston; houstonchronicle; houstoncomical; largehelpingofcrow; leepbrown; leepperiodbrown; leepybrown; legacy; lightrail; mayorbobwhite; mayorbrown; mayorwhite; metrodeathtrain; metrofailrail; metrorail; moneypit; murdertrain; outtatownbrown; phoenix; publicsafety; quagmire; ripoff; smartgrowth; taxdollarsatwork; texas; tomdelay; transportation; unsafeatanyspeed; whambamthankyoutram; whambamtram; youpayforthis
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Stop the madness Houston.

More roads = less traffic, less pollution, at far less cost.

1 posted on 03/07/2004 5:02:00 PM PST by PeaceBeWithYou
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To: Flyer; Eaker; Dog Gone; GOPcapitalist; humblegunner

Counter courtesy of the Houston Review.

1 time ping to a few Houston Area FReepers.

2 posted on 03/07/2004 5:10:09 PM PST by PeaceBeWithYou (De Oppresso Liber!)
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To: PeaceBeWithYou
Light Rail- Boon or Boondoggle? The Quest for the Holy Rail....
3 posted on 03/07/2004 5:11:02 PM PST by backhoe
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To: backhoe
"According to official reports from MetroRail, a total of 558,257 passengers road on the train during the month of January.

558,257? That's how many passengers try to get off the #2 train at Grand Central Station during rush hour, as 485,331 try to get on before the doors close.
4 posted on 03/07/2004 5:20:07 PM PST by proxy_user
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To: proxy_user
Oh, rats! Before any fellow New Yorkers knock me down, of course my example of reall mass transit should have been the #4 train. You gotta shuttle crosstown to get the 2.
5 posted on 03/07/2004 5:23:01 PM PST by proxy_user
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To: Willie Green; Dog Gone
OK Willie, here's your big chance! Houston's light rail system is a SMASHING success!!!

BTW, the ridership in San Jose's system (which is similar only in downtown areas, elsewhere it has dedicated rights of way) hasn't exceeded 10% of capacity since it was built.
6 posted on 03/07/2004 5:30:40 PM PST by Carry_Okie (The environment is too complex and too important to be managed by central planning.)
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To: proxy_user
Graph modified from Daily News, May 16, 2002

7 posted on 03/07/2004 5:40:39 PM PST by sarcasm (Tancredo 2004)
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To: PeaceBeWithYou; 1riot1ranger; Action-America; Aggie Mama; Alkhin; Allegra; American72; antivenom; ..
*PING!*

I have a surprise coming soon for all you METRORail fans!

As always, a FReep mail will get you on or off this Houston and Texas topics ping list.

8 posted on 03/07/2004 5:49:53 PM PST by Flyer (Don't abandon our military - Re-elect President Bush!)
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To: PeaceBeWithYou
Metro has known from the beginning that ALL the $340,000,000 of rail would have to be replaced with elevated tracks BECAUSE THE CURRENT TRACKS ARE SINKING.

How's that for planned obsolescence?
9 posted on 03/07/2004 6:26:14 PM PST by E. Pluribus Unum (Drug prohibition laws help fund terrorism.)
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To: PeaceBeWithYou
CRASH 1: November 19, 2003 ? Light rail is involved in its first accident, hitting the fender of an SUV as it turned across the tracks.

I'm sure it was the SUV's fault.

10 posted on 03/07/2004 6:41:48 PM PST by Paleo Conservative (Do not remove this tag under penalty of law.)
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To: PeaceBeWithYou
Streetcar Named Disaster

Courtesy of Action America.

 

11 posted on 03/07/2004 7:08:15 PM PST by Action-America (Best President: Reagan * Worst President: Klinton * Worst GOP President: Dubya)
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To: Paleo Conservative
Naw, that street Fannin needs to go. :-)
12 posted on 03/07/2004 7:17:27 PM PST by Baby Bear
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To: PeaceBeWithYou
$340M+$10-$18M tax subsidy per year.... for a 7.5Mile track!!?????

And government/media loved it!!

