Transportation

Metro Works To Educate Drivers On How Not To Get Hit By A Train

The transit agency says over half of the collisions along the light rail line are caused by vehicles running red lights and making improper left turns.

When we went downtown to ask folks if they’d ever seen a crash on Metro’s light rail tracks, it didn’t take too long to find someone. 

Christopher Hisle has lived downtown for about five years now. We met him walking his dog on Main Street, about a block from the Downtown Transit Center.

“People are always running red lights around here. So I’ve seen multiple accidents but that’s the worst one I saw, with the train,” said Hisle.

That crash Hisle mentioned was at Main and Pease and it happened when a car ran a red light. Hisle said the crash was so loud he heard it from his apartment on the 18th floor.

“And it actually pushed the car onto the median between the tracks,” added Hisle. “I think the train was damaged too because it was stuck there for a while.”

But despite that scary crash, there are spots along the rail line that are even more problematic. To see for ourselves, we met Metro Executive Vice-President Tim Kelly at the Dryden station in the Texas Medical Center. That’s the busy intersection just across from Methodist Hospital.

Along with audible announcements, Metro has added more signs and lights at Dryden to let drivers know a train could come at any moment. The intersection also has lane markings to delineate car and rail movements. That’s along with the bright colors Metro has added to its rail cars to increase visibility.

“But everything we’ve done this is still our number one accident location with trains,” explained Kelly

So what’s the big problem? Kelly says it’s vehicles turning in front of the train. In Fiscal Year 2017 Metro reported 11 crashes at Dryden Street that were blamed on improper turns. System-wide, Kelly says over half of the collisions on the rail can be blamed on red light runners and illegal turns.

While the Dryden intersection does have designated left turn lanes, Kelly points out they’re shared lanes, where drivers have to merge onto the train tracks.

“And that is not in itself problematic,” added Kelly. “Our problem here is people turning out of the middle lanes in front of the trains and not out appropriately out of the shared lanes. So we’ve done a lot to try to educate motorists.”

But despite Metro’s efforts, there’s another safety issue to consider and that’s distracted driving. We also spoke with Robert Benz, a research engineer with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. He says along with having to watch out for trains and pedestrians, drivers in the Med Center often have a lot of other things on their mind.

“You’ve got a lot of first time users,” said Benz. “They’re usually stressed. You’re either going to a doctor’s appointment or visiting someone who’s in the hospital. So you’re stressed about that.”

And Benz says what makes the situation worse is when people are more preoccupied with what’s on their phone instead of the lights and warnings.

“Everybody thinks they can multitask,” said Benz. “Driving, going on their phone, navigating, answering a phone call, trying to text somebody. In those kind of environments if people could just put the phone down it would be one of the best things we could do to improve safety.”

Back on Main Street that sentiment is echoed by Christopher Hisle, the guy who heard that train collision from up on the 18th floor. He says if you try to beat the train there’s a good chance you’re going to lose.

“So if you have the green light it’ll stop for you,” said Hisle. “But if you try to turn in front of it when you don’t have the green light it’s not going to appreciate it.”

Metro now has officers posted along the rail line to watch out for traffic violations. They’ve been issuing warnings to educate drivers. But Metro says they’ll soon start giving out tickets.

 

Share

Gail Delaughter

Transportation Reporter

From early-morning interviews with commuters to walks through muddy construction sites, Gail covers all aspects of getting around Houston. That includes walking, driving, cycling, taking the bus, and occasionally flying. Before she became transportation reporter in 2011, Gail hosted weekend programs for Houston Public Media. She's also covered courts in...

More Information