Durham News: Opinion

Your letters: At-grade crossings unsafe

At-grade unsafe

Despite all of implied “safety” remedies implied by GoTriangle, all of which are also implemented in the 30-plus city systems across the nation, light rail fatalities continue to rise. Light rail at-grade crossings are fundamentally unsafe.

Some will compare the total number of light-rail fatalities and mistakenly conclude that light rail is safer than automobile travel. Light rail has three times as many fatalities as automobile when normalized for passenger miles traveled.

Although GoTriangle has not specified or awarded the final contract, the Siemens S70 (or derivative) seems to be popular in North American light rail projects including the Charlotte LYNX. We estimate that each train car would be 90 feet long, 9 feet wide, vehicle empty weight of 96,500 lbs (47.5 tons) which is consistent with the model depictions. GoTriangle plans to initially use 2 car configurations (95 tons), with the ability to accommodate three-car configurations (142.5 tons) in the future, as demand warrants.

Even if the brakes are the best and can stop the wheel completely (without derailing), the physics of steel sliding on steel do not change the physics of a 95-ton train’s momentum.

According to GoTriangle, the average speed will be 26 mph (17 miles / 39 minutes). Adjusting travel times by 30 seconds for each station stop across 17 stations (including 20 second dwell time), that means that the train will be averaging 35 mph when in motion and not in the station.

Light rail trains travelling at 35 mph with full brake will travel approximately 428 feet in less than 10 seconds before coming to a complete stop.

Consider, that according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at U.S. Department of Transportation: Three out of four crashes occur within 25 miles of a motorist’s home. Half of all crashes occur within five miles of home.

A calculation of NHTSA statistics on the rate of deaths per collision in vehicle / vehicle crashes vs. the FRA statistics of deaths per collision in vehicle/train crashes reveals: A motorist is almost 20 times more likely to die in a crash involving a train than in a collision involving another motor vehicle. (Operation Lifesaver, Crossing Collisions & Casualties by Year)

Or one can merely view recent light-rail incidents and fatalities in other cities with light rail across the nation. Light rail transit with at-grade crossings are NOT SAFE. Just Google “Light Rail Accident.”

Alex Cabanes

Chapel Hill