13 posted on 03/07/2004 7:19:09 PM PST by GeronL (http://www.ArmorforCongress.com......................Send a Freeper to Congress!)
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To: Action-America
Did you write that story?
14 posted on 03/07/2004 7:21:20 PM PST by GeronL (http://www.ArmorforCongress.com......................Send a Freeper to Congress!)
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To: GeronL
and so does willie green.
15 posted on 03/07/2004 7:24:24 PM PST by flashbunny (Taxes are not levied for the benefit of the taxed.)
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To: PeaceBeWithYou
bump
16 posted on 03/07/2004 7:26:16 PM PST by foreverfree
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To: GeronL
Any kind of commuter rail is a disaster! The only people who like it, are those who don't have to ride on it. In Most cases they are also the same ones who benefit from the, (can you spell boondoggle children?) It would probably be cheaper to arrange that each of those 7000 daily riders be given a personal limosine.
17 posted on 03/07/2004 7:45:24 PM PST by rock58seg (Broken Glass Conservative, I'll even vote for a moderate if he's the most conservative candidate.)
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To: rock58seg
I dunno. Lets do the math... $340Million divided by 7000 is $48,571.42. Maybe not a limo but maybe an AVIATOR!

Up to $18Million a year from taxpayers for operating the thing. Thats $2,571 a year, to pay for their gasoline I guess....

YUP. These 7,000 people could be given very nice cars for the same price.

18 posted on 03/07/2004 8:11:03 PM PST by GeronL (http://www.ArmorforCongress.com......................Send a Freeper to Congress!)
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To: GeronL
Just wait until the operators of the trains unionize and go on strike. Being the highly skilled, irreplaceable employees they are they will demand hugher wages and make the system even less economically viable.
19 posted on 03/07/2004 8:21:46 PM PST by Poodlebrain
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To: PeaceBeWithYou
Miami has an excellent system. Above the street. Some graspers in Houston got the city to give them a lot of tax monies for an inferior design.
20 posted on 03/07/2004 8:29:40 PM PST by 185JHP ( "And the pure in heart shall see god.")
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To: PeaceBeWithYou
I love the title of this thread. When I saw it on the page of threads, I just knew it was going to be about Houston's Metroline.

I don't blame the train for the moronic drivers that crash into it. Houston is home to the worst drivers in the country.

21 posted on 03/07/2004 8:32:59 PM PST by dougherty (I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. **-Michelangelo)
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To: GeronL

Did you write that story?

No. But when I saw it, I thought that it was pretty obvious that whoever did write it had spent some time on the Action America web site. After all, I was the person who coined the term "Wham-Bam-Tram" on the Texas FR page, when I suggested that we come up with a catchy phrase to use as often as possible, in the hope of getting it heard by some of the media types that were going to be in town for the Super Bowl. It seems that it is indeed catching on, at least locally. I'm still waiting to hear it used on a national newscast. Imagine the egg on the faces down at City Hall, if that should happen.

Regardless of all the warnings about not standing on the top rung of a ladder and other safety precautions, people still fall off of ladders. But, if a new model of ladder came out and it became clear that the number of people falling off of that particular model of ladder was 5 to 10 times greater, per ladder sold, than any other model of ladder, the manufacturer would immediately recall the ladder, even before determining what the problem was with the ladder, to try to forestall any potential liability suits, especially class action suits. Failure to issue a timely recall would demonstrate negligence and that would dramatically increase the amount of any judgment. It's called cutting your losses.

But, since the Wham-Bam-Tram is a train that is publicly owned, instead of a privately owned ladder company and the Houston taxpayers, instead of Metro officials, will be responsible for paying the cost of any judgment against Metro, the Metro board just keeps the Wham-Bam-Tram in service, causing more and more accidents, making it much more likely that class action suit will be filed and significantly running up the eventual cost of judgments in such suits. It should be noted that at this time, the Wham-Bam-Tram is having accidents at a rate at least 6 times higher than any other city that has implemented light rail. But, at only 7.5 miles, it is also much shorter than the light rail lines of those others, so the rate per mile is even higher.

To protect the taxpayers, it's about time to start a petition for a special referendum, to do two things:

  1. Take the Wham-Bam-Tram immediately out of service, until the problem with it can be determined and repaired and

  2. Remove from office, the entire Metro board and and make those positions elective, rather than appointed.

The Wham-Bam-Tram is a class action suit just itching to happen and if the city and Metro won't protect taxpayers from such an obvious threat, then taxpayers will have to protect themselves, by ousting those responsible.

 

22 posted on 03/07/2004 9:26:30 PM PST by Action-America (Best President: Reagan * Worst President: Klinton * Worst GOP President: Dubya)
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To: Action-America
Or, they could shut it down and buy those 7,000 daily riders an AVAIATOR... haha
23 posted on 03/07/2004 9:33:58 PM PST by GeronL (http://www.ArmorforCongress.com......................Send a Freeper to Congress!)
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To: PeaceBeWithYou
And if boneheads in SUV's would stop making illegal left turns in front of a train there would be a great deal fewer accidents.
24 posted on 03/07/2004 9:41:39 PM PST by pete anderson
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To: proxy_user; sarcasm
Oh, rats! Before any fellow New Yorkers knock me down, of course my example of reall mass transit should have been the #4 train. You gotta shuttle crosstown to get the 2.

on average, over four million people ride the subway every day in New York, about equal to the total population of Los Angeles and exceeding the total populations of Houston, Chicago, Philadelphia, etc.

Of course, I wish that I had another option besides the N (Never) and R (Rarely) trains. Time to move to Brooklyn Heights to catch the 2.

25 posted on 03/07/2004 9:44:32 PM PST by Clemenza (End Nation Building NOW!)
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To: PeaceBeWithYou
More roads = less traffic, less pollution, at far less cost.

Liberals love mass transit - - for the simple chattering class. You won't find Kerry, Kennedy, or any of the other champagne socialists riding on stinking, lousy, graffiti-painted, spit-all-over-the-floor mass transit.

26 posted on 03/07/2004 9:45:47 PM PST by Lancey Howard
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To: Action-America
Stella! Stella!
27 posted on 03/07/2004 9:50:33 PM PST by Consort
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To: pete anderson
They really should not have put the tram right on the street. That was dumb with a capitol D-U-M-B
28 posted on 03/07/2004 9:53:44 PM PST by GeronL (http://www.ArmorforCongress.com......................Send a Freeper to Congress!)
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To: GeronL
I find it interesting that the title of the article is "A Streetcar named Disaster" an obvious homage to the Tennessee Williams play.

What is even more interesting is that the motoring citizens of New Orleans have little problem navigating St. Charles Avenue and the French Quarter with a streetcar that shares the same space as private vehicles.

People in New Orleans know that if you are making a Left Turn on St Charles Ave. that you must look for both vehicles and streetcars before proceeding. The concept is quite simple and people in Houston must learn the same as the people in New Orleans.

29 posted on 03/07/2004 10:13:39 PM PST by pete anderson
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To: pete anderson
Its a silly waste of taxpayers money anyway.
30 posted on 03/07/2004 10:17:37 PM PST by GeronL (http://www.ArmorforCongress.com......................Send a Freeper to Congress!)
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To: Registered; lowbridge
this article title is screaming for your parody photoshop tallents. :)
31 posted on 03/07/2004 10:36:27 PM PST by anymouse
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To: anymouse
this article title is screaming for your parody photoshop tallents.

Yes! There are some great parodies that could be done with the Houston METROrail (I think this was discussed briefly on the TX forum). Things like putting little painted cars on the side of the train like a WWII bomber plane with its hit tallies. I think one suggestion was to change the electronic sign on the front of the train that tells the destination to "River Styx." Of course, an obligatory Lee P. Brown photo would have to be superimposed onto the driver seat.

32 posted on 03/07/2004 11:54:09 PM PST by GOPcapitalist
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To: pete anderson
And if boneheads in SUV's would stop making illegal left turns in front of a train there would be a great deal fewer accidents.

Not necessarily. The most recent string of accidents has happened with other types of collisions and they come from a serious design flaw. There are several locations along the track where normal traffic lights and special train signals give simultaneous conflicting directions (for example the regular light will be green at the same time that a train approaching sign is lit). It's been two months and metro hasn't even considered putting them in synch with each other.

33 posted on 03/07/2004 11:58:27 PM PST by GOPcapitalist
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To: PeaceBeWithYou
Accident count for the Brown Death Express now stands at 23, as of Friday's incident....

This piece of crap is an obvious liability for the City, and when combined with the $1.5 BILLION (and growing) pension fund shortfall -- well, things don't look terribly rosy for Houston.

BTW, are we a "world class city" yet??

34 posted on 03/08/2004 5:33:41 AM PST by TheGrimReaper (o)(o) - Longest-running tagline on FR)
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To: PeaceBeWithYou
I have one question, and it's not directly related to this "light rail" silliness:

Why has Texas generally rejected the idea of "timing" traffic lights to maintain an even flow of traffic in cities?
What's so difficult about the idea? It works nearly everywhere else.
35 posted on 03/08/2004 7:02:36 AM PST by Redbob
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To: GeronL
One question: Why is San Diego's light rail so successful?
Design? right of way? what?
36 posted on 03/08/2004 7:08:53 AM PST by OregonRancher
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To: Carry_Okie
OK Willie, here's your big chance! Houston's light rail system is a SMASHING success!!!

I think it's pretty obvious that The Houston Review is waging a campaign of biased journalism that the media usually reserves for SUVs. Only the big bad local boogeyman that they've chose to demonize is the light rail system.

Good grief, look at that list of accidents. It's all "A light rail train collides with this... A light rail train collides with that" when it looks to me that, more often than not, it's the moronic driver of the other vehicle who's at fault. Dazed and confused idiots trying to make illegal left turns, or backing out of driveways without looking to see if anything was coming down the street --- cripes, anything could hit an idiot like that: bus, another car, truck, bicycle.

How come Houston has so many idiots on the roads?
What did y'all do... give driver's licenses to the illegal immigrants?
Sheeeeeesh, revoke those licenses and keep those morons off the streets.
Make 'em ride the MetroRail and only let competent drivers operate automobiles. It'd be a lot safer for everybody.

37 posted on 03/08/2004 8:42:04 AM PST by Willie Green (Go Pat Go!!!)
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To: Willie Green
Good grief, look at that list of accidents. It's all "A light rail train collides with this... A light rail train collides with that" when it looks to me that, more often than not, it's the moronic driver of the other vehicle who's at fault. Dazed and confused idiots trying to make illegal left turns, or backing out of driveways without looking to see if anything was coming down the street --- cripes, anything could hit an idiot like that: bus, another car, truck, bicycle.

You blame the problems with a design on the users. Were you in private industry producing a product, you would make a luscious target for a lawsuit. The job of the designer is to PREVENT problems and minimize the risks. Fixed rail transit systems have been around for a hundred years. The design requirements are well understood. So if it isn't done correctly, blame the designers. Unfortunately for fixed rail as a transportation mode, if there are problems with a fixed rail design, they are hideously expensive to reverse because of their size and cost, indicating yet another inherent flaw with the transit system you advocate.

One of the inherent risks in fixed rail transport systems is the enormous mass of the vehicles, which demands careful design to prevent collissions. Of course, that is more expensive AND disruptive to other modes of surface transportation. That latter problem was clearly illustrated in the discussion of how Houston had to shut the system down during the Superbowl, indicating yet another cost of fixed rail systems you have yet to confront (and carefully chose to ignore in your response). Note also the risks associated with single point failure, the power outages, when the system comes to a total halt. Automobiles, or buses for that matter, have their accidents and breakdowns too, but because it is a multipath system are capable of being re-routed around the problem. Yet another reason buses and jitneys are a better mass transit solution than fixed rail. Buses are vastly cheaper to buy, more reliable, more flexible, and employ more people, BUT they too have a single point failure mode, union work stoppages.

How come Houston has so many idiots on the roads?

The designers of the system knew that there were idiots on the roads before they built the system. The job of the designer is to account for stupidity because it is a factor in any mode of transportation. Fixed rail carries inherent risks that do even more to prove that they are not worth their outrageous costs. Buses are a far better solution.

38 posted on 03/08/2004 9:11:53 AM PST by Carry_Okie (The environment is too complex and too important to be managed by central planning.)
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To: Carry_Okie
You blame the problems with a design on the users. Were you in private industry producing a product, you would make a luscious target for a lawsuit.

There is NO SUCH THING as an idiot-proof design.

Hang the lawyers.

39 posted on 03/08/2004 9:22:46 AM PST by Willie Green (Go Pat Go!!!)
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To: PeaceBeWithYou
It seems to me that we need to take a page out of the liberals' playbook an co-opt the language of their arguments.

They argue for "smart growth" (sending everyone downtown on commuter systems and in high-density living). I say we need smarter growth. A decentralized work sector means that we won't have some of these congestion problems.

Even Mayor Bob-White has asked downtown companies to look at letting their employees work at non-downtown offices because of the closure of Spur 527 (59 exit into downtown closed for 3 years).

40 posted on 03/08/2004 9:40:04 AM PST by weegee (Election 2004: Re-elect President Bush... Don't feed the trolls.)
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To: Willie Green; Dog Gone
There is NO SUCH THING as an idiot-proof design.

There is, however, such a thing as a design review with a risk assessment wherein statistically acceptable risks are quantified. This system clearly fails acceptable criteria for safety. Such design criteria for fixed rail are well enough understood that it is likely the planners knew there would be problems and did it anyway, knowing that the public wouldn't want to pay for a system that was expensive enough to have prevented them. Once it was built, the public will have to pony the cash to fix it, bringing the total cost to a level even higher than what they would probably have rejected.

Such callous gambits with lives and property are inductive to tyrranical governance. Single point control architectures, in this case, governing the free movement of individuals, are inherently likely to attract corrupt control freaks. One wonders why you like them.

41 posted on 03/08/2004 9:41:45 AM PST by Carry_Okie (The environment is too complex and too important to be managed by central planning.)
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To: PeaceBeWithYou
Even worse, MetroRail’s $23.5 million annual operating costs indicate that even with the overly optimistic 13 million passenger figure the system will still be $10 million in the hole at the current $1 fare. Barring a quick turnaround from the current pace, that figure may to fall over $18 million short from simply recovering its annual operating costs at the fare box, all to be taken from public monies.

Think of all the money that could be saved operating Metrorail if there were NO fare. Just get on the thing for free. Ridership would increase and if the stated reason is to get cars off the road (or at least reduce the number downtown) that would be accomplished.

Yes taxpayers would be subsidizing rail; we are anyway (Federaly and locally). We just argue over how much subsidy there should be.

Put banner advertising on the side and small advertising posters inside every car and that "subsidy" could pay for itself.

Free rail cars and advertising in rail cars is nothing new. Boston's Green Line cars are FREE above ground/outbound and they have advertising.

42 posted on 03/08/2004 9:51:01 AM PST by weegee (Election 2004: Re-elect President Bush... Don't feed the trolls.)
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To: Willie Green
An elevated rail system wouldn't have had these problems with collisions. It was "unthinkable" to go with "heavy rail" (an electrified third rail) instead of "light rail" (which uses an overhead power line).

Now Mayor Bob-White and others are considering a subway (in a swamp!) for future lines. One word: Quagmire.

43 posted on 03/08/2004 10:00:29 AM PST by weegee (Election 2004: Re-elect President Bush... Don't feed the trolls.)
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To: E. Pluribus Unum
"THE CURRENT TRACKS ARE SINKING. "

No problem, we just rename it "Metro Subway".

44 posted on 03/08/2004 10:04:30 AM PST by bayourod ( Kerry's 1st wife: $250M; 2nd wife: $700M; Mistress: priceless.)
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To: Redbob
The lights downtown USED TO BE synched so that if you drove ~20-25MPH you could catch all of the lights green through downtown.

At some point in Mayor Leepy Brown's reign of error "synchronized lights" came to mean turning all the light green at the exact same instant (not staggered), requiring a driver to launch out of the "starting block" at 40-45MPH to be able to catch at least 2 or 3 lights green.

Mayor Bob-White pledged during his campaign that he would see that the lights were synchronized (again, he neglected to mention). It was practically the first thing he did when he took office. Since it was accomplished in a couple of weeks (think they looked up the paperwork on how the lights used to run?) one has to wonder why Mayor Brown didn't go ahead and implement this change last year when one or more of the candidates were talking about it.

That said, the lights aren't yet all synched downtown AND something that does not get mentioned much:

At some intersections, the approaching rail line will set the lights to "green" (red for the crossroads) and I don't think they've factored this into the synchronization yet. I guess it would be asking to much to have the Metrorail actually have to wait at a traffic light (then again Metro Bus drivers run red lights all the time and bully drivers with their buses).

The local broadcast Fox news did a series of reports on the rail and even showed video of an intersection where cars are permitted to turn left and are REQUIRED to be ON THE RAIL (the rail co-exists with a turn lane). Those turns are moderated by a protected turn light. The video showed the Metrorail blasting the horn forcing the car in front (which was legally there) to make an illegal turn into oncoming traffic.

Outside of downtown, the lights can be really bad (I am talking so far out of downtown that you are "out of the (610) loop" (a couple of miles out of downtown at least < /sarcasm >). The lights elsewhere in Houston can often to be found 180degrees out of phase (leave a light that goes Red-to-Green and the next intersection will be Green-going-to-Red). This is observed on Westheimer and Richmond in non-rush hour traffic.

45 posted on 03/08/2004 10:16:27 AM PST by weegee (Election 2004: Re-elect President Bush... Don't feed the trolls.)
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To: PeaceBeWithYou
CRASH 1: November 19, 2003 – Light rail is involved in its first accident, hitting the fender of an SUV as it turned across the tracks. CRASH 2: December 16, 2003 – Train hits the bumper of a car as it pulls out of a driveway on Fannin at Southmore.

CRASH 3: December 19, 2003 – MetroRail collides with a pickup truck turning left from Main at Alabama. A light rail crash safety drill was occurring a few blocks away at the time of the accident.

CRASH 4: December 20, 2003 – Light rail crashes into a Ford Explorer making a left turn from Fannin at John Freeman in the Medical Center.

CRASH 5: December 30, 2003 – MetroRail collides with a passenger car exiting a private driveway along the tracks on Fannin.

CRASH 6: January 9, 2004 – Light rail collides with a passenger car turning left at Fannin and Binz. The driver was apparently confused over the difficult to read lighted no-turn signs along the route.

CRASH 7: January 19, 2004 – A light rail train collides with a suburban attempting to make a left turn off of Fannin at Dryden. The intersection contains notoriously confusing turning lane signs switch to no-turn signs when a train is present.

CRASH 9: January 26, 2004 – MetroRail collides with a passenger car attempting to make a left turn off of Fannin at Southmore in the Museum District

CRASH 10: January 27, 2004 – Light rail hits a Toyota minivan attempting to turn left on McGowen from Main.

CRASH 11: February 5, 2004 – A train collides with an automobile turning left off of Fannin at Dryden in the Medical Center. This intersection is the sight of an earlier accident where confusing lighted no-turn signs may have contributed to the crash.

CRASH 12: February 15, 2004 – MetroRail hits a flatbed truck alleged to have run a light while crossing Pierce near downtown.

CRASH 13: February 19, 2004 – Light rail involved in an accident with an armored car pulling out of a bank parking lot near Fannin and Southmore

CRASH 14: February 21, 2004 – Train collides with a van turning left at Fannin and Montrose.

CRASH 15: February 24, 2004 – Train crashes into a car turning left at Fannin and Dryden – the third collision to date near this intersection.

Do drivers in Houston have a habit of making turns or pulling out into traffic without first making sure that it's safe to do so? Every one of these accidents was the fault of the driver of the vehicle that the light rail train hit. I know that some of these light rail trains can be relatively quiet, but how can you miss seeing something that large coming down the street toward you unless you're just not paying attention?

46 posted on 03/08/2004 10:22:37 AM PST by judgeandjury
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To: PeaceBeWithYou
7,000 passengers a day and an $18 million shortfall in covering expenses. If you could buy 7,000 segways for $2K each and just give them away, the city could save $4 million a year.
47 posted on 03/08/2004 10:25:08 AM PST by paul51
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To: Carry_Okie
The fact is that catching a Metro bus will get you to your destination faster and cheaper than going by our Death Train.

It was sweet to see that confirmed by the Houston Chronicle, which has long supported light rail.

The light rail was poorly designed and it is going to continue to set records for traffic accidents. I'm surprised there hasn't been a fatality yet, but that's coming, without a doubt.

48 posted on 03/08/2004 11:58:41 AM PST by Dog Gone
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To: weegee
Free transportation will not entice the kind of riders that you would want to sit with. Drunks, bums and street-wise thugs will take over and scare off anyone else. Also imagine the vandalism inside the cars, the litter and stench of urine. Years ago the Houston Zoo attracted the wrong crowd until it began charging admission. Been there, seen that.
49 posted on 03/08/2004 12:51:03 PM PST by TexasRepublic (Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!)
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To: TexasRepublic
Vagrancy is a crime. Houston ignores it and the problem got much worse in the 1990s.

Didn't used to have homeless bums sleeping in the libraries. We do now (check out Downtown Houston or even Westchase? on Westheimer near the Galleria).

Check out just about any street corner where you will find people demanding to be allowed to wash your windshield.

During the 1980s when the oil biz went bust I never saw these things.

Homeless people didn't even hang out in downtown Houston after dark much before the rich nightclubbers started dropping their cash there.

Enforcement of vagrancy and loitering laws would put an end to that problem. Public urination is a crime (and certainly urinating in a railcar is illegal). Downtown Houston smells of pee and puke these days. It wasn't this way a decade ago. The rich drunks are among those peeing and puking by the way.

Miller Outdoor Theater is right next to the zoo and it is free (except for when privileged parties are permitted to charge for public access to a private park). Do you see streetwise thugs and homeless people at the Theater Under The Stars performances? And drinking is permitted at these events.

50 posted on 03/08/2004 1:14:34 PM PST by weegee (Election 2004: Re-elect President Bush... Don't feed the trolls.)
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